Falcon Northwest Mach V 3.4 Extreme Edition review: Falcon Northwest Mach V 3.4 Extreme Edition

The Good Fast, brand-spanking-new Intel Extreme Edition CPU; expertly constructed case interior; loaded for digital bear; one of the fastest systems we've ever tested.

The Bad Expensive; limited front-panel expansion.

The Bottom Line If performance is what you crave, the $4,839 Falcon Northwest Mach V 3.4 Extreme Edition is worth every penny.

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8.6 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 9
  • Support 8

Clocked at 3.4GHz, the follow-up to the exceedingly fast Pentium 4 Extreme Edition chip Intel released last year is even more of a speed merchant. This fact alone is probably enough to get most gamers and performance tweakers drooling, which is why we're surprised Falcon Northwest didn't include a bib with its new Mach V 3.4 Extreme Edition desktop. In the absence of a bib, we suggest you tuck a napkin into your shirt before you look at our test system's benchmark results, but be sure you're sitting down when we tell you it's priced at nearly $5,000. Digital audio, video, and image enthusiasts might want to consider adding an option or two, but otherwise this system is loaded to the gills and assembled with a heavy dose of TLC.

With its price approaching $5,000, you can reasonably expect to receive an exceedingly powerful, well-conceived system assembled with utmost care, and the Falcon Northwest Mach V 3.4 Extreme Edition mostly holds up its end of the deal. The 18.8-by-7.7-by-20.9-inch (HWD), brushed-aluminum CoolerMaster case features an industrial, clean-lined design with plenty of interior space.

The Mach V's side panel slides off relatively easily after you remove two thumbscrews, although some of the internal edges are still sharp, so proceed with some caution. Once you see the inside of the system, prepare to have your standards raised. Every ribbon, cable, and wire is bound, folded, and routed neatly out of the way, which maximizes airflow through the system and allows for easy access for upgrades. Although it is a loaded system, there's still plenty of room for expansion, with one free 3.5-inch and two free 5.25-inch front-accessible drive bays, and two internal 3.5-inch bays left open, as well. There is also room to add two more memory sticks to the two already in place (for a total of 2GB of system memory), and there's space for three more PCI cards out of five total slots (one is taken by the sound card, the other blocked by the graphics card's heat sink).

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This quietly powerful PC scored some of the highest benchmark results we've ever seen.
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The expertly crafted interior maximizes airflow and makes it easy to upgrade.

The back panel features the usual assortment of legacy ports with one exception, an integrated S/PDIF jack for digital audio components. There are four USB 2.0 inputs and between the motherboard and the sound card, there are two FireWire ports. You can opt for a front 3.5-inch bay USB/FireWire card kit for $39, but you must choose between that and the media-card-reader option, as they both depend on the motherboard's lone internal, front-accessible USB connection. Neither option was included on our test system.

The headliner on the Falcon Northwest Mach V 3.4 Extreme Edition is its CPU, the 3.4GHz Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition. While not a part of Intel's next-generation Prescott processor line, this new Extreme Edition chip was announced on the same day as Intel's new Prescott line. Exceedingly powerful but also expensive and hard to find, this chip is a large factor in the Mach V's hefty $4,839 price tag.

The rest of the system is accompanied by all of the components you'd expect to find in a custom-made desktop designed for demanding gamers and performance junkies. On top of the 1GB of Corsair 400MHz PC3200 memory, the system boasts a RAID 0 configuration with two Seagate 120GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA hard drives, each with an 8MB buffer, a top-of-the-line 256MB Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra graphics card, and the Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS sound card. Opting for either the Audigy 2 ZS Platinum (for $131 more) or the Platinum Pro cards (an additional $196) on Falcon's Web site gets you a port extension for each card (internal and external, respectively) that adds greater audio functionality and more jacks to the front of the system.

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There's not a whole lot we can think of to add to this monster of a system.
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But we would sacrifice the clean lines for some front-mounted ports or a media-card reader.

As a DVD-watching and DVD-recording platform, the Mach V excels. For optical drives, the Mach V includes a 16X DVD-ROM drive from Toshiba and a Plextor multiformat DVD+/-RW with 8X DVD+R write capability. The 19-inch NEC/Mitsubishi flat-screen CRT is as crisp and clean as any display we've seen. Holding its clarity at high resolutions makes it an outstanding choice for watching movies and playing games. While some may prefer to use the Audigy 2 card to its full potential and choose a 7.1 speaker set instead, the included Klipsch ProMedia 5.1 Ultra speakers should leave all but the most discerning listeners satisfied. The control console also includes an easily accessible headphone jack. To match the other high-end components, Falcon includes the Logitech Cordless MX Duo keyboard and rechargeable optical mouse.

Our test system shipped with Windows XP Home, although XP Pro is an option as well for an added cost. Other software inclusions are minimal. In addition to a few older games and demos, you'll find Roxio Easy CD and DVD Creator, CyberLink's PowerDVD 5.0, and InterVideo's WinDVD Suite, as well as one blank DVD+RW disc.

Application performance
Falcon Northwest has always been known for its top-performing gaming PCs, which use overclocking procedures and other tweaks to get the most out of each system. The latest incarnation of the company's Mach V line uses the just-announced Intel 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition processor. It is the fastest and highest-performing system to have ever passed through CNET Labs. With a score of 404 on SysMark 2002, the Mach V is more than 7 percent faster than the 3.2GHz P4EE-based Velocity Micro Raptor Extreme Edition and more than 10 percent faster than our top-performing Intel Prescott system, the 3.2EGHz Velocity Micro ProMagix. And compared to the ABS Ultimate M6, which uses AMD's top-of-the-line Athlon FX-51 processor, the Mach V tops it on application performance by a whopping 24 percent.

Application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark 2002 rating  
SysMark 2002 Internet content creation   
SysMark 2002 office productivity   
Falcon Northwest Mach V 3.4 Extreme Edition (3.4GHz Intel P4EE, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Velocity Micro Raptor Extreme Edition (3.2GHz Intel P4 Extreme, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Velocity Micro ProMagix (3.2EGHz Intel P4, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
iBuyPower Gamer Extreme PC (3.2EGHz Intel P4, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Dell Dimension 8300 (3.2EGHz Intel P4, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
ABS Ultimate M6 (AMD Athlon 64 FX-51, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz)

To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2002, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).

3D graphics and gaming performance
Our Mach V test system arrived with a slightly overclocked graphics card, which we were more than happy to test, once Falcon confirmed that it will use the same settings on shipping versions of the product. Using Nvidia's high-end GeForce FX 5950 Ultra, Falcon raised the core speed to 517MHz (up from the card's default speed of 500MHz) and kept the memory at the default of 1GHz. Our test system, however, came with the memory underclocked at 950MHz. We proceeded to set the memory back to 1GHz, but whenever we rebooted the system, it reverted back to 950MHz. We alerted Falcon to this issue, and after a few e-mail messages and some exhaustive testing, we came to the conclusion that it is most likely a bug with Nvidia's drivers. Even with this small glitch, the graphics scores were off the charts, easily outpacing those of any other system we've seen to date. Needless to say, any game played on this system will bring great pleasure to whoever is using it.

3D gaming performance (in fps)  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby-Antalus 1,024x768  
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby-Antalus 1,600x1,200 4X antialising 8X anisotropic filtering  
Falcon Northwest Mach V 3.4 Extreme Edition (Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra)
Velocity Micro Raptor Extreme Edition (Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra)
ABS Ultimate M6 (ATI Radeon 9800XT)
Velocity Micro ProMagix (Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra)
iBuyPower Gamer Extreme PC (ATI Radeon 9800XT)
Dell Dimension 8300 (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
Note: * Denotes system was not tested at this resolution.

To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Epic Games' Unreal Tournament 2003, widely used as an industry-standard benchmark. We use Unreal to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8.0 (DX8) interface at a 32-bit color depth and at a resolution of 1,024x768 and 1,600x1,200. Antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are disabled during our 1,024x768 tests and are set to 4X and 8X respectively during our 1,600x1,200 tests. At this color depth and those resolutions, using Unreal is an excellent way to compare the performance of low-end to high-end graphics subsystems. We report the results of Unreal's Flyby-Antalus test in frames per second (fps).

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