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Falcon Northwest Mach V (AMD Athlon 64 FX-60) review: Falcon Northwest Mach V (AMD Athlon 64 FX-60)

The Falcon Mach V's SysMark 2004 scores of 396 (Internet content creation) and 236 (office productivity) are the highest we've seen to date. The two other FX-60 systems we've tested so far--one from Polywell and another from Velocity Micro (the latter overclocked in the same manner as the Mach V)--come close, but neither kept up in the end. And just as it set records in SysMark 2004, the Mach V also stomped the competition with its gaudy 205.1 frames per second (fps) on our Doom 3 1,024x768 gaming benchmarks. The next closest was the Velocity Micro Raptor 64, which came to us with an older Nvidia graphics driver and posted 188.1fps. This brings us to the complicated part of the story.

Application performance
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo's SysMark 2004 rating  
SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating  
SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating  
** CPU and graphics are overclocked

While the Mach V ran faster on Doom 3 at 1,024x768, it couldn't complete our 1,600x1,200 Doom 3 test, crashing in the middle every time. The Velocity Micro and its older drivers, however, did complete both Doom 3 tests. Wondering if our custom Doom 3 script was corrupted, we tried simply playing Doom 3 on the Mach V at 1,600x1,200. At high quality with 4X antialiasing (AA) turned on, it was fine. Once we set it to 8X AA, it crashed, like it did while running our test script. We tried the same thing on the Velocity Micro system and, to our surprise, saw the same result. The Velocity Micro system completed our Doom 3 1,600x1,200 test, but it crashed within 30 seconds of regular gameplay at the same resolution and settings.

We tried clocking the CPU in each system down to its stock speed and then updated to Nvidia's most recent 3D drivers, but we still saw the same instabilities, leading us to believe overclocking wasn't to blame. AMD was able to replicate the problem, and its testing suggested that the power supply wasn't providing enough juice to all of the high-end parts. When we removed one of the graphics cards and played Doom 3 again, the resulting gameplay was smooth and stable.

3D gaming performance (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Doom 3 1,600x1,200 4XAA 8XAF  
Doom 3 1,024x768 4XAA 8XAF  
Half-Life 2 1,600x1,200 4XAA 8XAF  
Half-Life 2 1,024x768 4XAA 8XAF  
** CPU and graphics are overclocked

Further digging by all the parties involved tracked the problem to the power supply, although it doesn't appear to be a total wattage issue. Falcon Northwest's power supply vendor SilverStone said it saw the crashes as well. The current theory is that the individual power connector to each graphics card isn't getting enough juice to power the card at high antialiasing settings. We can't say if this issue is inherent to all power supplies, since we've seen only two systems with this specific problem. Both the Falcon Northwest's modular SilverStone power supply and the Velocity Micro's EnerMax 701 model are SLI-certified parts, which means that Nvidia's program for guiding people to SLI-compatible parts should have caught the crashing problem. Ultimately, however, the responsibility for the problem lies with the system vendors.

Nvidia has told us that it's working on the issue with these and other power supply manufacturers and that it might change the SLI-recommended power supply specs for two 512MB GeForce 7800 GTX cards as a result. For right now, Falcon Northwest says it has worked with SilverStone to refine the load balancing required to appease its specific SilverStone PSU, and Velocity Micro added a 1-kilowatt supply to its online configurator (which it sent to us as well), which also solves the problem.


System configurations:
Falcon Northwest Mach V
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.9GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-60; Nvidia Nforce-4 SLI X16 chipset; 2,048MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; two 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX (PCIe, SLI); two Maxtor 68300S0 300GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA 150; integrated Nvidia Nforce 4 RAID class controller (RAID 0)

Maingear F131 SLI-AMD
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+; Nvidia Nforce-4 SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; two 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX (PCIe, SLI); two 74GB Western Digital Raptor 10,000rpm Serial ATA; one Maxtor 300GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA

Overdrive PC Torque SLI
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.8GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-57; Nvidia Nforce-4 SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; two 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX (PCIe, SLI); two WDC WD740GD-00FLA2 74GB 10,000rpm Serial ATA, one Seagate ST3200826AS 200GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Nvidia Nforce RAID class controller (RAID 0)

Polywell Poly 939N4-SLI2/FX60
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.8GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-60; Nvidia Nforce-4 SLI X16 chipset; 2,048MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; two 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX (PCIe, SLI); two Western Digital WD946D 74GB 10,000rpm Serial ATA, one Western Digital WDC2500KS-00MJB0 250GB Serial ATA II; integrated Nvidia Nforce-4 Serial ATA RAID Controller (RAID 0)

Velocity Micro Raptor 64 DualX
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.9GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-60; Nvidia Nforce-4 SLI X16 chipset; 2,048MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; two 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX (PCIe, SLI); two Hitachi 500GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Nvidia Nforce-4 Serial ATA RAID controller (RAID 0)

Falcon Northwest provides comprehensive coverage for the Mach V, but this is another area where Velocity Micro takes the prize. Both have well-developed online resources, including FAQs, prominent contact information, easy-to-find driver downloads, and other features. Falcon has slightly superior phone support. Both companies take support calls in-house, but Falcon takes calls on Sunday; Velocity Micro doesn't. (Falcon's hours run from noon to 9 p.m. ET, seven days a week.) We also give Falcon Northwest credit for its standard three-year parts-and-labor warranty, but Velocity Micro guarantees 24/7 onsite service for the first year, whereas Falcon asks you to ship the system out (although it will pick up the cost both ways).

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