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Falcon Northwest Mach V (Athlon XP 2800+) review: Falcon Northwest Mach V (Athlon XP 2800+)

Falcon Northwest Mach V (Athlon XP 2800+)

Rich Brown Former Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness
Rich was the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, Kentucky. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D printing to Z-Wave smart locks.
Expertise Smart home, Windows PCs, cooking (sometimes), woodworking tools (getting there...)
Rich Brown
7 min read
Falcon Northwest has built its reputation on selling premium systems that cater to the gaming needs of a highly demanding clientele. The latest iteration of its Mach V is no exception. Based on AMD's 2.25GHz Athlon XP 2800+ CPU, a whopping 1GB of 333MHz DDR SDRAM, and ATI's 128MB Radeon 9700 Pro graphics card, this system combines top-shelf components with Falcon's superior craftsmanship and support. But such attention to detail doesn't come cheap. At $3,995, the custom-painted, Athlon-based Mach V is pricey, but it will save you hundreds compared with the 3GHz P4-based Mach V we recently reviewed. Besides, this system is the fastest AMD-based system to pass through CNET Labs to date.

Custom Liquid Metal paint job.

Free bays give you room to grow.

Although it's a purely cosmetic $399 option, we found the speckled, Liquid Metal Exotix paint job and brushed-aluminum finish on our Mach V test system to be indicative of the care with which Falcon Northwest assembled this computer. Despite being equipped with dual 40GB hard drives in a RAID configuration, DVD-ROM and DVD-RW drives, and a small FireWire PCI Card, the system's cables are clipped down and organized so neatly that you can almost store luggage inside the roomy interior.

Clean interior.

The case's tool-free side panels simplify internal access, although you'll still need to screw the drives into their slots. One 3.5-inch and two 5.25-inch slots are available, as is one extra DIMM slot, should you decide that 1GB of system memory is inadequate. The Mach V is also somehow relatively quiet--quite a feat considering its four internal fans.

If you need more than 1GB of memory, you can add it.

USB and FireWire ports are around back.

Our one design gripe is the Mach V's lack of front-panel USB 2.0 ports, although the mesh vent panel where Falcon would presumably place them helps to keep the system cool. The Sound Blaster Audigy sound card included here does not have either the external box or front-panel-mounted port face, which also means no front-accessible audio ports, although that option is available.

Falcon Northwest custom builds all of its PCs, which means that you can upgrade any of this system's included components. Our Mach V test system boasts an Athlon XP 2800+ CPU, 1GB of 333MHz DDR SDRAM, and a 128MB ATI Radeon 9700 Pro graphics card; that's AMD's fastest processor at the moment, the speediest DDR memory available, and ATI's most advanced graphics card. These high-end components add up to a system that's more than capable of playing the most current, demanding 3D games at full detail levels at 1,600x1,200 resolution.

Two RAID-configured 40GB hard drives.

For gamers only: the Radeon 9700 Pro graphics card.

Adding to the overall performance of the machine are dual 7,200rpm IBM hard drives configured for RAID 0 level disk striping (the processor sees it as a single 80GB hard drive). The speed of these two drives becomes apparent when you boot the system. And although 80GB might not seem like a lot of disk space, remember that the Mach V is built with gamers in mind. Serious photographers and digital video editors dealing with lots of large files may require more space.
That's not to say, however, that the Mach V doesn't give you tools for managing digital video. Coupled with our test system's Toshiba 16X DVD-ROM drive was a Sony DRU-500A DVD-RW drive, the latter a natural companion to the three FireWire ports on the back panel. With the included Sonic MyDVD software, you can plug a video source into one of these or one of the four USB 2.0 ports and burn directly to the DVD-RW drive.

Toshiba DVD-ROM drive and Sony DVD-RW drive.

Rattle the walls with the Klipsch ProMedia 5.1 digital speaker system.

The rest of the software bundle is fairly standard. You can watch DVDs with CyberLink's PowerDVD and edit video with ArcSoft's ShowBiz. The Unreal Tournament 2003 demo CD provided the biggest thrill.
We had no complaints about the system's 19-inch ViewSonic CRT, but as we went to press, we learned that this monitor was no longer available, though comparable models are. Fortunately, we didn't hear of any plans to replace the Mach V's magnificent Klipsch ProMedia 5.1 digital speaker system.

Application performance
This Athlon XP 2800+-based Mach V is the fastest AMD-based system we've tested to date. It is not, however, the fastest system to come through our doors. The AMD vs. Intel debate keeps raging, and at least according to our benchmarks, Intel is still the winner. The Mach V's overall application performance is similar to what we've seen with 2.53GHz-based Intel P4 systems. With content-creation applications, the Mach V's performance comes closest to that of 2.26GHz-based P4 desktops. Only with office-productivity apps does the Mach V deliver performance comparable to that of a 2.8GHz P4-based system.
Application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark2002 Rating  
SysMark2002 Internet Content Creation Rating  
SysMark2002 Office Productivity Rating  
Falcon Northwest Mach V (Athlon XP 2800+, 333MHz DDR SDRAM)
PC Progress X-Theory Platinum (2.53GHz P4, 333MHz DDR SDRAM)
ABS Ultimate M4 (Athlon XP 2700+, 400MHz DDR SDRAM)
iBuyPower Gamer Force-2 (Athlon XP 2700+, 400MHz DDR SDRAM)
Polywell Poly 884RF-2700 (Athlon XP 2700+, 400MHz DDR SDRAM)
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark2002, 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
Contrary to what you might think, an ATI graphics card works just fine in an Nvidia motherboard. Which is a good thing for the Mach V, considering that the ATI Radeon 9700 Pro is one of the speediest graphics cards available today. The graphics card and motherboard support AGP 8X, although you'd be hard-pressed to find any current applications demanding enough to utilize that extra bandwidth. Gamers will be delighted with the Mach V; it dishes out some of the fastest 3D graphics performance we've seen.
3D graphics performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Futuremark 3DMark 2001 Pro (16-bit color)  
Futuremark 3DMark 2001 Pro (32-bit color)  
Falcon Northwest Mach V (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
ABS Ultimate M4 (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
Polywell Poly 884RF-2700 (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
PC Progress X-Theory Platinum (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
iBuyPower Gamer Force-2 (Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200)
To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark 2001 Pro Second Edition, Build 330. We use 3DMark to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8 (DX8) interface at both 16- and 32-bit color settings at a resolution of 1,024x768. A system that does not have DX8 hardware support will typically generate a lower score than one that has DX8 hardware support.
3D gaming performance in FPS  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Quake III Arena  
Falcon Northwest Mach V (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
PC Progress X-Theory Platinum (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
ABS Ultimate M4 (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
Polywell Poly 884RF-2700 (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
iBuyPower Gamer Force-2 (Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200)
To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Quake III Arena. Although Quake III is an older game, it is still widely used as an industry-standard tool. Quake III does not require DX8 hardware support--as 3DMark2001 does--and is therefore an excellent means of comparing the performance of low- to high-end graphics subsystems. Quake III performance is reported in frames per second (fps).
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:
ABS Ultimate M4
Windows XP Home; 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 2700+; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB; two Western Digital WD1200JB-75CRA0 120GB 7,200rpm; Highpoint HPT372A UDMA/ATA133 RAID
Falcon Northwest Mach V
Windows XP Home, 2.25GHz AMD Athlon XP 2800+; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB; two IBM IC35L040AVVN07 40GB 7,200pm; Promise FastTrak TX2000 Ultra ATA/133
iBuyPower Gamer Force-2
Windows XP Home; 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 2700+; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB; Western Digital WD800BB-00CAA1 80GB 7,200rpm
PC Progress X-Theory Platinum
Windows XP Home; 2.53GHz Intel Pentium 4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Radeon 9700 128MB; Western Digital WD600BB-00CAA1 60GB 7,200rpm
Polywell Poly 884RF-2700
Windows XP Professional; 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 2700+; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB; two Western Digital WD800JB-00CRA1 80GB 7,200rpm; integrated Promise FastTrack133 Lite RAID

The Falcon Northwest Mach V ships with a three-year parts-and-labor warranty that includes a year of overnight pickup and drop-off service should you run into a problem that Falcon can't solve over the phone; support hours are from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT. You also receive a three-ring binder with all of the original driver versions and product-registration keys prominently marked, complete component manuals and links to every component vendor's Web site, clearly explained instructions on how to perform system and application recovery, and more. In short, you get a level of support commensurate with a system of this class--something increasingly hard to come by these days.

Falcon Northwest Mach V (Athlon XP 2800+)

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Performance 8Support 9