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Like most boutique PC vendors, Falcon Northwest has a mandate to offer its customers the latest PC hardware. That means the company has an inclination to showcase Intel's latest CPUs, even when those chips aren't the most obvious fit for Falcon's hard-core gaming clientele. Well-heeled gamers who also engage in professional content creation or other CPU-intensive tasks should consider this $4,995 Falcon Northwest Mach V and its new six-core, 12-thread Intel Core i7-3930K processor. Pure gamers can get a similar gaming experience from PCs with older Intel chips that cost half as much.
The 3.2GHz Core i7-3930K in the Mach V is a new, high-end variant of Intel's second-generation Core architecture. Code-named Sandy Bridge-E, the new chip is joined by two other new models, the higher-end 3.3GHz Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition, and, coming in early 2012, the quad-core, 3.6GHz Core i7-3820.
Like earlier second-generation Core i7 CPUs, these new models all feature Intel's Hyper-Threading and Turbo Boost 2.0 technologies. Hyper-Threading emulates a second full set of processing cores, effectively doubling the number of threads. Thus these six-core variants can behave as if they have 12 processing threads, and the quad-core model becomes 8-threaded.
Turbo Boost works in conjunction with Hyper-Threading, ratcheting the clock speed per core up in accordance with the software workload and the chip's thermal restrictions. Thanks to Turbo Boost, the Core i7-3930K in the Mach V can potentially hit 3.8GHz, at least on one core, before any tweaking.
The tweaking factor is important. The "K" designation of the chip means that its core multiplier is unlocked, and can thus be overclocked. Falcon Northwest has pushed the base frequency of the Core i7-3930K to 4.4GHz. A competing system with the same chip from Velocity Micro hit 4.7GHz.
That overclocking means significant added performance from Intel's K-designated chips. Older CPUs like last year's Core i7-2600K regularly showed up in the CNET lab clocked to 4.8GHz from their 3.6GHz standard clock speed. Notice how that range of speed overlaps that of Intel's new chips? Remember that.
Along with the extra cores in the new Sandy Bridge-E CPUs comes a new motherboard chipset, the Intel X79. Most important of the new chipset's features is that in tandem with the new CPUs' integrated memory controller, it now natively supports four-channel 1,600MHz DDR3 memory, up from last year's two-channel, 1,333MHz standard.
The X79 chipset has some other new features. It's one of the first comparatively mainstream motherboards to offer eight memory slots, which should interest content creators. It also offers new PCI Express 3.0 graphics card slots, a perhaps too forward-looking feature, as it will only benefit future graphics cards with more bandwidth.
|Falcon Northwest Mach V||Velocity Micro Raptor Z90||Digital Storm Ode Level 3|
|Motherboard chipset||Intel X79||Intel X79||Intel P67|
|CPU||4.4GHz Intel Core i7-3930K (overclocked)||4.7GHz Intel Core i7-3930K (overclocked)||4.8GHz Intel Core i7-2600K|
|Memory||16GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM||16GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM||8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||(3) 1.28GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 570||(2) 1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 580||(2) 1.28GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 570|
|Hard drives||128MB Crucial SSD, 2TB 7,200rpm Samsung hard drive||(2) Patriot Wildfire 120GB SSDs, 2TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive; 2TB 7,200rpm Samsung hard drive||120GB Intel SSD, 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive|
|Optical drive||Blu-ray writer/dual-layer DVD burner||Blu-ray writer/dual-layer DVD burner||Blu-ray/DVD burner combo|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
Expect every major boutique vendor to offer Intel's new chip and chipset. I'll have more reviews of such systems following this one over the next few weeks, but for now I'll compare the Falcon Northwest with the similar Raptor Z90 from Velocity Micro, as well as with the Editors' Choice Award-winning Digital Storm Ode Level 3. That last desktop costs half as much as these luxury boxes, and runs on Intel's previous top-dog CPU, the Core i7-2600K.
Next to its competition, the Falcon Northwest Mach V primarily stands out for its imposing case and its triple-graphics-card configuration. Falcon submitted a Mach V with its new up-venting case earlier this year. Maingear offers a similar design in its flagship Shift.
The Mach V case design is unique enough, and projects a more boutique-looking profile than the plain-but-sturdy Raptor Z90. I'm also happy to report that Falcon has shored up the power button design. The earlier power button wasn't mounted securely enough: push down on it too hard and it would fall into the case, drawing you into a comically arduous process of disassembling the entire front panel to fish it out.
Overall, the Falcon Northwest Mach V offers competitive pricing for its configuration, particularly when you consider the costs of its intimidating case. Velocity Micro achieved a higher overclock setting in the Raptor Z90, though, and offers two solid-state hard drives to the Mach V's one. While you might not be overly price-sensitive if you're shopping for a gaming desktop in this price range to begin with, you can expect to pay a touch more for the Mach V part-for-part than for its competitors.
|Rendering multiple CPUs||Rendering single CPU|
As impressive as these PCs can be for their assortment of high-end components, the new Intel CPUs are the real stars of the show. But while the Falcon Northwest and Velocity Micro systems both land on the top of our performance charts, the lack of distance between them and the Digital Storm Ode Level 3 speaks to the difficulties Intel and these vendors will have in convincing gamers that these new Sandy Bridge-E series chips and their supporting motherboards are worth the expense.
The Falcon and Velocity systems only separate themselves in our Cinebench 11.5 multithreaded test. While Photoshop CS5 and our multimedia multitasking tests both benefit from extra CPU cores and processing threads, the new chips really only make a difference for programs with the need and the ability to scale their workloads across all available processing threads. 3D encoders, financial spreadsheet maintainers, and others with specific multithread needs may see some benefit, but for the most part, the Core i7-2600K offers just as much application performance as Intel's new chips and faster memory support, for a significantly lower price.
|1,600x1,200 (high, 4x aa)||1,280x1,024 (medium, 4x aa)|
|1,920x1,200 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)||1,440x900 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)|
|2,560x1,600 (DirectX 11, very high)||1,920x1,080 (DirectX 11, very high)|
|Performance (1,920x1,080, 16x AF)||Entry level (1,680x1,050)|
The gaming results look better for the Falcon and Velocity systems, but that's likely due to their high-end graphics card configurations rather than the new Intel chip. On Metro 2033 and on 3DMark 11, the two most current, and most demanding, game-related tests in our test suite, the two new PCs show appropriately dominant performance, for the most part. The new Mach V falls dramatically behind in our 2,560x1,600-pixel Metro 2033 test, which is likely due to its 1.28GB GeForce GTX 570 cards. In order to succeed on that benchmark, a graphics card really needs 1.5GB of memory or higher. Few other games, if any, will have that same issue, which makes Metro 2033 something of an outlier.
If potential Mach V buyers are discouraged by that result, I'll turn your attention to the 3DMark 2011 test, where the Falcon Northwest system won at every resolution. That test is arguably the most relevant indicator of general DirectX 11 performance, which speaks very well of the Mach V's gaming prospects overall. In general, you should expect to be play almost every game out there on the Mach V, and on its highest image quality settings. Our only words of warning come if you're a big Metro 2033 fan, or, potentially, if you're anticipating the forthcoming sequel, Metro: Last Light.
With three graphics cards inside, the Mach V has no room for card upgrades, but you do get the uncommon opportunity to use up to eight memory sticks. The four 4GB, 1,600MHz sticks currently in place should serve the majority of gamers for the foreseeable future. Content creators and other professional users should take note, though. You can also add four additional hard drives to the Mach V, with SATA 2.0 and 3.0 inputs available on the motherboard. Because of those mixed connection standards, Falcon Northwest does not prewire the backplane of the tool-free hard-drive slots to receive a new drive. That's a fair reason, but it's still a hassle if you want to preserve the streamlined interior cabling.
Per usual for high-end motherboards, the Mach V's Asus P9X79 Pro offers a cornucopia of inputs and outputs. The six USB 3.0 ports are a particular standout feature. You also get seven standard USB 2.0 ports, as well as two powered eSATA inputs. For audio you get a robust assortment of ports, including a set of 7.1 analog jacks, one of which doubles as a coaxial digital output. You also get an optical digital out, as well as audio output from the graphics cards via the Mini-HDMI port. Each card also offers a pair of DVI outputs, although Nvidia's graphics cards only support three concurrent displays, as opposed to AMD's six-way (and appropriately cumbersome) Eyefinity technology.
|Falcon Northwest Mach V (Core i7-3930K, fall 2011)||Average watts/hour|
|Raw (annual kWh)||1,262.97|
|Annual power consumption cost (@$0.1135/kWh)||$143.35|
We like to say we're never surprised by the high power-draw figures that come with top-end gaming desktops, but the Falcon Northwest Mach V has set a new record in power consumption. A six-core CPU, three graphics cards, and a 1,200-watt power supply will need their share of power, and that translates to an estimated $143.35 in annual power bills for this PC, or just shy of $12 a month. Velocity Micro might consider renaming its Raptor Z90 the Rainbow Warrior, since its similarly fast setup looks downright eco-friendly at about $9 a month.
Falcon Northwest's service and support policies remain some of the best in the industry. The Mach V nets you three years of parts-and-labor warranty coverage as its default plan. Falcon also offers free shipping to and from its offices for repair. Phone support is not 24-7, but lines are open from a still-generous 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT, seven days a week, and are staffed by an entirely in-house support team.
Boutique gaming desktops make sense for only a niche clientele. Boutique professional-level multithreaded PCs appeal to an even smaller market. If you're a pure gamer, you simply don't need the features Intel is offering with its new Core i7-3930K chips, since you can still buy the eminently overclockable Core i7-2600K for far less. Still, vendors like Falcon Northwest are best-suited to providing specialized builds like this Mach V. You'll pay a price for the statement-making chassis, but for some customers that's at least part of the reason to buy such a computer. If you need such a particular configuration, and you prefer your computers on the more visually expressive side, I can recommend this PC.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Alienware Aurora (Core i7-2600, spring 2011)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-2600K; 4GB 1,866MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 2GB AMD Radeon HD 6950 graphics cards; 1TB SATA 300 7,200rpm hard drive; 2TB SATA 600 7,200rpm hard drive
Digital Storm Ode Level 3 (Core i7-2600K, spring 2011)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.8GHz Intel Core i7-2600K (overclocked); 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2)1.28GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 570 graphics cards; 128GB Intel solid-state hard drive; 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive
Falcon Northwest Mach V (Core i7-2600K, spring 2011)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.6GHz Intel Core i7-2600K (overclocked); 16GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2)1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 graphics cards; 128GB solid-state hard drive; 1TB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive
Falcon Northwest Mach V (Core i7-3930K, fall 2011)
Windows 7 Professional 64-bit; 4.4GHz Intel Core i7-3930K (overclocked); 16GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (3)1.28GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 570 graphics cards; 128GB Crucial solid-state hard drive; 2TB 7,200rpm Samsung hard drive
Maingear Vybe Super Stock (Core i7-2600K, summer 2011)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4,5GHz Intel Core i7-2600K; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2)2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560Ti graphics cards; 1TB 7,200rpm Samsung hard drive
Velocity Micro Raptor Z90 (Core i7-2600K, fall 2011)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.7GHz Intel Core i7-3930K (overclocked); 16GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2)1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 graphics cards; (2)128GB Patriot Wildfire solid-state hard drive; 2TB 7,200rpm Samsung hard drive