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Avoid silly questions such as, "So, what processor's inside?"
The deep-black lacquer finish on our test Mach V's 18-by-9-by-21-inch (H, W, D) midtower case gives the machine a somewhat stealthy look. That cover is quickly blown, however, as soon as you power up the system and see the left panel's AMD Athlon 64 FX billboard lit up by Falcon's cold-blue cathode lights. (Our test system's right-side panel has the same laser-etched logo without the lights.) Of course, this is just one of several case designs Falcon Northwest supplies. Customization, from the case to the CPU, is the company's specialty. You can choose a plain-Jane case or opt for one with side panels with a logo or windows and one of Falcon's automotive-finish Exotix paint jobs--a single color or a highly patriotic flag design.
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|With its own heat sink and fan, the FX 5950 takes up some room.|
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|One 3.5-inch and two 5.25-inch bays were vacant on our test system.|
Style aside, the case is utilitarian. Six drive bays hide behind a hinged panel at the front. One 3.5-inch and two 5.25-inch bays were vacant on our test system. Three additional 3.5-inch bays live inside the tower; all you need to do to get there is to twist off two thumbscrews. Be careful removing the lighted side panel, as its power cord puts it on a short tether; unplug it before trying to open the box. Inside, the wiring is all routed professionally out of the way, making it a snap to access the bays, the slots, and the sockets.
Two of the four memory sockets are unfilled, and while four of the five PCI slots are technically available, the Nvidia GeForce 5950 Ultra graphics card totally blocks one of those and seriously crowds another. There aren't any front-mounted ports, but around back, there are four USB 2.0, two FireWire, and one Gigabyte Ethernet LAN port, along with the usual legacy connections for keyboard, mouse, and printer.
AMD doesn't make a consumer chip faster than the Athlon 64 FX-51 CPU that powers the Mach V FX-51. The 64-bit chip is clocked at 2.2GHz, and aside from offering traditional 32-bit computing power, it's also primed and ready for any 64-bit applications that might come its way within the next year. Falcon Northwest combines the Athlon 64 FX-51 with 1GB of PC3200 DDR SDRAM and an Asus SK8V motherboard that lets you build up to 8GB of memory should you need it.
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|Behind the Zalman cooling fan and the heat sink resides the Athlon 64 FX-51 processor.|
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|Half of the optical drive tandem is our top-rated DVD burner, the Plextor PX-708A.|
The Mach V's dual serial ATA 36GB drives are in a RAID configuration that amounts to a 72GB virtual volume aimed at speed rather than space--these are 10,000rpm Seagate devices, not typical 7,200rpm drives. Speed is also the dominant theme behind supplying the system with an Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra graphics card, which sports digital and analog monitor connections, as well as an S-Video output for your television. We ignored the latter because our test system came with its own big screen: a 66-pound NEC CRT with a 20-inch viewing area scalable to 1,920x1,440 at a flicker-free 76Hz. Its 0.24mm dot pitch made text, graphics, and video acceptable at that maximum resolution, but 1,280x1,024 was more comfortable. The remote keyboard and mouse let you put welcome distance between your eyes and the flat screen.
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|The 21-inch NEC monitor gives you the big picture.|
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|The Mach V FX-51 is high-end throughout, all the way down to the wireless keyboard and mouse from Logitech.|
Beyond fast graphics and an excellent monitor, a great gaming system needs audio that will peel the paint off your walls. Accordingly, Falcon Northwest falls back on the ever-popular and outrageously good 470-watt Klipsch ProMedia Ultra 5.1 speakers tacked to an Audigy2 sound card. To take advantage of the system's superlative audio and video, the Mach V also comes with Toshiba's 16X DVD-ROM drive and our top-rated DVD burner, the Plextor PX-708A, which writes to +R discs at 8X and -R discs at 4X and lets you make your own movies.
Falcon Northwest has always used overclocking procedures and other tweaks to get the most out of its top-performing systems. The latest Mach V uses the Athlon 64 FX-51 processor with its 1GB of DDR 400MHz SDRAM now residing on the processor itself instead of externally on the chipset. This allows for a few more tweaking capabilities with the CPU. As such, Falcon has slightly adjusted the BIOS settings to produce a CPU that runs at 2.25GHz, as opposed to the default speed of 2.2GHz.
Even with this overclocking, however, we didn't see much of a performance advantage from the Mach V FX-51 compared with other FX-51-based systems. Nor can the Mach V compete with a system using Intel's latest Pentium 4 Extreme Edition chip, such as the Velocity Micro Raptor Extreme Edition. While the Mach V's performance is quite good and will run anything thrown at it, Intel systems still claim the application-performance crown.
|Application performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)|
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
Falcon also overclocked the graphics card in its Mach V FX-51. Using Nvidia's GeForce FX 5950 Ultra, Falcon has raised the core speed from 500MHz to 531MHz and kept the memory at 1GHz. Our test system, however, came with the memory underclocked at 950MHz. We proceeded to set the memory back to 1GHz, and whenever the system rebooted, it reverted back to 950MHz. We alerted Falcon to this issue, and after a few e-mails and some exhaustive testing, Falcon concluded that this glitch is likely a bug with Nvidia's drivers. Even with this slight problem, the Mach V FX-51's graphics scores were off the charts and easily outpaced those of any other system we've seen to date. Any game played on this system will bring great pleasure.
|3D graphics performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)|
To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark03 Pro, an industry-standard benchmark. We use 3DMark to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 9.0 (DX9) interface at a 32-bit color-depth setting and at a resolution of 1,600x1,200. We also enable 4X antialiasing and 4X anisotropic filtering via Windows' Display Properties settings. A system that does not have DX9 hardware support will typically generate a lower score than one that has such support.
|3D gaming performance in fps (Longer bars indicate better performance)|
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. Antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are disabled. At this color depth and resolution, Unreal is much less demanding than 3DMark03 and is therefore an excellent means of comparing 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).
Performance analysis written by CNET Labs technician David Gussman.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.System configurations:
ABS Ultimate M6
Windows XP Professional, 2.2GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-51; Nvidia Nforce-3 Pro 150; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro XT 256MB; two Seagate ST380013AS 80GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; WinXP Promise FastTrack 376/378 Controller
Compaq X09 Gaming PC
Windows XP Professional, 3.2GHz Intel P4; Intel 875P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 256MB; two Seagate ST3120026AS 120GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Intel 82801ER SATA RAID controller
Falcon Northwest Mach V FX-51
Windows XP Home; 2.2GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-51; VIA K8T800 chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 256MB; two WDC WD360GD-00FNA0 36GB Serial ATA 10,000rpm; integrated VIA Serial ATA RAID controller
Polywell Poly 900NF3-FX1
Windows XP Professional, 2.2GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-51; Nvidia Nforce-3 Pro 150 chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5900 Ultra 256MB; two WDC WD360GD-00FNA0 36GB Serial ATA 10,000rpm; WinXP Promise FastTrak 376/378 RAID controller
Velocity Micro Raptor Extreme Edition
Windows XP Professional, 3.2GHz Intel P4 Extreme; Intel 875P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 256MB; two WDC WD360GD-00FNA0 36GB Serial ATA 10,000rpm; one WDC WD2500JB-53EVA0, 250GB, ATA/100, 7,200rpm; integrated Intel 82801ER SATA RAID Controller
Falcon Northwest offers toll-free technical support Monday through Saturday during typical West Coast business hours. Given the tech-savvy audience that the company is targeting with the ridiculously high-end Mach V FX-51, the lack of 24/7 phone support isn't objectionable, especially when all calls are handled by Falcon's own knowledgeable staff and not some third-party service provider. A 30-day, "no questions asked," money-back guarantee should give you enough room to decide if the system is a keeper.
The system itself is covered by a generous three-year parts-and-labor warranty. While you might expect onsite service with a computer at this price range, Falcon Northwest instead provides a depot-return plan. To its credit, the company will pay shipping both ways for warranty repairs with overnight shipping applied during the first year. Depot service can be extended for all three years for an extra $245.