With the release of Intel's new Core 2 series CPUs, a handful of systems are hitting the ground running on the day of launch. Two of them, the Falcon Northwest Mach V and the Dell XPS 700, share a nearly identical price, but there are marked differences between them. The $3,900 Falcon offers the slower 2.66GHz version of the Core 2 Duo, as opposed to the Dell's 2.93GHz Core 2 Extreme X6800. The Falcon's CPU is overclocked, however, as is its Nvidia GeForce 7950 GX2 video card. While the Mach V delivered fast gaming numbers, it was significantly slower on other computing tasks when compared to the Dell. Still, at the bleeding edge of computer technology, both systems are far ahead of the competition, and your choice comes down to personal preference. Some will prefer the Dell XPS 700's racy new jet-engine chassis, while others will like the personalized service and factory-approved overclocking that comes with the Falcon Northwest Mach V.
Why is the Core 2 Duo CPU so exciting? The new CPU offers an excellent blend of price and performance when compared to the top-of-the-line CPUs from rival AMD. The chip in the Falcon Mach V is the 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo E6700, which separately retails for $530. For just about half the cost of AMD's flagship, the $1,031 Athlon 64 FX-62, the Core 2 Duo E6700 gives you nearly identical, if not faster performance, depending on the application, but keep in mind that AMD price cuts are imminent. In this case, the CPU is overclocked, something Falcon does pretty regularly. The chip is set to run at 3.14GHz, but as we'll discuss later, the overclocking doesn't radically change the performance of this already supercharged CPU.
The Falcon Mach V is housed in Falcon's familiar Silverstone Icon aluminum chassis, customized with a backlit Falcon logo on the front panel. Our review unit lacks the custom $545 automotive paint job that we've seen on other Falcon systems.
Behind the logo-etched door panel, there's a LiteOn DVD burner, a Sony DVD-ROM drive, and a floppy drive/multimedia card reader, along with room for three more optical drives. The lower half of the front panel is covered by a second door, which hides a 120mm intake fan, four USB 2.0 ports, and a FireWire port. Rear connections include dual S/PDIF outputs, four additional USB 2.0 ports, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, and jacks for the integrated eight-channel audio, which are supplanted by the Creative Labs X-Fi Elite sound card.
Inside the case, you'll find Falcon's typically impeccable wiring job, plus layers of sound-dampening foam on the bottom and inside the case door. A single 150GB Western Digital Raptor hard drive seems skimpy for a $3,900 system, but at least it's a 10,000rpm drive. You can add five additional hard drives of your own. Our test system also featured 2GB of PC6400 DD2 memory, running at 800MHz, which ate up two of the four memory slots. One PCI Express x16 slot is filled with an Nvidia GeForce 7950 GX2 dual-GPU card (also overclocked). There are two additional x16 PCI Express slots, along with two plain-Jane PCI slots.
Unlike the last Mach V we looked at, February's AMD Athlon 64 FX-60 version, this system doesn't include a water-cooling apparatus. One of the claims made by Intel about the Core 2 Duo is that it uses less power and runs cooler than comparable AMD chips, so the extra cooling hardware shouldn't be missed.
The Falcon Mach V's 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo E6700 CPU has been overclocked to 3.14GHz. The advantage to having Falcon do this for you in the factory is that the company tests the system for stability, and even better, it doesn't void your warranty. Compared to the nonoverclocked version of the same CPU in our Intel Core 2 Duo whitebox system, we saw a modest performance improvement, with the overclocked Falcon coming in 10 percent faster in CNET Labs' multitasking test and 37 percent faster in our Photoshop CS2 image-processing test. There was an identical difference between the Falcon and a whitebox system with a top-of-the-line AMD Athlon 64 FX-62.
However, don't shine up those first-place ribbons just yet. The Dell XPS 700, with the flagship Core 2 Extreme X6800, turns right around and mops the floor with the Core 2 Duo systems, overclocked or not. The Dell XPS 700 is a full 38 percent faster than the Falcon Mach V in the multitasking test--and this is from two systems with about a $50 price difference between them. The comparison isn't exactly apples to apples; it's more like oranges to tangerines. If you look at the Core 2 Extreme in our whitebox system, the advantage goes to the Falcon, although by a statistically insignificant 3 percent. So why the large gap between the Dell XPS 700 and the rest? At this point, we can only point to the Dell's Nvidia Nforce 590 SLI chipset (as opposed to the Intel 975X chipset in the Falcon and our whitebox systems), which Nvidia claims gets a boost from working with Nvidia video cards in a symbiotic relationship. We're not 100 percent satisfied with this explanation and will continue to investigate.
On the gaming front, the story is similar. The Falcon has a single dual-GPU GeForce 7950 GX2, overclocked by Falcon. The Dell XPS 700 has two GeForce 7900 GTX cards in an SLI setup. Technically, twin 7900 GTX cards would be slightly faster, but the overclocking in the Falcon picks up the slack, and in one test, F.E.A.R. at 1,024x768 resolution, it actually beat the Dell. In other gaming tests, the Dell inched past the Falcon. In Quake 4 at 1,600x1,200 resolution, however, the difference is insignificant. By switching to a single GeForce 7950 GX2, the Dell XPS 700 could keep its gaming scores up and cut a few hundred dollars from the system price. Dell doesn't currently offer the 7950 as an option, however.