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Falcon Northwest Mach V (Intel Core 2 Duo) review: Falcon Northwest Mach V (Intel Core 2 Duo)

If you want a gaming-oriented Intel Core 2 Duo system and you have to have it right away, the Falcon Northwest Mach V pumps out plenty of frames per second but falls behind the faster Dell XPS 700 in other computing tasks.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
7 min read
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.


Falcon Northwest Mach V (Intel Core 2 Duo)

The Good

Overclocked Intel Core 2 Duo CPU; overclocked dual-GPU Nvidia video card; typical Falcon attention to detail.

The Bad

Costs as much as the faster Core 2 Extreme Dell XPS 700; overclocked CPU doesn't deliver as much of a boost as we'd like; relatively small hard drive capacity.

The Bottom Line

If you want a gaming-oriented Intel Core 2 Duo system and you have to have it right away, the Falcon Northwest Mach V pumps out plenty of frames per second but falls behind the faster Dell XPS 700 in other computing tasks.

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.

Falcon includes a lot of custom materials with its systems, including a recovery DVD and a giant hardcover binder with your invoice, a checklist signed by a Falcon technician, and somewhat simplistic instructions for system care and maintenance. (Along the lines of, "Keep in mind--running the recovery CD will erase your hard drive!") Included software is limited to an OEM version of Nero's CD- and DVD-burning suite and PowerDVD for playing DVD movies.

Falcon Northwest provides comprehensive coverage for the Mach V, with well-developed online resources, including FAQs, prominent contact information, easy-to-find driver downloads, and other features. Falcon's phone support hours run from noon to 9 p.m. ET, seven days a week. The standard three-year parts-and-labor warranty is in line with other high-end vendors' and better than Dell's one year of coverage on the XPS 700, and for the first year, it'll pick up and return your system with overnight shipping if it needs to be sent in for service.

Multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Multitasking test  

Photoshop CS2 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test  

iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iTunes encoding test  

Office productivity test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Microsoft Office productivity test  

3D gaming performance (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Quake 4 1,600x1,200 4xAA 8xAF  
Quake 4 1,024x768, 4xAA 8xAF  
F.E.A.R. 1,600x1,200 SS 8xAF  
F.E.A.R. 1,024x768 SS 8xAF  
Dell XPS 700
*Falcon Northwest Mach V
AMD Athlon 64 FX-62

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

AMD test bed
Windows XP Professional SP2; Asus M2N32-SLI Deluxe motherboard; Nvidia Nforce 590 SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7900GTX (PCIe); WDC WD740GD-00FLA2 74GB 10,000rpm SATA

Dell XPS 700
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 2.93GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; Nvidia Nforce 590 SLI chipset; (2) 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7900GTX SLI (PCIe); (2) WDC WD3200KS-75PFB0 320GB 7,2000rpm SATA; Nvidia Nforce RAID class controller (RAID 0)

Falcon Northwest Mach V (Intel Core 2 Duo)
Windows XP Professional SP2; 3.14GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6700; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; Intel 975X chipset; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7950GX2 (PCIe); WDC WD1500ADFD-00NLR 150GB 10,000rpm SATA

Intel test bed
Windows XP Professional SP2; Intel Desktop Board D975XBX; Intel 975X chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7900GTX (PCIe); WDC WD740GD-00FLA2 74GB 10,000rpm SATA


Falcon Northwest Mach V (Intel Core 2 Duo)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7Support 8