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Falcon Northwest Mach V (Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6800) review: Falcon Northwest Mach V (Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6800)

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We've stayed away from the $6,000-plus gaming PCs for awhile, largely because the shift to Windows Vista has thrown the high-end PC market into a state of uncertainty. Still, we agreed to review this Mach V from Falcon Northwest because the company sent us a configuration with two long-rumored but rarely seen 1GB ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT cards. They prove every bit as fast as we expected, at least with current PC titles. The next-gen PC gaming picture is impossible to call right now, making it hard to justify spending $6,595 for this system (or any other in this price range with the purpose of playing DirectX 10 games). That's ultimately what prevents us from awarding this system an Editor's Choice Award, despite its very high score. But for current-generation titles, which developers are still improving visually, the Falcon Northwest Mach V delivers unprecedented 3D performance.

8.7

Falcon Northwest Mach V (Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6800)

The Good

Outstanding current-generation gaming and application performance; top-notch build quality; overnight shipping coverage for repairs.

The Bad

Too many uncertainties make it impossible to evaluate this system for DirectX 10 gaming; $1,000 price premium for aggressive overclocking and overnight shipping might not be worth it to more seasoned users.

The Bottom Line

This newest Falcon Northwest Mach V isn't shy about its price tag, but it also dominated our gaming tests thanks to two fast ATI 3D cards and an overall top-notch configuration. The current uncertainty regarding next-gen PC gaming is the only issue holding this system back.

Because we've been reviewing less-expensive $4,000 gaming PCs, we didn't have anything in the same class as this Falcon Northwest Mach V to compare against. Thankfully, then, Falcon sent us a nearly identical, Nvidia-based system of its own to go head-to-head with the ATI model. Here's how the two match up:

CPU 2.93GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6800 (overclocked to 3.63GHz) 2.93GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6800 (overclocked to 3.63GHz)
Motherboard chipset Intel BadAxe II 975X Nvidia NForce 680i SLI
Memory 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics (2) 1GB ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT (2) 768GB Nvidia GeForce 8800 Ultra
Hard drive 150GB, 10,000 rpm hard drive, 750GB 7,200 rpm hard drive 150GB, 10,000 rpm hard drive, 750GB 7,200 rpm hard drive
Optical drives 20x dual layer DVD burner, 16X DVD-ROM 20x dual layer DVD burner, 16X DVD-ROM
Operating system Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit

Since we've received this system, Intel has released its marginally faster Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6850 processors, and Falcon has duly added them to its online configurator. And in order to run two graphics cards on a QX6850-equipped PC, you'll also need a different motherboard than the one we reviewed. Falcon tells us that for the same price as the system we reviewed, you will be able to purchase a system that comes with the QX6850 processor and the soon-to-hit-the-States Asus Blitz Extreme motherboard. So while a few of the parts we've covered here are no longer available on Falcon's Web site, the good news is that you'll be able to get faster, more recent components for no extra charge.

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

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

Cinebench 9.5
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs  
Rendering Single CPU  

Even with its current hardware, this Falcon Northwest Mach V still plowed through our benchmarks. The only test this system didn't win was our Photoshop test, and only because the Dell and the ABS systems with better scores had 4GB of RAM to the Falcon's 2GB. We were particularly surprised by the gaming performance, however, especially compared to the matching Mach V with the Nvidia cards in it. On both Quake 4 and F.E.A.R., the ATI-powered Falcon system outpaced its competition by a significant amount. We can't say the Nvidia's-based Falcon and its 121 frames per second on F.E.A.R. at 2,048 x 1,536 is slow, but that the ATI-based system scores a 137 on that same test is a real testament to the benefits of graphics memory on those ATI cards. (If you're wondering why we don't have DirectX 10 scores, see our recent Crave post on the topic.)

Quake 4 performance (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
2,048 x 1,536 (4x AA, 8x AF)  
1,600 x 1,200 (4x AA, 8xAF)  
1,280 x 1,024 (4x AA, 8x AF)  
Falcon Northwest Mach V (ATI)
137.8 
139.6 
142 
Falcon Northwest Mach V (Nvidia)
117.6 
124.1 
124.7 
Dell XPS 710 H2C
114.6 
114.3 
130.3 
Velocity Micro Raptor DCX
112.1 
117.8 
120 
Maingear F131 SLI
101.4 
130.2 
136 
ABS Ultimate X Striker Elite
67.2 
96.5 
118 

F.E.A.R. performance (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
2,048 x 1,536 (4x AA, 8x AF)  
1,600 x 1,200 (4x AA, 8xAF)  
1,280 x 1,024 (4x AA, 8x AF)  
Falcon Northwest Mach V (ATI)
137 
203 
256 
Falcon Northwest Mach V (Nvidia)
121 
176 
222.5 
Dell XPS 710 H2C
103 
145.7 
156.7 
Maingear F131 SLI
84.7 
125.3 
165 
Velocity Micro Raptor DCX
77 
116 
152 

Aside from its core speed, this Mach V is about as well-equipped as we'd expect for a PC in this price range, although we have questions about its overall value. Falcon uses the now-standard pairing of a 10,000rpm boot drive and a larger, slower 7,200rpm hard drive for mass data storage, so you get the best of speedy access to Windows Vista (Ultimate, in this case) as well as a ton of general-purpose disk space. Compared to the rest of the high-end gaming PC market, Falcon Northwest is on par with most of its competition, but Maingear and Velocity Micro throw the scale off considerably.

We priced out similar systems from Alienware, Dell (limited to the slower QX6700 CPU), and Voodoo PC, and all came in around or grossly above (in the case of Voodoo PC), the Mach V's $6,595 price tag. Some of those systems don't have the ATI cards featured in this review, and instead require that you go with the more-expensive GeForce 8800 Ultras. Velocity Micro and Maingear, however, offer roughly the same hardware (including the pair of 1GB Radeons) and similar claims about above-and-beyond customer service, but charge you $1,000 less than Falcon Northwest. The main differences are that Falcon overclocks beyond any speeds listed by its competition, and it will also cover the cost involved in overnighting the system back to its offices for repair. Both the overclocking and the overnight shipping features set Falcon Northwest apart from the competition, but you certainly have to pay for them. We expect more-experienced customers (who haven't built their own PCs) might not place as much value on those features, but if you have the money to burn and want to own the fastest PC around with a near-bulletproof service policy, you'll likely find that extra grand worth it.

Whether or not you're comfortable spending that extra $1,000, the Mach V most definitely lives up to Falcon Northwest's reputation for quality workmanship. The roomy case gives Falcon plenty of room for tidy cabling and maximized air flow. You barely even notice the heat exchanger and the liquid cooling tubes. Falcon also uses sound-dampening foam on the side panel and the floor of the system. The ATI-based system is noisier than the Nvidia version, but not so bad that it outweighs the benefits of the faster performance. We also found it difficult, despite the long case, to add a hard drive to the inward-facing drive cage, mostly because the dense wad of graphics-card power cables obstruct access. We've wanted Falcon to adopt an outward-facing drive cage for a while to alleviate this issue, but apparently our pleas have gone unheeded. And while the Mach V that Falcon sent us is by all accounts fully-loaded, you can dial this configuration even more on Falcon's Web site, adding more memory, a Blu-ray burner, multiple LCDs, and other goodies.

We've mentioned Falcon Northwest's paid overnight-shipping return service, which goes beyond the offerings of most of the other boutique vendors. You can also take advantage of that service throughout the three-year parts and labor warranty. But what about when you just need a bit of advice tweaking the thing yourself? Falcon's toll-free phone service is available from reasonable 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. PT, seven days a week. That's plenty of time to make a call on the weekend, and even more after work for those of us on the East Coast. Falcon's Web site has a lengthy FAQ covering in-depth technical topics to varying degrees. Curiously, the site's Drivers and Downloads page lists no actual drivers, although you can find links to various useful applications, documents, and Web sites.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

ABS Ultimate X Striker Elite
Windows Vista Ultimate; 2.93GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700; 4,096MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 768MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX; 150GB Western Digital 10,000rpm Serial ATA/150 hard drive

Dell XPS 710 H2C
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700 (overclocked to 3.2GHz); 4GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; two 768MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX; two 150GB Western Digital 10,000rpm Serial ATA/150 hard drives (RAID 0); 750GB Seagate 7,200rpm hard drive

Falcon Northwest Mach V (ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT)
Windows Vista Ultimate; 2.93GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6800 (overclocked to 3.63GHz); 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; (2) 1GB (DDR4) ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT; 150GB Western Digital 10,000 rpm hard drive; 750GB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive

Falcon Northwest Mach V (Nvidia GeForce 8800 Ultra)
Windows Vista Ultimate; 2.93GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6800 (overclocked to 3.63GHz); 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; two 768MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 Ultra; 150GB Western Digital 10,000 rpm hard drive; 750GB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive

Maingear F131 SLI
Windows Vista Ultimate; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 (overclocked to 3.2GHz); 2GB 1,066MHz DDR2 SDRAM; two 640MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS; two 500GB 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drives

Velocity Micro Raptor DCX
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 (overclocked to 3.0GHz); 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; two 512MB ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT graphics cards; 400GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive; 150GB 10,000rpm Western Digital hard drive

8.7

Falcon Northwest Mach V (Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6800)

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 9Support 9