Falcon Northwest's latest Mach V ($6,957, as reviewed) remains true to the company's reputation of high performance and best-of-breed craftsmanship. But for a few exceptions, its parts offerings remain on the cutting edge, and its smart system building philosophy results in outstanding performance. If your goal is to build the best possible system with no thought to cost, we can think of a few options we wish Falcon Northwest would add to its configurator. But for anyone looking for a fast PC in the $7,000 price range, the Mach V is as well-built and as capable as any other high-end gaming PC out there.
Like many boutique shops, Falcon has stuck with a signature case design for the Mach V and little has changed over the years. The massive, full-tower case has clean, austere lines, a relatively tasteful, backlit falcon design laser-etched onto the front, and easy-to-remove side panels. The large case leaves lots of room on the inside, and even with two double-wide graphics cards and a CPU liquid-cooling system, the Mach V still gives you clean air flow and plenty of room to maneuver, thanks in part to Falcon Northwest's expert cable-routing. You can opt for a variety of automotive-quality custom paint jobs, but our review model came in default, unpainted silver.
Compared with other high-end game PC's, the Mach V is a bit more expensive than some. Maingear's Ephex costs roughly $200 less for the same configuration (and with faster RAM), although its internal craftsmanship, while fine, is not quite as flawless as the Mach V. But if you go to Dell, Alienware, Hewlett-Packard, Voodoo, or Velocity Micro, you will either pay more or fall short on the specs, depending on the vendor, and again, none can claim an interior as well-crafted as the Mach V.
|Falcon Northwest Mach V||Dell XPS 730 H2C|
|Motherboard chipset||Nvidia NForce 790i SLI||Nvidia NForce 790i SLI|
|CPU||4.0GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9770 (overclocked)||3.8GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9770 (overclocked)|
|Memory||4GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM||2GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM (overclocked)|
|Graphics||(2) 1GB Nvidia GeForce 9800 GX2||(2) 1GB ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2|
|Hard drives||1TB 7,200 rpm Hitachi hard drive||(2) 160GB 10,000 rpm Western Digital Raptor hard drives (RAID 0); 1TB 7,200 rpm hard drive|
|Optical drive||Dual-layer DVD burner with LightScribe||Dual-layer DVD burner with LightScribe|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit||Windows Vista Home Premium (32-bit)|
As you can see in our side-by-side with the Dell XPS 730 H2C, the Mach V costs more, but it also offers more aggressive overclocking and better graphics cards. The Dell's pair of ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 are fast enough, but they don't quite deliver all-around performance that approaches that of the Mach V.
Because it has 64-bit Windows Vista Ultimate, the Mach V is also able to put all 4GB of its memory to work. But since Dell (as well as its subsidiary, Alienware) offers only mainstream, 32-bit Vista (Home Premium, no less), if you added more RAM it would only use up to around 3GB or so. As our performance results show (on Photoshop in particular), the more RAM the better, even if it is a little slower on the Mach V.
|Rendering Multiple CPUs||Rendering Single CPU|
When you look at our game charts, however, you'll see that the extra memory does not help the Mach V on games. On our three gaming tests, the Alienware Area-51 ALX outpaced the Falcon Northwest system by a few frames per second on every test, most noticeably on our 1,280x1,024 Unreal Tournament 3 test and our 1,600x1,200 resolution Crysis test. We suspect that difference has to do with the Alienware's faster memory and its pair of Western Digital Raptor hard drives, which have a faster 10,000rpm disk speed than the Mach V's 7,200rpm 1TB Hitachi drive. The Alienware is a faster gaming system, then, but it also costs about $700 more, and it's not quite as fast as the Mach V at multitasking and digital media manipulation.
|1,920 x 1,200||1,280 x 1,024|
|1,920 x 1,200 (4x AA, 16x AF)||1,280 x 1,024 (4x AA, 16X AF)|
|1,600 x 1,200 (high, 4x aa)||1,280 x 1,024 (medium, 4x aa)|
You can always spend more and upgrade the Mach V's hard-drive configuration. Falcon Northwest offers a pair of 150GB 10,000rpm hard drives for an additional $560. But our one big gripe with the Mach V is that you can't get 1,600MHz RAM. If you added those faster hard drives and 4 or 8GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 to a Mach V with a 64-bit operating system, chances are it would be the fastest system on our charts (if also likely the most expensive). As of now, you have to settle for 1,066MHz RAM. Our hunch is that people willing to spend $7,000 on a PC would rather not settle.
For its other features, the Mach V has most of the typical options, although again we see a few things we'd like to add. Our reviewed configuration came with a standard LightScribe-capable dual-layer DVD burner and a media card reader, but no mouse or keyboard. We're a bit surprised we didn't get a Blu-ray burner at this price, but then again the Mach V's hulking tower case isn't exactly living room friendly. Falcon does offer a Blu-ray drive as an option, as well as solid-state hard drives, up to 8GB of RAM, and up to four hard drives, among others. There's a wireless networking option, as well, but no Draft N, only older 802.11 a/b/g.
If you're buying the Mach V with home upgrades in mind, the clean interior will make your life easy. You get direct access to the memory and expansion card slots, even though there's a liquid-cooling system installed and an abundance of cables, considering that each graphics card requires two direct connections to the 1,000-watt power supply. We see only two potential issues inside the system. The first is the adhesive that Falcon uses to seal the various cables to its hardware inputs. It surely keeps the cables secure, but it also makes it harder to unplug them. We were also sad to see that Falcon continues to rely on an always annoying inward-facing hard-drive cage. You can remove both side panels easily enough to get at the left and right drive screws, but we'd really like to see a more convenient outward-facing cage design.
Falcon Northwest's support policy is extensive, and gives you a degree of care that's hard to compete with. The default warranty for each of its systems covers you for three years of parts and labor. On top of that, you also get one year of free overnight shipping should you need to send your system to Falcon Northwest for repairs. Few other vendors, if any, can claim such a generous support policy. Toll-free phone support operates from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT, seven days a week, and you can find various support resources on the Falcon Northwest Web site, as well.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Falcon Northwest Mach V
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit; 4.0GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9770; 4GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 1GB Nvidia GeForce 9800 GX2 graphics cards; 1TB 7,200 rpm Hitachi hard drive
Alienware Area-51 ALX
Windows Vista Home Premium; 4.0GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9770 (overclocked); 4GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 1GB Nvidia GeForce 9800 GX2 graphics cards; (2) 160GB 10,000 RPM Western Digital hard drives, 1TB 7,200 rpm Hitachi hard drive
Dell XPS 730 H2C
Windows Vista Home Premium; 3.8GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9770 (overclocked); 2GB 1,600MHz (overclocked) DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 1GB ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 graphics cards; (2) 160GB 10,000rpm Western Digital hard drives, 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive
Windows Vista Ultimate; 4.0GHz (overclocked) Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650; 2GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 512MB ATI Radeon HD 3870 graphics cards; (2) 150GB Western Digital 10,000rpm hard drives; 750GB Seagate 7,200rpm hard drive
Windows Vista Home Premium (tested); Windows XP Professional SP2 (second partition); 3.2GHz (overclocked) Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM, 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics card; 500GB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive