Editors' note: This system cannot support three graphics cards with the supplied motherboard. Falcon Northwest offers an Asus Maximum IV Extreme motherboard that will support three graphics cards for an additional $465.
Falcon Northwest has responded to our issues with the Mach V's power button, which you can read in full on CNET's Crave blog.
Since this review posted, Intel announced a flaw in the Sandy Bridge P67 chipset used in this desktop. Click here for the details of the flaw, which affects certain data connection ports. As the hard drives on this system are not connected to the affected ports, we have no reason to believe that our performance results are compromised by the chipset flaw. Falcon Northwest tells us that it is still selling this Mach V configuration, and that you should call directly to discuss motherboard and order timing options if you're interested in a purchase.
We've seen how Intel's new Sandy Bridge Core i7 2600K chip performs in a $2,500 desktop from Origin. Now it's time for Falcon Northwest to show off the chip's performance in an even higher-end PC. In addition to the new chip, the $4,818 Mach V also comes with an updated chassis, the first new case we've seen from Falcon Northwest's flagship line in several years. We'd like to see more application performance from a system in this price range, although the gaming scores from this PC set records. And despite some clever, if familiar, design elements in the new case, we actually have some minor complaints about the Mach V's new enclosure. None of the issues we found seems insurmountable, and otherwise this system is well built, and unquestionably powerful. We'd rather have no reservations about a PC in this price range, but on balance the new Mach V ranks among the best desktops available.
If you follow boutique PC vendors, the new Mach V case, called the Icon 2, might look very similar to the Maingear Shift that debuted at the end of 2009. That system, which we liked well enough, also featured a rotated motherboard design that oriented the airflow upward.
We asked Falcon Northwest about the history of the system design, which we'd also seen in concept from Voodoo PC a few years after it was acquired by HP. In response Falcon provided us with drawings of a Kodiak concept chassis it says dates back to 2002. Regardless of who originated the upventing chassis, if it means more reliable overclocking and reduced thermal wear-and-tear on expensive PC components, we're all for its proliferation. Maingear may have been first to market with that design, but there's no reason why the new Falcon Northwest Mach V shouldn't get equal credit for offering it as well.
Instead, we take issue with, of all things, the design of the Mach V's power button. When we first went to turn the system on, we apparently pressed the button too hard. The button then collapsed into a compartment of the chassis that is completely blocked off from the outside. Getting into the compartment required removing the front bezel, which is anchored to the case by 12 tiny screws. To access the screws, we needed to remove both side panels, as well as the front panel door. Because of the illuminated logo on the front panel door, we also had to disconnect the power cable, which was threaded through a part of the chassis. Counting everything we had to disconnect, remove, or unscrew from the system, we tallied 17 separate actions required to access and reseat the power button.
Putting our difficulties in proper perspective, you may not ever encounter this issue with your own Mach V. It could be that the metal bracket holding the power button was jarred out of place in shipping to our lab. We also can't see any other reason why you would need to undergo the lengthy process of removing all of those parts. Adding drives to the front-panel bays requires only that you unscrew a single place-holder bracket, and not every Mach V owner will even become that involved in upgrading. We will simply say that we hope Falcon Northwest will look into the sturdiness of the Mach V's power button, as the complications involved in reseating it border on comical.
Aside from this one issue, we like the new Mach V as much as we like any large high-end PC case. With the front door shut, the case cuts an austere profile, but note that at 2 feet tall and nearly 80 pounds, the Mach V will need a sturdy perch, as well as plenty of vertical clearance.
|Falcon Northwest Mach V||Origin Genesis||Maingear Vybe|
|Motherboard chipset||Intel P67||Intel P67||Intel P67|
|CPU||4.6GHz Intel Core i7 2600K (overclocked)||4.7GHz Intel Core i7 2600K (overclocked)||4.6GHz Intel Core i5 2500K (overclocked)|
|Memory||16GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM||8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM||8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||(2) 1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 580||1.5GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 580 (overclocked)||1.2GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 570|
|Hard drives||(2) 64GB solid state drives; 1TB 7,200rpm Western Digital||64GB Crucial SSD, 1TB 7,200rpm Western Digital||64GB Crucial SSD; 1TB 7,200rpm Samsung|
|Optical drive||Blu-ray burner||dual-layer DVD burner||dual-layer DVD burner|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
We don't normally compare $4,000-plus gaming desktops with those in the $2,000 to $2,500 range, but in the case of the Mach V, the comparison is appropriate because all three systems above use Intel's new CPUs, and all post similar application performance. The Falcon and Origin Genesis systems use a Core i7 2600K, the Maingear Vybe uses a Core i5 2500K. The primary difference between the Core i7 and Core i5 CPUs is the L3 cache allotment. The Core i5 has 6MB of L3 cache, the Core i7 has 8MB. That difference lets the Core i7 bite off larger chunks of data to process at once, but the day-to-day benefits don't show up in all usage scenarios, especially since both chips can hit roughly the same clock speeds, as evidenced by the 4.6GHz and 4.7GHz clock settings (all stable) in the system specs above.
It's in this CPU performance similarity that we have some questions about the Mach V's overall value. For a system that costs close to two and three times as much as these competing PCs, we'd like to see a bigger gap in its application performance. This similarity is partially because of the simple fact that Intel doesn't offer a higher-end chip than the Core i7 2600K at the moment. The high-end six-core Extreme variant of Sandy Bridge, dubbed Ivy Bridge, isn't due until the end of the year. Until then, luxury systems like the Mach V (as well as Maingear's Shift and other vendors' flagship desktops) can only rely on extreme overclocking to set them apart. We've heard reports of new Core i7 2600K chips hitting 5.0GHz and even higher with only off-the-shelf liquid cooling. While boutique vendors will need to seek out those chips that can support those speeds, we'd encourage them to put that work in to improve the perceived value of their most-expensive builds.
We say "perceived value" because Falcon Northwest does indeed offer a beefier computer than the other two systems listed above, it just doesn't come through in its application performance. Otherwise, it has more graphics horsepower than its competition in its pair of GeForce GTX 580 graphics cards, as well as two 64GB solid-state drives, and twice the system memory, and it's also the only system with a Blu-ray burner. Considering all those features, as well as the imposing case, Falcon Northwest can still make a strong argument that this system is worth the high price. We wish Falcon Northwest had been more aggressive in its overclocking, but it's also possible Falcon was playing conservatively for CPU stability. As Sandy Bridge and the supporting motherboards mature, we expect that vendors will have an easier time hitting 5.0GHz and higher clock speeds. We'd like to see that, especially in a system in this price range.
|Rendering multiple CPUs||Rendering single CPU|
The Falcon Northwest Mach V remains one of the fastest PCs we've tested, 5.0GHz CPU or no, but it also comes in behind its competition on a few tests. The differences are minimal, and in practical terms you will find few computing tasks the Falcon Northwest Mach V can't handle. In this 4.6GHz clock speed range, in combination with the abundant system memory and the fast solid-state drive, you'll even notice a performance increase in basic computing tasks like opening folders and switching between applications. Would a 5.0GHz CPU make a significant difference? Probably not that much, but it would likely push the Mach V to a first-place finish on every application test, which we suspect would help those shopping for a $4,500-plus system feel better about that purchase.
|1,600x1,200 (high, 4x aa)||1,280x1,024 (medium, 4x aa)|
|1,920x1,200 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)||1,440x900 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)|
|2,560x,1,536 (DirectX 11, very high)||1,920x1,080 (DirectX 11, very high)|
We've added Metro 2033 as a DirectX 11 test this go-round, and although we hope to expand our game testing further this year, the early results suggest that this game can challenge the most expensive systems. On that test, as on almost all the others, the Falcon Northwest Mach V has a performance advantage in keeping with its extra graphics card and its higher price. The lone exception--on our lower-resolution Far Cry 2 test, where the Origin system enjoys a commanding lead--is likely because of that system's overclocked graphics card. Our hunch is that at lower resolutions, Far Cry 2 is more sensitive to GPU clock speed than scaling between multiple graphics cards.
For those shopping for a gaming PC in the $4,000-plus price range, our hope is that you intend to connect it to at least a 24-inch monitor, if not higher. That will let you play at resolutions of 1,920x1,080 pixels and above, where the Mach V's second graphics card helps most. For fun, we also tested Metro 2033 at 2,560x1,536 pixels, the native resolution of 30-inch LCDs. As you can see, you might need to add yet a third graphics card, or perhaps opt for two dual-chip ATI cards to get better performance on that test. In any case, though you may find some titles that challenge this system at the highest resolutions and image quality settings, for the vast majority of PC games and monitor setups the Mach V will provide a superior experience.
If you'd like to push the Mach V to that next level of gaming capability, you do get room for a third graphics card in this system. The 1,000-watt power supply may even prove sufficient given the power efficiency gains of Sandy Bridge and the GeForce 500 series. Adding a third card will crowd the card expansion section of the case, which Falcon Northwest has compartmentalized behind a curved air deflector, which it says provides superior thermal management compared with that of the Maingear Shift. You'd only lose one standard PCI card slot with a third 3D card, however. A 1x PCI Express slot would still remain available.
With 16GB of RAM from four 4GB memory sticks, you would have to discard some of the extant memory in order to expand. For most gamers, 16GB should be plenty for the foreseeable future. You also get four spare hard-drive bays that are designed to be tool-free, although Falcon has not run the power and data cables behind each bay, much less mounted them for easy drive installation. If there's one trend we'd like to see in 2011, it would be that all PC vendors offering tool-free hard-drive bays see the concept through by properly mounting the necessary cables.
You also get a fair amount of external connectivity on the Mach V. On the back panel you'll find plentiful USB 2.0 jacks, as well as FireWire, eSATA, and USB 3.0 ports. For audio you get both optical and coaxial digital audio outputs, along with the standard set of 7.1 audio jacks. You also get a pair of DVI outputs and a Mini-HDMI output on each graphics card.
|Falcon Northwest Mach V (Intel Core i7 2600K)||Average watts per hour|
|Raw (annual kWh)||856.16736|
|Energy Star compliant||No|
|Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh)||$97.17|
As we noted in our review of the Origin Genesis, the power efficiency brought about by these new Intel CPUs and Nvidia CPUs is one of the more impressive technological leaps we've seen since we started testing power efficiency almost two years ago. Although the Falcon Northwest Mach V is significantly faster in all respects than the older builds of the Maingear F131 and the Digital Storm Special Ops systems, the Mach V is also more power-efficient. Expect the Mach V to make its presence felt on your monthly power bill, where it will add around $8 each time, but that's still less than either of those $2,500 systems, for more performance.
Finally, Falcon Northwest's service and support policies remain some of the best in the industry. The Mach V nets you three years of parts and labor warranty coverage as its default plan. Falcon also offers free shipping to and from its offices for repair. Phone support is not 24-7, but lines are open from a still generous 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT, seven days a week, and are staffed by an entirely in-house support team.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Falcon Northwest Mach V (Intel Core i7 2600K)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.6GHz Intel Core i7 2600K (overclocked); 16GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2)1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 graphics cards; 128GB solid-state hard drive; 1TB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive
Digital Storm Special Ops (Intel Core i7 950)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.07GHz Intel Core i7 950; 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2)1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 graphics cards; 80GB Corsair Drive Force solid-state hard drive; 1TB 7,200rpm Western Digital Caviar Black hard drive
Maingear F131 (Intel Core i7 950)
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit; 3.87GHz (overclocked) Intel Core i7 960; 6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5870 graphics cards; 80GB Intel X25-M solid-state hard drive; 1.5TB 5,400rpm Western Digital hard drive
Origin Genesis (Intel Core i7 2600K)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.7GHz Intel Core i7 2600K (overclocked); 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 graphics card (overclocked); 80GB solid-state hard drive; 1TB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive
Maingear Vybe (Intel Core i5 2500K)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.6GHz Intel Core i5 2500K (overclocked); 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2)1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 graphics cards; 64GB solid-state hard drive; 1TB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive