Falcon Northwest Mach V (Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition) review: Falcon Northwest Mach V (Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition)

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The Good Fastest all-around desktop we've tested to date; first PC to hit 60 frames per second on our high-resolution Crysis test; pristine build quality.

The Bad Costs roughly the same as a year of undergraduate in-state tuition.

The Bottom Line Falcon Northwest's latest Mach V provides a model for the coming trends in high-end computing. From the latest Intel CPU, to solid-state storage, to copious amounts of memory, there's lot to admire about his PC. You will also have to pay for it, which unfortunately will thwart all but the most well-off gamers and enthusiasts.

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9.0 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9
  • Support 9

As it often does, Falcon Northwest has provided with an ultra-high-end PC as a showcase for Intel's latest high-end desktop CPU. This $8,028 Mach V comes with the latest and greatest of everything and provides a useful benchmark of the performance we can expect to see from boutique gaming PCs for the next few months. At press time, neither Falcon Northwest nor its competition is taking orders for Core i7-based PCs, so you'll have to wait a few weeks to make a purchase. Were you to invest in a PC such as this one when it does go on sale, you can expect it to provide a near limitless PC gaming experience.

Typically we review Falcon Northwest's Mach V desktops unpainted, but this system showed up in our lab with a glimmering red automotive paint job. That's typically a $500 option, so if your PC budget just has to stay under that $8,000 mark, losing the paint is a good way to shave costs. Otherwise, this system bears Falcon Northwest's typically immaculate interior.

The only criticisms we have are the inward-facing hard-drive bays (which make it harder to swap drives) and the machined door on the lower half of the front panel. Because it has a little play to it, shutting it can inadvertently hit the PC's reset button. The only thing behind the door is a fan, however, so we'll concede that fan maintenance is the most common reason to open it, a task typically conducted with the system shut off.

The hardware configuration inside this system reads like a PC gaming wishlist. The highlight is Intel's new Core i7-965 Extreme Edition quad-core CPU, which Falcon Northwest has liquid-cooled and overclocked, from 3.2GHz to 3.79GHz. To accommodate that chip, Falcon has opted for an Asus P6T motherboard featuring Intel's new X58 chipset. Alongside the CPU this system came with 12GB of 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM, the largest RAM allotment we've ever seen in a consumer desktop. The 12GB might feel like an odd amount, but keep in mind that the Core i7/X58 platform has a triple-channel memory interface. We expect RAM in multiples of three will be the new standard in Intel-based PCs over the next two years.

You'll also find Intel's solid-state, 80GB X-25M hard drive inside this PC, combined with a standard 1TB, 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive. The presence of the X-25M drive means a few different things for the Mach V. First, one of the key benefits of solid-state hard drives, Intel's in particular, is that they're faster than traditional hard drives. They also have smaller capacities for the dollar, as it typical with any breakthrough new technology

We didn't find that the Mach V booted any faster than a PC with a standard hard drive, but you can expect the solid-state Intel drive will hasten large data transfers, including load times between game levels. With the operating system already taking up about 6GB of precious solid-state capacity, that leaves you with only 68GB or so to play with. For that reason, you'll want to store your media library on the Hitachi drive, and you might find yourself having to relocate games and other applications as the solid-state drive fills up. The other solid-state drive bonus is that they're cooler and quieter than a standard drive. Given that the 3D cards in this PC are hot to the touch, we appreciate any component that will help minimize internal heat.

  Falcon Northwest Mach V Alienware Area-51 ALX
Price $8,028 $7,738
Motherboard chipset Intel X58 Nvidia NForce 790i SLI
CPU 3.79GHz Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition (overclocked) 4.0GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9770 (overclocked)
Memory 12GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM 4GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics (2) 1GB ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 (2) 1GB Nvidia GeForce 9800 GX2
Hard drives 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive; 80GB Intel X-25M solid state drive (2) 160GB 10,000rpm Western Digital Raptor hard drives (RAID 0); 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive
Optical drive 20x dual-layer DVD burner with LightScribe; 4x dual-layer Blu-ray burner 4x dual-layer Blu-ray burner
Operating system Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 64-bit Windows Vista Home Premium (32-bit)

We lined up the Falcon Northwest Mach V with an Alienware system from June, mostly to show what's changed in high-end PCs over the last few months. Alienware was behind the curve even in June by not offering 64-bit Windows, but otherwise its configuration was representative of the top-of-the-line PC at the time. Now, ATI rules the 3D card landscape, Nvidia doesn't even offer a Core i7-supporting chipset, and the system memory allotment has tripled.

We should also add that the X58 chipset lets you run both ATI's Crossfire and Nvidia's SLI multigraphics card configurations. With a few BIOS tweaks, vendors were able to make NForce boards run both Crossfire and SLI. And Intel's extremely specialized, wildly impractical Skulltrail motherboard also supported both standards. But X58, even though at $300 and up it's expensive right now, is the first mainstream motherboard with out-of-the-box Crossfire and SLI support. This gives Mach V owners the flexibility to switch to whatever the leading 3D card happens to be. Those winds change frequently, too, so you will likely find this capability useful before the system is obsolete.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Falcon Northwest Mach V

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Falcon Northwest Mach V

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Falcon Northwest Mach V

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs  
Rendering Single CPU  
Falcon Northwest Mach V
Velocity Micro Edge Z55
Alienware Area-51 ALX
Maingear Ephex
Dell XPS 730 H2C

You'll notice that the Mach V achieved a near-clean sweep on our application tests. An iTunes victory was elusive by a second or two, although that test is largely an indicator of raw single core processor speed. It makes sense that the 4.0GHz Alienware chip would have a minor edge over the 3.79GHz chip in the Mach V, but statistically speaking the scores on this tests are equal.

But on our multitasking and multicore Cinebench tests, the Core i7 chip's combination of four processing cores and four additional processing threads illustrate convincingly the very real benefit you gain from Intel's new CPU. Of course Falcon Northwest's overclocking helps. In short and as expected, the Mach V is one of the fastest PC's we've ever tested, and it will satisfy anyone in need of a desktop for multimedia editing.

Unreal Tournament 3 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920 x 1,200  
1,280 x 1,024  
Falcon Northwest Mach V
Alienware Area-51 ALX
Dell XPS 730 H2C
Maingear Ephex

Crysis (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600 x 1,200 (high, 4x aa)  
1,280 x 1,024 (medium, 4x aa)  
Falcon Northwest Mach V
Dell XPS 730 H2C
Maingear Ephex