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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|
|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.
|Rendering Multiple CPUs||Rendering Single CPU|
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.
|1,920 x 1,200||1,280 x 1,024|
|1,600 x 1,200 (high, 4x aa)||1,280 x 1,024 (medium, 4x aa)|
Our gaming tests reveal a similar degree of domination on the part of the Falcon Northwest PC. Part of its advantage here is that it has four graphics chips, by way of two, dual-chip ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 3D cards. The Mach V's comically high scores on our Unreal Tournament 3 test indicate that current PC gaming hardware has mastered that game. The Mach V also earns the honor of being the first PC to hit 60 frames per second on our high-resolution Crysis test (original flavor, not Crysis: Warhead).
We'd hoped to introduce a Far Cry 2 test in this review as well, but in our testing we found wild frame rate swings between runs. From what we understand, ATI is working on updating its driver, and it has already released two driver updates in the weeks leading up to the release of the Core i7 chip. We hope to revisit this test when Far Cry 2, Core i7, and ATI are ready to cooperate. For what it's worth, we were able to play the game itself (using the latest ATI driver, as well as the patch for Far Cry 2 itself) at 1,920x1,200, with 4x anti-aliasing and the Ultra image quality setting on the Mach V, and it was completely smooth.
We'll have a review of an Alienware PC that's more on a par with the Falcon Northwest box posted shortly, but the lesson from this and all the gaming tests is that this Mach V will play the most demanding PC games easily. Although it's expensive enough as it is, we also highly encourage you to pair this desktop with a large monitor, at least a 24-inch LCD, if not a 30-inch display. Otherwise, you can get by with a less expensive PC.
Whether you would also use it to play Blu-ray movies is another question. It comes with a Blu-ray burner drive, so you might as well. We wouldn't advocate parking it in your living room, but with a large enough LCD placed in a convenient spot, the Mach V could certainly serve as a home entertainment device. It has no built-in HDMI port, but Falcon Northwest included the graphics cards' DVI-to-HDMI dongles, letting you connect this PC to a wide variety of displays.
You get a similar degree of flexibility with the audio outputs, by way of the typical high-end combination of 7.1-compatible analog ports, and an optical and coaxial S/PDIF out. There's also an external SATA port and a FireWire 400 port on the back, but no media card reader. We realize that might be an afterthought in a system like this, but we always appreciate them, and as extras go, they're highly affordable. The Mach V also comes with standard Gigabit Ethernet, but no Wi-Fi.
If you want to expand this system post purchase, you get one free 1x PCI Express slot, a standard PCI slot, and room for three more hard drives and three free front-panel drive bays. The two double-wide 3D cards take up an awful lot of room, which is why you don't get more free card slots. All six RAM slots are occupied, as you might imagine in a PC with 12GB of RAM. We won't make the classic "and that's all you'll ever need" mistake, but we suspect for the foreseeable future, you will find 12GB an adequate amount of system memory.
Falcon Northwest's service and support ranks among the best in the industry. The default warranty covers this system for one year of parts and labor service. You can also call the toll-free number for help, which is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., PT, seven days a week. Falcon Northwest is also unique in that in the event your system needs repairs, it will pay for you to ship your system back to the factory overnight both ways.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Falcon Northwest Mach V (Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition)
Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 (64-bit); 3.79GHz (overclocked) Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition; 12GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 1GB ATI Radeon HD 4870X2 graphics card: 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive; 80GB Intel X-25 solid state hard drive
Velocity Micro Edge Z55
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.0GHz Intel Core i7-920; 6GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards; 750GB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive
Alienware Area-51 ALX
Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit; 4.0GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9770 (overclocked); 4GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) Nvidia GeForce 9800 GX2 graphics cards; (2) 160GB 10,000rpm Western Digital hard drives, 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive
Dell XPS 730 H2C
Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit; 3.8GHz Intel Core 2 Quad QX9770; 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