CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Falcon Northwest Mach V (Intel Core i7 980X Extreme) review: Falcon Northwest Mach V (Intel Core i7 980X Extreme)

Falcon Northwest Mach V (Intel Core i7 980X Extreme)

Rich Brown Former Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness
Rich was the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, Kentucky. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D printing to Z-Wave smart locks.
Expertise Smart home, Windows PCs, cooking (sometimes), woodworking tools (getting there...)
Rich Brown
9 min read

We've reviewed several variations of Falcon Northwest's flagship Mach V gaming desktop over the years, and for the most part this newest version lives up to our high expectations. At $4,999, this configuration features the high-end components we expect in such a desktop, including an ambitiously overclocked, six-core Intel Core i7 980X Extreme chip, which Intel announced today. A design flaw involving the Mach V's graphics card hurts our ability to recommend this exact build for the moment, but from a performance perspective any professional would do well to give this Mach V a look, thanks to its record-setting application scores. Gamers shopping in this price range, on the other hand, would see a bigger performance gain by putting their money into a second high-end graphics card than in springing for the overclocked six-core CPU.


Falcon Northwest Mach V (Intel Core i7 980X Extreme)

The Good

Record-setting application performance thanks to overclocking and Intel's new six-core Core i7 chip; expert build quality (with one major exception); outstanding power efficiency for a high-end desktop.

The Bad

Heavy, non-reinforced 3D card broke its card slot; gamers might opt for a different build.

The Bottom Line

According to Falcon Northwest, the company is working to repair an issue with the 3D card in this Mach V build that resulted in physical damage to the motherboard. We intend to follow up. Assuming that issue is resolved, we recommend this desktop and its overclocked, six-core Core i7 CPU to anyone in search of no-compromise application performance.

The design issue we encountered had to do with this system's dual-GPU AMD Radeon HD 5970 graphics card. The long, heavy card put more weight on the PCI Express slot than the slot could bear. After shipping and then being moved around on our lab bench (with no untoward bumps or knocks on our end, at least), the slot broke. We successfully plugged the graphics card into the system's second 16x PCI Express slot, so both the card and the system are still functional, but clearly the potential for damage is real, and unacceptable in a $5,000 PC.

The Mach V's top-most 16x PCI Express slot broke under pressure from the heavy Radeon HD 5970 graphics card. According to Falcon Northwest, a fix is in the works.

Falcon representatives said this is the first Radeon HD 5970-based Mach V system the company has heard of that has suffered physical damage like we saw, but it is also taking the problem seriously. According to the company, it plans to re-manufacture its Mach V case to accept a new bracket that AMD plans to install on this (and presumably other) heavy graphics card in order to prevent future incidents. We'll take Falcon at its word, but we also intend to follow up in a month or two. For now, we wouldn't suggest ordering the Radeon HD 5970 from any desktop vendor that doesn't taken steps to reinforce the card in its case. If you're unsure based on a particular vendor's Web site, call it and ask directly.

We don't know the frequency with which that graphics card will damage a PC in shipping (we've seen other desktops with the same card that survived the journey to our lab, and all the testing in it), and while we're glad that this mishap will hopefully help contribute to a solution to the problem, it's unfortunate that the otherwise pristine Mach V's review score has to suffer for it. Aside from the damage to the system, the Mach V features all of Falcon Northwest's trademark design touches.

The case is lined with sound-dampening foam to keep the noise down, and every cable is bound and routed to minimize clutter and maximize airflow. Falcon also likes to hot glue its component connections in place to prevent them coming loose in shipping, although frequent upgraders might find the glued-down cables annoying. We've also come to appreciate a case from Origin PC (a new vendor whose employees include a few Alienware refugees) that, like the Acer Predator and a few other PCs, features front-accessible hard drive bays for easy, cable-free drive swapping. Short of a wholesale case refresh, however, (and excepting the graphics card issue) Falcon Northwest's Mach V is as well-built as we could want.

  Falcon Northwest Mach V (Intel Core i7 980X Extreme) Origin Genesis (Intel Core i7 920)
Price $4,999 $4,998
Motherboard chipset Intel X58 Intel X58
CPU 4.183GHz Intel Core i7 980X Extreme (overclocked) 4.0GHz Intel Core i7 920 (overclocked)
Memory 12GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 2GB ATI Radeon HD 5970 (2) 2GB ATI Radeon HD 5970
Hard drives 80GB Intel X25-M solid-state hard drive; 1GB 7,200 rpm Western Digital (2) 80GB Intel X25-M solid-state hard drive; 1.5TB Seagate 7,200 rpm hard drive
Optical drive Blu-ray/dual-layer DVD burner Blu-ray drive/dual-layer DVD burner
Operating system Windows 7 Professional (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

In order to avoid a high-end gaming arms race, we've asked PC vendors to stick to a sub-$5,000 budget for all future performance PC reviews. Within that constraint, Falcon Northwest built the fastest desktop we've ever seen in terms of application performance and raw clock speed. Our performance charts below spell out where Falcon posts its wins, but at least on some tests, its success is in large part due to its Core i7 980X Extreme CPU. Intel's newest chip design feature six physical processing cores with the capability to go to twelve threads overall via Intel's HyperThreading Technology. By limiting the six-core design to this $999 chip for now, Intel has ensured that six-core chips stay in enthusiast hands. That seems wise to us, as at the 980X's standard 3.3GHz clock speed, we're not sure mainstream users would notice an appreciable performance difference in day-to-day programs.

With this new chip, Intel has also stuck with its existing triple-memory-path X58 motherboard chipset. If you already have an X58 board, you can simply flash the BIOS and pop in the new CPU. You can expect a new motherboard to accompany the new CPU when it hits the market later this month, though, and the Gigabyte motherboard in the Mach V includes both USB 3.0 slots, and a fast new 6Gbps SATA 3.0 storage interface. Neither interface is particularly useful at the moment, because of a lack of devices to connect to them, but as both are backward compatible with older standards you don't lose anything by going with the forward-looking motherboard.

For the rest of the Mach V's features, Falcon adds most of what we'd expect to find for this price. Digital media artists in particular will appreciate the 12GB of 1,333MHz RAM, and everyone will appreciate the 80GB solid-state boot drive. The Blu-ray/DVD burner also gives you lots of versatility in terms of reading and burning optical media. We admit we find the differences between the Falcon and the Origin system interesting. Falcon's representatives told us that even if the company had opted for a simple Blu-ray player instead of a burner, and gone with half the RAM, it still couldn't have added a second Radeon HD 5970 card and kept under our $5,000 limit.

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

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing 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
Origin Genesis
Maingear Shift
Digital Storm 950Si

The high-end desktops we've reviewed lately may have hit the CPU limit on our iTunes test, but even if we call that a four-way tie, the Mach V takes a commanding lead on the rest of our benchmarks, particularly those that capitalize fully on multiple cores. In addition to boasting six cores, the Mach V also has the highest single-core clock speed we've seen, which most definitely contributes to its performance lead. Our multithreaded Cinebench test provides the most convincing example of the benefits of a six-core chip, posting a dramatic win over the Origin Genesis system, whose quad-core Core i7 920 came in at an impressive 4.0GHz.

Other boutique desktop vendors will have added Intel's Core i7 980X Extreme to their configurations by the time you read this, so Falcon isn't unique in offering this CPU. We expect others will also overclock their chips as aggressively, if not more so. Until we see another like it for ourselves, however, Falcon Northwest's Mach V is the current record holder across all of our application benchmarks. Anyone in need of no-compromise desktop performance will be satisfied with this PC.

Crysis (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600 x 1,200 (high, 4x aa)  
1,280 x 1,024 (medium, 4x aa)  
Maingear Shift
Origin Genesis
Falcon Northwest Mach V

Far Cry 2 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920x1,200 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  
1,440 x 900 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  
Origin Genesis
Maingear Shift
Falcon Northwest Mach V

The Mach V's gaming situation is a bit different (3D card stabilization issues notwithstanding). This system will play any game on the market at smooth frame rates, so it's not like this is an inadequate gaming PC by any measure. As our gaming tests show, though, a gamer looking for the best scores possible at this price will want to sacrifice some of that application performance for a second 3D card. The Origin and its pair of Radeon HD 5970s leads our gaming tests and comes in second overall on our program tests, with an aggressively overclocked Intel Core i7 920. You'd probably benefit from the Origin's second 3D card only if you had a 30-inch LCD or multiple smaller displays to play games at ultrahigh resolutions. Still, for a gamer spending $5,000 on a PC, the Origin system likely looks more appealing.

Had our Mach V review unit kept both of its 16x PCI Express lanes intact, you could have added a second Radeon HD 5970 yourself post purchase. Falcon told us that you could add a second card without upgrading the 1,000-watt power supply, thanks to the 5970's power efficiency. The broken slot prevented us from testing that claim ourselves, but we did find the system remarkably power efficient for a high-end gaming PC (see power chart below). You also get a pair of 8x PCI Express slots and a set of 1x PCI Express slots for further upgrading. The RAM slots are full, so anything beyond the 12GB in place will require getting rid of at least some of the extant memory. You also have room to add a few more hard drives, as well as an extra optical drive.

The single 3D card also features a pair of DVI slots and a single Mini DisplayPort slot. That probably makes more sense than HDMI in such a large desktop, although you can always track down an HDMI adapter if you want to connect the Mach V to an HDTV. The motherboard ports include coaxial and optical digital audio outputs, 7.1 analog audio outs, standard and mini FireWire 400, the aforementioned pair of USB 3.0 ports, and a handful of USB 2.0 ports, two of which double as eSATA connections. We can't think of any connections we'd add to this system given is price and intended use.

Juice box
Falcon Northwest Mach V (Intel Core i7 980X Extreme)  
Off (watts) 3.06
Sleep (watts) 4.69
Idle (watts) 172.73
Load (watts) 363.15
Raw (annual kWh) 788.85114
EnergyStar compliant No
Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh) $89.53

Annual power consumption cost
Falcon Northwest Mach V
Maingear Shift
Origin Genesis

To Falcon's point about the Radeon card, this system turned in remarkable power consumption efficiency, besting every other high-end gaming desktop we've reviewed in the last year. Maybe that's what happens when you physically remove a handful of PCI Express pins? Kidding. But regardless of the reason, the Falcon Mach V consumes almost half as much power as the Origin Genesis. Considering that the two are so close on application performance, the Mach V's power efficiency is nothing short of remarkable.

As always, we also credit Falcon's service and support policies. 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, which is one of the only dings we have against its support policies overall, 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.

System configurations:

AVADirect Custom Gaming PC
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.88GHz Intel Core i7-920 (overclocked); 6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM (underclocked to 1,480MHz); 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 295 (overclocked); 1.5TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive; 147GB 15,000rpm Fujistu hard drive

Digital Storm 950Si
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.79GHz Intel Core i7-920 (overclocked); 6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1,792MB Nvidia GeForce GTX 295; 1TB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive;


Falcon Northwest Mach V (Intel Core i7 980X Extreme)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Support 9