An oft-asked question for product reviewers is, "If you were spending your own money, what would you buy?" For desktop PCs, a Falcon Northwest based around its Talon 20th Anniversary Edition would make my very short list. If money were no object, that is.

8.3

Falcon Northwest Talon 20th Anniversary Edition

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Like

  • Well designed and nicely customized chassis
  • Stable performance
  • A good selection of configuration options

Don't Like

  • No Thunderbolt 3 connection option (for AMD)
  • Expensive
  • Requires screws for the card connection bracket and they're a little hard to get to

Because Falcon Northwest's a custom builder, there are too many configuration options to list in detail. The Talon 20th Anniversary Edition case is one of the four options the company offers: biggest (Mach V), midsize (Talon), mini gaming (Fragbox) and compact (Tiki). The 20th AE version of the Talon is smaller than its predecessor, cutting out a lot of the space for extra drives. It can still accommodate up to three SATA solid-state drives, two M.2 SSDs and dual graphics cards, but no optical drive. The Mach V case has been sold out for a while, though.

You can base a system around a variety of mid- to high-end Intel Core (up to 10th-gen X series) or AMD (Zen 3 Ryzens and Threadripper processors), with appropriate motherboards, power supplies, liquid cooling and fans. While there isn't a Xeon option for workstations, you can get Nvidia Quadros up to an RTX 8000. The Intel processors have an option for overclocking with three days of testing, though the company does warn you it voids the Intel warranty. It doesn't overclock AMDs, but they all come with AMD's Ryzen Master software for DIY monitoring and overclocking.

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FNW's standard system warranty is three years, which is fine. My one quibble -- and it's typical of custom builders, even for their ready-to-ship systems -- is the lack of public-facing, noncontact support resources like knowledge bases. 

Prices start at $2,434, but that's with a quad-core Core i3-9100F and no on-board Wi-Fi. (Directly converted, that's £1,845 or AU$3,600. While the company ships internationally, it doesn't explicitly offer international pricing on its site.) You can get better configurations for the same money. Unless you want something a little more powerful and customized, or just really like the case, it's probably not worth the extra spend. I've always found FNW's builds quite dependable: stable until I start disabling all the Windows settings that drive me nuts; efficiently and attractively laid out; and generally premium, with lots of gloss and metal. And they've been that way since the first one I tested, longer ago than I (or the web) can remember.

Falcon Northwest 20th Anniversary Edition

Price as reviewed Approximately $3,900
Size 38-liter ATX midtower
Motherboard Asus ROG Crosshair VIII Hero (Wi-Fi)
CPU 3.8GHz AMD Ryzen 9 3900X
Memory 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 3,200MHz
Graphics 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super
Storage 2TB SSD (RAID)
Ports 12x USB-A, 2x USB-C
Networking 1x Gigabit Ethernet, 1x 2.5Gb Ethernet, Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX200
Operating system Windows 10 Pro (1903)

The case has tool-free entry, with easy-to-remove sides, but if you plan to do a lot of card swapping, you may get annoyed by the edge connector recess and small screws. No more annoying than a typical case, but the side and front cover mounts are so elegantly designed that I expected a pressure plate, thumbscrews or something more creative. 

There's a fine filter that slides in between the front cover and the front fans that stops a lot of dust, given that air's pulled in through the front and pushed straight through to vent out the back. It's easy to clean, and you'll want to do so pretty often. Given the relatively compact case, it seems like the airflow design should be sufficient.

Of course, one of FNW's distinguishing features is its Exotix custom paint jobs. They look great, but if want something off the beaten path of solids, airbrushed gradients, logos, game graphics or anything in its catalog, I suggest you provide your own image or graphic and stick to ones without a lot of tones required in the dark grays and blacks. 

I consistently forget that, as well as the fact it can't see what's in my head, so it never comes out quite as I envisioned. For instance, this time I thought it would be cool to have the opaque side mirror the glass side with all the illumination. But I neglected to take into account that the default illumination was just blue, not wildly colorful like it was in my head, and that the photograph it used would have to be retouched to keep the dark areas of the motherboard from getting muddy. Completely my bad.

The company's builds also come relatively bloatware-free. Not completely free of it, but better than many others. 

Speedy and stable

Because our test configuration was Ryzen-based, it didn't come overclocked and thus didn't approach the maximum speeds the 12-core Ryzen 9 3900X is theoretically capable of. It maxes out at 4.2GHz for any and all cores, though AMD's claim of a maximum of 4.6GHz is only for a "bursty" single threaded task. By both workstation and gaming performance measures, both processor and graphics were solidly in the middle of a comparable pack. 

Twelve cores is overkill for gaming (which rarely takes advantage of more than six cores) and underkill for higher-than-4K video editing. Overall, our configuration delivered great high-quality 1440p gaming performance, and solid 4K -- that's more the 2080S than the CPU.

02-falcon-northwest-talon-20th-anniversary-edition
Sarah Tew/CNET

While it's tempting to say the system is really fast -- and it certainly does feel that way, even compared to systems I've used for an extended time based on an Intel Core i9-9900K -- but "feels fast" isn't very useful. CPU utilization in Adobe Premiere, for example, hits 100% on all cores and still has stuttery playback of a simple timeline of 6K video, as it does when using the AI-accelerated features like Auto Reframe. You'd also want a graphics card with more memory than the 2080S' 8GB. For 4K, though, and workloads balanced between CPU and GPU -- streaming game broadcasts comes to mind -- the 12-core and RTX 2080S is a really effective performance configuration. 

The setup seems to have sufficient headroom to overclock the CPU as well. Running maxed-out on all cores while encoding and editing video it didn't come anywhere near the thermal limits, and the fans remained surprisingly quiet at that. In fact, the only time the fans become noticeable is briefly on boot or wake from hibernation (the latter isn't enabled by default). Of course, I can't generalize that to a more core-ful configuration.

Though the motherboard supports PCI 4, it's unclear at what point the extra channels will become meaningful. On the other hand, it's one of the few with on-board Wi-Fi, much less this one's Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax). It had one of the most stable Wi-Fi connections I've had in a desktop without adding an external antenna, at least in our labs. It has two USB-C ports, one on top and one in back, but as with all AMD desktops, I miss Thunderbolt 3 support. 

Geekbench 4 (multicore)

Falcon Northwest Talon (2018)
32412
Origin PC Big O (PS4 Edition)
39218
Falcon North West Talon 20th Anniversary Edition
44725

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R15 CPU (multicore)

Falcon Northwest Talon (2018)
2145
Origin PC Big O (PS4 Edition)
3129
Falcon North West Talon 20th Anniversary Edition
3163

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

Origin PC Big O (PS4 Edition)
5921
Falcon North West Talon 20th AE
6631

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

System configurations

Falcon Northwest Talon (2018) Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); (oc) 3.2GHz Intel Core i9-9900K; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 3,000MHz; 2x 11GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti; 2TB SSD
Falcon Northwest Talon 20th Anniversary Edition Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (1909); 3.8GHz AMD Ryzen 9 3900X; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 3,200MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super; 2TB SSD RAID 0
Origin PC Big O (PS4 Edition) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (1909); 3.8GHz AMD Ryzen 9 3900X; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM; 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super; 1.5TB SSD (2TB SSD for console)
8.3

Falcon Northwest Talon 20th Anniversary Edition

Score Breakdown

Design 8.5 Features 8.5 Performance 8