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Falcon Northwest Talon (Intel Core i7 875-k) review: Falcon Northwest Talon (Intel Core i7 875-k)

Falcon Northwest Talon (Intel Core i7 875-k)

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
7 min read

With its $2,499 price tag, the Falcon Northwest Talon occupies a more attainable class of gaming system than recent $3,499 and even $4,999 PCs. You wouldn't know it from its performance. You can thank a new, overclocking-friendly Intel CPU in part for helping this system keep up, but Falcon also keeps the price relatively low by minimizing extras. Regardless of its lack of a Blu-ray drive and other luxuries, this PC Falcon Northwest has shown that you can spend far less than you might expect to enjoy high-end computing power. Researching the other boutique shops once they all roll out the new Intel CPU could prove fruitful, but based on this lean-and-mean build, the Falcon Northwest Talon is the system against which you should measure them.


Falcon Northwest Talon (Intel Core i7 875-k)

The Good

Performance-focused build competes well with PCs that cost twice as much; strong single-card gaming performance; effective heat management.

The Bad

Limited bandwidth should you add a second graphics card; few multimedia extras (for the benefit of a lower price); lower price necessitates fewer multimedia extras.

The Bottom Line

Falcon Northwest's goal with this Talon build is to highlight the overclocking benefits of a new unlocked Core i7 CPU from Intel. Though the chip proves effective, we're more impressed with Falcon's ability to streamline its configuration. You'll find few nonperformance extras here, but you'll be surprised at how well this PC competes against others that cost twice as much.

We're already familiar with the Talon's case, having seen it in September 2009 when it was new. The external design is still perfectly fine, although now that we've seen front-accessible hard-drive bays in multiple systems, we can't help but miss them when they're absent as they are here. Worse, the drive cages inside the Talon face inward, which makes swapping or adding hard-drive storage more difficult than it needs to be.

If the drive situation in the Talon isn't ideal, we credit Falcon Northwest for wrangling Nvidia's new graphics beast, the GeForce GTX 480. A Velocity Micro system with two of them generated an alarming level of heat, with GPU temperatures pushing 90 degrees Celsius under load. The Falcon's single card operated at a comparatively cool 80 degrees C. Managing the heat from one card is surely easier than from two, but regardless, with the Talon we never felt the need to dig out the fire extinguisher.

Aside from the graphics card, the key feature in the Talon is its new Intel Core i7 875K CPU, announced by Intel today. The K-Series is not the first overclockable Intel chip we've come across, but it is the first non-Extreme Edition CPU with unlocked clock speed setting. As you can see above, the Velocity Micro system has a Core i7 930 chip overclocked to 4GHz, the same clock speed as the Talon's Core i7 875K. In order to hit that setting, Velocity had to make changes to the clock speed of the system data bus, which allows for less granular control than with an unlocked CPU core (or four of them) like the K-Series.

Intel's strategy is not new. AMD's enthusiast-class "Black Edition" Phenom and Athlon chips that also ship unlocked. The practical benefits to customers that buy complete K-Series systems are also relatively minimal. Yes, the new chips offer more-refined overclocking, allowing you to tweak the CPU core, the TurboBoost, and the memory frequencies individually. But boutique vendors have had no trouble shipping stable Core i7 920s and 930s at or around 4GHz. That doesn't mean the Core i7 875K doesn't serve the Talon well, but enthusiast home builders will be the real beneficiaries of Intel's new CPU, as they'll now have a much easier time tweaking their PCs.

Aside from the CPU, the Talon and the Velocity Micro Edge Z55 offer a similar level of features for the dollar. Falcon left off the Blu-ray burner, the second graphics card, and the solid state boot drive, but deselect those options from the Edge Z55 and the price drops by around $900, making the two very close for similar core components. Elegant overclocking aside, you'll see from our charts that though the Talon does very well for a $2,499 system, it only manages to keep even.

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

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Origin Genesis
Velocity Micro Edge Z55
Falcon Northwest Talon
Maingear Shift

Across the board, the Falcon Northwest Talon either ties or falls a statistically insignificant tick behind the Velocity Micro Edge Z55. We're more impressed that the $2,499 Falcon belongs in the same performance conversation as the $4,999 Maingear Shift and the Origin Genesis. Both of those PCs offer even more features than the Velocity Micro, so we're not arguing that they're necessarily overpriced (for as much as any sane person finds spending $2,500 to $5,000 on a PC reasonable). Instead, we'll simply say that the Talon illustrates fairly dramatically that you don't need to spend as much as you might think for top-of-the-line application performance.

Crysis (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600 x 1,200 (high, 4x aa)  
1,280 x 1,024 (medium, 4x aa)  

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)  

Just Cause 2 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
2,560 x 1,600 (8x AA, 16x AF)  
1,920 x 1,080 (8x AA, 16x AF)  
Origin Genesis (2x Radeon HD 5970)
Origin Genesis (Radeon HD 5970)

We have a different conclusion about the Talon's gaming performance. Here we can see even among PCs with similar application performance, graphics hardware can still make a dramatic impact, especially when you want to play games at higher resolutions. All but the Talon and the 13-month-old AVADirect system have two graphics cards. The Origin Genesis, in fact, has two dual-chip Radeon HD 5970 cards, giving it four GPUs in total.

We certainly wouldn't expect the $2,499 Talon to outperform any of those systems given its single GeForce GTX 480. You can take heart, however, knowing that except for the most demanding games at the highest image quality settings, the Talon should ably handle any current and near-future titles.

If you're hoping to add more gaming power to the Talon post-purchase you might think twice. It does indeed have a second graphics card slot, but because of the limitations of the P55 Express chipset, it will only support one 3D card at full 16x bandwidth. Add a second card and they'll become two 8x slots. You would still likely see a boost with a second GeForce GTX 480, but on the high-resolution games that would benefit most, you'd probably want more graphics bandwidth to justify the added 3D hardware expense.

For other upgrades, all of the RAM slots are full, but you can add three more hard drives, two 1x PCI Express card, and a single standard PCI card, although a second 3D card would limit the other slots. The motherboard has the added benefit of supporting SATA 3.0, which means it can take the latest, faster throughput hard drives, such as the Western Digital Caviar Black drive Falcon sent for the primary storage drive. We can't say we've seen a dramatic performance impact from SATA 3.0 yet, but the enthusiasts out there will appreciate it.

On the outside, the Asus P7P55D-E Pro motherboard offers up plenty of inputs and outputs, including a pair of USB 3.0 ports. On top of that you get eSATA and FireWire jacks, 7.1 analog audio, both coaxial and optical S/PDIF jacks, Ethernet, and a handful of USB 2.0 ports. The graphics card provides two DVI outputs as well as a mini-HDMI jack. DisplayPort might be nice, and full-sized HDMI would be more convenient, but we expect most of you will find the video outputs you get sufficient, and we can think of few other ports we'd like to see.

Juice box
Falcon Northwest Talon Average watts per hour
Off (watts) 2.39
Sleep (watts) 4.15
Idle (watts) 115.1
Load (watts) 416.47
Raw (annual kWh) 680.64324
Energy Star compliant No
Annual power consumption cost (@$0.1135/kWh) $77.25

Annual power consumption cost
Maingear Shift
Origin Genesis

Though the Talon's single graphics card might have kept it from the top of the 3D-performance standings, we suspect that it also propelled it to the lead of our power efficiency chart. "Efficient" is a relative term, of course, and with PCs out there that draw less than $10 worth of power annually, we can't exactly go handing out environmental consciousness badges to a PC for only drawing almost eight times that amount. Still, those dual-card systems have a significantly worse total cost of ownership than the Talon. You'll pay almost $14 a month in power bills to


Falcon Northwest Talon (Intel Core i7 875-k)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 8Support 8