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

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MSRP: $2,499.00

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.

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7.8 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Support 8

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.

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.

  Falcon Northwest Talon Velocity Micro Edge Z55
Price $2,499 $3,499
Motherboard chipset Intel P55 Intel X58
CPU 4GHz Intel Core i7 875K (overclocked) 4GHz Intel Core i7 930 (overclocked)
Memory 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 480 (2) 1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 480
Hard drives 1TB Western Digital Caviar Black 7,200 rpm SATA 3.0 64GB Patriot Torqx solid state hard drive; 1TB Hitachi
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner Blu-ray burner
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

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.

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

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
AVADirect Custom Gaming PC

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.

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