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Falcon Northwest Talon (Intel Core i7) review: Falcon Northwest Talon (Intel Core i7)

Falcon Northwest Talon (Intel Core i7)

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
10 min read

Falcon Northwest was first to ship us a PC with Intel's new mainstream Core i7 CPUs, and based on this $2,495 Talon configuration, we can say that Intel has met its goal of enabling system builders to sell fast PCs at lower prices than they could previously. Falcon Northwest has also taken the occasion to revamp its mainstream-oriented Talon with a clever new case. Expect most PC vendors to adopt the new Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs, and we'll need a better sense of that big picture before we can make a definitive value assessment for the Talon. Until then, we'll simply say that the Falcon Northwest Talon achieves its goal of offering a faster upper-mainstream gaming PC for less.


Falcon Northwest Talon (Intel Core i7)

The Good

Fast, overclockable, and power-efficient new Intel Core i7 CPU; performs in the same neighborhood as PCs that cost $500 more; will play any game on the market at almost any image-quality setting; strong new case with some clever features.

The Bad

Limited room for expansion.

The Bottom Line

Falcon Northwest's revamped, mainstream-oriented Talon gaming desktop puts its best redesigned foot forward with a new case and a strong, price-competitive configuration built around Intel's latest batch of Core i7 CPUs. Shop around, as many vendors will have adopted Intel's new chips, but for this build at this price, Falcon Northwest sets the example to beat.

Unlike Falcon Northwest's highest-end Mach V line, its Talon systems have always aimed at a more cost-conscious shopper. You can still dial a Talon's configuration up fairly high by off-the-shelf standards, but you won't find features like liquid cooling, Intel's higher-end X58 motherboard, or triple SLI. For the vast majority of PC gamers, the Talon or a system like it offers more than enough power for current and forthcoming titles.

If you recall the old Talon, you'll remember that it was a bland little brother to the flashier Mach V. This new design is a tidy tower desktop, and while it might not be a masterpiece, it's not an eyesore, either. Vents on the front-panel door, and a band of clear plastic illuminated by a white LED are the only interruptions to the all-black aluminum chassis. There's no explicit top-panel gadget tray like we've seen from other desktops recently, but there's no reason you couldn't plunk an iPhone down on the flat surface. A power button, and USB 2.0 and audio jacks on the front edge of the top of the case make it easy to connect devices or turn the machine on and off if you keep it on the floor.

Inside the case, Falcon Northwest provides the Talon with its usual attention to detail. A sheet of sound-dampening foam on the side panel helps keep the noise down. Thanks to a modular power supply, Falcon has minimized the cable clutter inside the Talon, but we were surprised to find that some of the cables could have been secured more effectively. The Talon chassis doesn't provide quite as much room for finesse as the Mach V, so we'll give Falcon some leeway here, especially because the smart case design makes removing the hard drives so easy.

It took us a minute to figure out exactly what was going on with the drives in this system. At first it looked as if the chassis just has an overly clunky drive cage, but if you open the door on the front panel you'll notice that the two vent covers have fans mounted in them, and you can pop each of them out of the chassis. The clever part comes in with the contact-based power for the fans, which means you don't have to disconnect a fan wire. Once you remove the fan, you then notice the tool-free drive trays that slide out through the front of the case. This design makes it easy to add or replace a hard drive in the system, and also provides adequate drive cooling.

  Falcon Northwest Talon (Intel Core i7 860) AVADirect Custom Gaming PC
Price $2,495 $2,900
Motherboard chipset Intel P55 Intel X58
CPU 3.39Ghz Intel Core i7 860 (overclocked) 3.88GHz Intel Core i7-920 (overclocked)
Memory 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics (2) 896MB Nvidia GeForce GTX 275 896MB Nvidia GeForce GTX 295 (overclocked)
Hard drives 80GB Intel X-25 Solid State hard drive; 1TB Samsung 7,200 rpm hard drive 1.5TB 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drive, 300GB 15,000 rpm Fujitsu hard drive
Optical drive Blu-ray drive Blu-ray drive, dual-layer DVD burner
Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit

The AVADirect system against which we're comparing the Falcon Northwest Talon is a shining example of a gaming PC that used the older version of the Core i7 to great advantage by applying liquid cooling to boost the chip to nearly 3.9GHz, up from 2.66GHz out of the box. Falcon hasn't overclocked the Core i7 860 chip in the Talon as ambitiously, but the Talon also uses a Falcon-modified version of Intel's stock CPU fan, not liquid cooling like the AVADirect system. Falcon Northwest tells us that it needs the fan makers to adapt to the new Socket 1156 motherboard CPU interface required by the new Core i7 and Core i5 chips before it can achieve faster air-cooled overclocking settings. At any rate, by taking the new Core i7 860 going from 2.83GHz to 3.39GHz on air cooling, and, as our test showed, with complete stability, Falcon Northwest has demonstrated that Intel's new chip seems to be just as overclocking-friendly as the older Core i7's.

The Talon also features a variety of useful components that line up with what we expect to find at this price. AVADirect offers more hard-drive space, but we'll happily sacrifice a few 100GBs of storage for the Talon's solid-state primary drive and the attendant boost to boot speed and drive access times. The two line up fairly closely otherwise. Each has a Blu-ray drive, and while the AVADirect has a dual-chip graphics card in one slot, the Falcon has two single-chip graphics cards occupying two slots. Thus, adjusting for its lack of liquid cooling hardware, we find the Falcon Northwest Talon on par value-wise with the AVADirect, itself one of the most aggressively priced and configured PCs we've seen this year. That's a particularly notable feat for a system from Falcon Northwest, as its PCs tend to lean toward the more expensive side of the price scale.

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Falcon Northwest Talon
Velocity Micro Edge Z30

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Falcon Northwest Talon
Velocity Micro Edge Z30

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Falcon Northwest Talon
Velocity Micro Edge Z30

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs  
Rendering Single CPU  
Digital Storm 950Si
Falcon Northwest Talon
Velocity Micro Edge Z30
Shuttle XPC H7 5800

The Talon's performance is also in keeping with its configuration and price, and falls exactly where we expect it to, except for a few cases where it overachieves. Given the clock speed difference, we don't expect it to outperform either the AVADirect or the $3,000-ish Digital Storm systems, but for roughly $500 less than either PC, and with no major feature drop-off, the Talon's performance comes awfully close to those two higher-end desktops (that Velocity Micro is a $1,300 Core i7 860-based PC, so don't judge it harshly among these more expensive configs. Stay tuned for its review shortly). Particularly notable is the iTunes test, where the Talon effectively ties the Digital Storm system and its Intel Core i7 920 chip overclocked to 3.79GHz.Practically speaking, few, if any, consumer level-applications are challenging enough to give this Talon trouble.

Crysis (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600 x 1,200 (high, 4x aa)  
1,280 x 1,024 (medium, 4x aa)  
Falcon Northwest Talon
Velocity Micro Edge Z30

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)  
Falcon Northwest Talon
Velocity Micro Edge Z30

The Talon also delivers on our gaming tests. Any PC that can achieve more than 60 frames per second (fps) on Crysis, even at 1,280 x 1080, earns our respect, and as a gaming system, and the Falcon Northwest Talon is the most affordable desktop we've tested to pass that milestone. You'll note that the Talon slides just shy of 60 fps on our 1,600x1,200 version of that same Crysis test, so, technically you might find a few games and settings where you need to reduce either the image quality or the resolution if you have a 24-inch or larger display. We don't anticipate that you'll find many games where you'll need to compromise though, and for the most part the Talon will deliver smooth gameplay at the maximum settings.

This brings us to the Talon's upgradeability, which also lets us delve into the features of the new Intel P55 chipset required by the new Core i7 and Core i5 CPUs. This system is already fairly well stocked, and as a result you don't have much space left over for significant upgrades. Both graphics card slots are occupied, as are all four RAM slots. You can add two more hard drives, as well as a single 1X PCI Express card and a single standard PCI card, but that's about all the expansion room you get.

For the chipset itself, though, the biggest difference between the new P55 boards and the older Core i7-supporting X58 motherboards is the memory slot design. The CPU architecture is the same, and you still get the embedded memory controller in the new Core i5 and the new Core i7 800-series CPUs. What you don't get with the Core i7 800's is triple-channel memory throughput. Instead you get dual-channel support, which means not only slightly reduced memory bandwidth (which most consumers and gamers won't notice), but you also go back to installing RAM in pairs of two memory sticks, as opposed to sets of three as you did on the X58 boards. You can still use DDR3 RAM at (official) speeds of up to 1,333MHz, and most consumer applications won't lose much performance in the shift from three-way to two-way memory. On balance, the memory channel reduction is likely a good thing as it helps the new chips and the new chipset come out at mainstream-friendly prices.

We're satisfied with the range of ports available on the outside of the Talon. You get all kinds of USB 2.0 outputs, in addition to FireWire and a pair of eSATA ports for external data transfers. Outputs for analog and digital audio are abundant, and while there's no HDMI output on either graphics card, Falcon Northwest at least includes a DVI-to-HDMI adapter. It hasn't wired the audio from the motherboard through the graphics card for audio over HDMI, but that's a reasonable decision given the likelihood that few serious PC gamers will rely on display-attached speakers. You can always make the connection yourself if you really want it.

Juice box
Falcon Northwest Talon Average watts per hour
Off (watts) 1.31
Sleep (watts) 3.02
Idle (watts) 111.18
Load (watts) 391.4
Raw kWh 642.68178
EnergyStar compliant No
Annual energy cost (@$0.1135/kWh) $72.94

Annual power consumption cost
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Velocity Micro Edge Z30
Falcon Northwest Talon

As much as we're glad to see the Intel Core i7 chip come down in price, we're also very impressed with its power consumption. Both of the Core i7 designs have variable clock speeds that wind down during low power states, but even though the overclocked Core i7 860 in the Talon mostly trailed the overclocked Core i7 920 in the Digital Storm 950Si on our benchmarks, you can see from our power test scores that the Talon enjoys almost 100 percent cost savings compared with the Digital Storm system (AVADirect dodged our power testing bullet, since we posted that review before we finalized our power test suite). Due to other varying system components between the systems, this isn't a pure CPU-to-CPU power consumption test, so we have to credit Falcon Northwest more than we can single out the new Core i7 860 chip. And for demonstrating such impressive power efficiency, Falcon Northwest most definitely deserves recognition.

Finally, another difference between the Talon and Falcon's flagship Mach V system is the duration of the warranty. With the Talon you get warranty coverage for only one year, as opposed to three years with the Mach V. Falcon Northwest will, however, still provide you with free shipping to and from its offices in the event your PC needs a repair, as well as the usual assumed benefits of an entirely in-house tech support team. Phone support is not 24-7, but lines are open from a still generous 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m Pacific, seven days a week.

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); 1,792MB 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; 300GB 10,000rpm Western Digital hard drive

Falcon Northwest Talon (Intel Core i7 860)
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.3GHz Intel Core i7-860 (overclocked); 8GB 1,330MH


Falcon Northwest Talon (Intel Core i7)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8Support 8