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Falcon Northwest Mach 5

Three High-End Gaming Systems Compared

Catering to high-end buyers since 1992, Falcon Northwest is probably the oldest independent, national-brand “boutique builder." A company can’t last this long without relying on its reputation, so Falcon goes out of its way to please consumers with a three-year warranty, one year overnight shipping return service, a 30-day money-back satisfaction guarantee, and lifetime tech support.

Success hasn’t changed the way Falcon operates and the company still uses the best qualified off-the-shelf parts throughout. Even the case is a Silverstone TJ03, which has been modified only to add the Falcon logo.

It may seem hard for some of the younger readers to believe, but cases used to be designed for desktop use. The classic TJ03 design puts its front-panel connectors at the bottom for easy reach from above a desk, preventing cables from dangling in front of drive bays. Falcon Northwest orders its cases without front-panel audio connectors, which is a move that we think is a blunder for any system that isn’t custom-ordered with a Creative Live Drive-series bay device.

The lower front panel swings away for fan service, but with no dust filter there’s really nothing to service. Two holes in the bay panel bracket show where front-panel audio connectors should have been.

The top panel swings away separately to reveal six 5.25” bays, of which two were filled with custom-selectable devices. An LG 6x Blu-Ray burner with HD DVD reading capability and 16x DVD writing capability fills the fifth bay, while a combination multi-format flash card reader and floppy drive are found beneath it.

Falcon Northwest wanted to amaze us by configuring its Mach 5 with two Western Digital VelociRaptor drives in RAID 0. If we were ordering a similar configuration, we’d also add a third, larger drive for backups.

A top-mounted power supply in the Silverstone TJ03 would have meant better cooling and cable routing if the CPU were air-cooled, but it limits radiator space in this Asetek “Low Cost Liquid Cooling” configuration. A single-fan radiator cools the overclocked (4.00 GHz) Core 2 Quad Q9650 processor and the integrated pump/water block is mounted using Intel’s plastic “push pin” expansion pin design.

Case manufacturer Silverstone Technology also sells reputable power supplies, so the included SST-ST1200 modularized unit should please nearly everyone.

The Mach 5 we received used four Kingston HyperX DDR3-1800 CAS 8 modules, underclocked to DDR3-1333 but at an improved CAS 6 latency.

Falcon Northwest supports both SLI and CrossFire, and it sent us a system with dual-HD 4870 X2 graphics cards. These cards were “unbranded” engineering samples, but retail orders will come with the company’s choice of retail parts. Remember this video of the QuadFire from early August? We’ve had Falcon’s box for more than two months and it still represents an incredibly powerful high-end configuration.

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