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Falcon Northwest Mach 5

Three High-End Gaming Systems Compared
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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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  • 3 Hide
    xx12amanxx , October 9, 2008 7:49 AM
    That crossfire sure blazes through games!
  • 5 Hide
    johnbilicki , October 9, 2008 8:24 AM
    Falcon's overnight shipping is just plain juicy, nothing is worse then having a thousand dollar plus paper weight for two to six weeks doing nothing though why not the full three years of the warranty at these prices?

    Why only three years warranty for the entire systems? Why not extend those warranties per part in the very least. This is a major turn-off for those of us who have had parts die three days after a two or three year warranty has expired negating a full system if we can't replace the part (such as the motherboard). Especially considering Socket B will be due out in what, a month or two?

    I've seen a Mac or two that are (slightly) more affordable, would it really kill most people to replace an Intel EE with a Q9550? It's got the same amount of cache and I'm sure it'll OC to the same frequencies. I don't think someone buying one of these systems is going to care too much if it's OCed by FSB or simply the multiplier. My old 754/3200 CRUSHED my 939/3500 a few years ago 15 seconds to a full minute (and that's with single channel memory versus 939's dual channel) on several processor intensive tests such as AWStats (web statistics) pushing a 120 megabyte Apache access log and the 3500 had half the cache but a 200MHz advantage. Switching those two CPU's would easily knock off about $700 on the price tag.

    Just under six grand up over eight and no keyboard and mouse with any of these systems?

    Windows Vista is weak but then again if someone is going to spend that much money (and tax and probably shipping on TOP of that) they probably are going to be spending the vast majority of time using the system to play video games any way so mute point really. I've seen some impressive (older systems) though including a system with a 6xxx SLI setup that was being used for word documents...these are clearly intended for games.

    I'd really like to see an article here on Toms Hardware about PSU's. It'd be sweet to say, "Yeah my rig has a 1500 watt PSU" though it'd be sweeter to say, "Yeah I have my (one of these) rig running OCed and stable with a 700 watt PSU" in example. It'd be nice to see what happens when systems don't get enough power and how to determine how much power a system will need before one purchases individual parts.

    Why is Falcon's rig the only one with a BD burner?

    I like the Falcon system the most between the specs provided. The WD Raptors at 300GB might be enough if you're only playing a handful of games (at any given time) though for that price tag I'd expect at least a TB drive through in. I'd never have my music collection or work files on the same drive as any OS. Crossfire is owning there too and it's great to see ATI back in the game. Thanks for posting the review! Now how about posting some FRAPS footage of games from these systems and post them in HD on YouTube? ;-)
  • 2 Hide
    neodude007 , October 9, 2008 8:34 AM
    Speaking of FRAPS, I can't get decent framerates in Vista x64 with it... If I install XP I can FRAPS my WoW at 60 FPS but it chugs down to like 25 and below on Vista and the games appear to lag really badly.

    Also, this article goes to show the failure of tri SLI vs a CF of X2 cards. I am very happy with my 8800GT SLI though since it beats a GTX 280 last I checked for half the price.
  • 2 Hide
    lucuis , October 9, 2008 8:52 AM
    Great review, i was actually thinking about what kind of performance an 8 core processor would have in today's games, regardless of optimization. Clearly we aren't ready, lol. Especially seeing as how Quads are just barely getting used.

    What was nice to see is that Quads are almost always fully utilized in non-gaming applications. Makes me feel better for buying a quad early in the game. I'm just hoping more games will come equipped with quad support.
  • 2 Hide
    sparky2010 , October 9, 2008 9:20 AM
    well when it comes to extended warranties on custom, or "boutique" systems, you really don't need more than three.. i mean, people who buy these things want to them so that they can brag and all that, but in three years? you can easily buy a system for a quarter of the price and probably get more performance. So, there's no use for more than three years warranty because many of those people would have already updated those pcs (the insides, like mobo, cpu, gpu, ram, etc..), or the ones with deep wallets would have bought newer ones...

    Also, there are many people who like pcs, new technologies, games, and so on but don't know how or don't have the guts to build and overclock their own machines.. well, it's probably the overclocking part that weighs down on most people, so they'd rather opt to buy a machine built by.... experts.... who overclock it for them, at a nice premium.. if you can afford it, why not? not many people complain at the price of a Mercedes S 65 AMG now do they?
  • 0 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , October 9, 2008 9:20 AM
    I'm surprised the 3sli system did so badly. 8 cpu cores, 3 gpu cores, and yet so slow. Ofcourse a problem is the software unable to utilize them all, but I wonder how much of the fault is down to the windows kernel only running on one? or the graphics in a game only using one cpu core and treating the 3 gpu's as one etc? In any case, why are the ati cards that much faster? 3x 280 should be faster than 4x 4870 sharing two slots? does the skulltrail feature 3x16 pcie v2 lanes for the cards? or are they bandwidth starved ? and what about hte 2x 4870x2's ? are they being limited by two slots running 16x (or 16/8 / 8/8)?
    Appearently 2 x2's is better than 3 280's .... I didn't expect that. Perhaps driver's cpu overhead in the x2's is significantly lower than the nvidia driver handling 3 gpu's ? or is it just crysis and vantage that don't know how to use the gpu's without being limited by cpu power of a single core?
  • 0 Hide
    sparky2010 , October 9, 2008 9:26 AM
    also.. ATI FTW!!!!!!!
    I hope they keep it up with their new gpus in 2009..!!!
  • -1 Hide
    sparky2010 , October 9, 2008 9:33 AM
    well.. the 4870 X2 is better by about 10-20% (if not more) than the GTX 280, on average.. but i believe that on tri sli, the third card won't be of much help because that third pci-e slot is usually a 4x or even 1x.. so the bandwidth available to that third card is pretty low.. plus i believe that ATI has concentrated alot more on multi-card compatibility and performance, drivers wise.. so maybe that's the reason why.. maybe it's the nature of Crossfire vs. SLI that gives Crossfire the advantage, because they're two different methods in combining two cards..

    also, i wonder when they'll start coming up with dual and quad core gpus... instead of multi-gpu solutions... which would be better?
  • 3 Hide
    ravenware , October 9, 2008 9:57 AM
    Falcon's are always fast :)  That vigor gives me a hard on, too bad its overkill.
  • 0 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , October 9, 2008 10:06 AM
    Could be that the ati drivers simply are better in multi card configs than nvidia. For the longest time they've had to release x2 cards to keep up withe nvidia after all, so they must've worked their arse off to make sure they actually work :) 

    ps. I hope nvidia releases a new card to trumph the 4870, so that I can have proper drivers again. ati may be good at cf, but nvidia knows how to deal with multimonitor setups
  • 0 Hide
    scurvy , October 9, 2008 11:31 AM
    neiroatopelccI'm surprised the 3sli system did so badly. 8 cpu cores, 3 gpu cores, and yet so slow. Ofcourse a problem is the software unable to utilize them all, but I wonder how much of the fault is down to the windows kernel only running on one? or the graphics in a game only using one cpu core and treating the 3 gpu's as one etc? In any case, why are the ati cards that much faster? 3x 280 should be faster than 4x 4870 sharing two slots? does the skulltrail feature 3x16 pcie v2 lanes for the cards? or are they bandwidth starved ? and what about hte 2x 4870x2's ? are they being limited by two slots running 16x (or 16/8 / 8/8)? Appearently 2 x2's is better than 3 280's .... I didn't expect that. Perhaps driver's cpu overhead in the x2's is significantly lower than the nvidia driver handling 3 gpu's ? or is it just crysis and vantage that don't know how to use the gpu's without being limited by cpu power of a single core?


    Me too. specially considering the similar system they built at guru3d.com kicked ass.
    http://www.guru3d.com/article/geforce-gtx-280-sli-triple-review-test/

    Wonder why??
  • -5 Hide
    cucu , October 9, 2008 12:39 PM
    Because in that test at guru3d was only nvidia cards and that is not a similar test.

    and this is beacuse amd-ati are siply the best!!! :) )
  • -6 Hide
    cucu , October 9, 2008 12:40 PM
    Because in that test at guru3d was only nvidia cards and that is not a similar test.

    and this is beacuse amd-ati are siply the best!!! :) )
  • -1 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , October 9, 2008 12:51 PM
    cucuBecause in that test at guru3d was only nvidia cards and that is not a similar test.and this is beacuse amd-ati are siply the best!!! )


    Fanboy ehh? means basicly we should ignore your post alltogether!

    Anyway, that it doesn't compare the 280 to ati ones in the test still doesn't explain why sli scales so well and in general does very well in their tests, while the mashine thg received doesn't.
  • 3 Hide
    cucu , October 9, 2008 1:41 PM
    ""ps. I hope nvidia releases a new card to trumph the 4870, so that I can have proper drivers again. ati may be good at cf, but nvidia knows how to deal with multimonitor setups"

    Because you didn't see the demo with 8 monitors with microsoft flight simulator on linux with ati cards.
  • 2 Hide
    GlItCh017 , October 9, 2008 1:57 PM
    Falcon is the clear winner for anyone that wants to game at the 1920x1200 resolution. Or maybe CF is the real winner, either way some useful information.
  • 0 Hide
    nictron , October 9, 2008 1:58 PM
    Multi monitor SLI still does not work though.
  • -6 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , October 9, 2008 2:33 PM
    cucu""ps. I hope nvidia releases a new card to trumph the 4870, so that I can have proper drivers again. ati may be good at cf, but nvidia knows how to deal with multimonitor setups" Because you didn't see the demo with 8 monitors with microsoft flight simulator on linux with ati cards.

    No I didn't. I have absolutely no idea which demo you're referring to. But that doesn't matter anyway. I know the issues with ati drivers and multi monitors first hand, since I had it back with my x800, and I bloody still have it with my hd4870. With nvidia on the other hand I've only had multimonitor problems with a select few geforce 2/4 mx cards given lack of support for the cards in certain driver versions.
    In any event, I wasn't expecting my hd4870 to be so powerful yet so useless at anything other than single monitor gaming.
    ps. one of my collegues has an 4870 card too, and is equally dissatisfied by it, for different reasons. It's a fast card no doubt, but the software team @ ati always were rubbish, and they obviously still are.
  • 1 Hide
    wahdangun , October 9, 2008 2:45 PM
    ATI FTW, who said that radeon card not good for crysis
    it's even beat tri SLI.

    nvidia must be shocking with this result.
  • 0 Hide
    zarksentinel , October 9, 2008 3:51 PM
    ATI FTW.
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