A Falcon Northwest PC that doesnt break the bank.
Windows Vista still suxors, and the rig isnt suited for high-res gaming.
Falcon keeps the FragBox II’s price at $1,500 by using a GeForce 8800 GT and a new Wolfdale Core 2 Duo chip
Can you get Ferrari performance for the price of a Camaro? That’s the question we asked when we uncrated Falcon Northwest’s small formfactor FragBox II. Falcon, the recognized father of the modern gaming PC, normally throws us lustworthy $9,000 gaming rigs. At $1,500, the FragBox II is no such home wrecker.
That doesn’t make it any less of a machine, though. Inside the solidly constructed aluminum box is Intel’s new Core 2 Duo E8400 dual-core CPU. Code-named Wolfdale, this 45nm chip runs at a stock clock of 3GHz, which Falcon gooses a notch to 3.24GHz. With the Wolfdale capable of much, much higher speeds, why not crank it up even more? Falcon said the FragBox II is designed to be a cool-running, quiet, inexpensive gaming box. Overclocking it further would have upped the noise and thermals too much.
The E8400 is plugged into an Asus P5E-VM DO mobo that’s based on Intel’s Q35 integrated-graphics chipset. The craptacular Intel graphics are switched off and an EVGA GeForce 8800 GT takes command from the board’s single x16 slot; a 500GB Seagate hard drive, a Lite-On DVD burner, and 2GB of RAM round out the package.
Pretty standard fare? Not really. We’re used to Falcon being just about perfect when it comes to system configurations, but we were baffled by this rig’s RAM setup. With four DIMM slots available in the FragBox, Falcon chose to outfit the machine with 2GB in a single slot. Even Mac users know that you need to populate two DIMM slots for dual-channel support. So why would Falcon configure RAM in single-channel mode?
Falcon gave us three reasons for this decision: There’s only a minimal performance advantage to running dual-channel mode with this box; RAM is the second-most-likely component to fail (the GPU is first), so using just one DIMM cuts the chance of failure in half; and three free DIMM slots provides a better upgrade path.
Sure, buddy. Skeptical, we called Falcon’s bluff and populated the rig with two 1GB sticks of DDR2/800 and reran our tests. The results? Pretty much the same. What the hell? We admit that it’s been a few years since we benched dual-channel vs. single-channel configs, but dual-channel has become the de facto configuration for enthusiasts. Could the 6MB of L2 in the Penryn CPU really be ameliorating RAM bottlenecks? We’re not sure, but obviously, there’s egg on our faces, not Falcon’s.
In performance benchmarks, the FragBox II didn’t break any records, but it didn’t fall on its face, either. Up against our standard quad-core GeForce 8800 GTX SLI zero-point desktop box, the FragBox II gets smoked in the gaming benchmarks and our Main Concept H.264 encoding test, but interestingly, the dual-core Penryn holds its head up high in the ProShow Producer, Photoshop CS3, and Premiere Pro CS3 tests. The extra 575MHz and faster Penryn design is just enough to achieve parity with the older quad Kentsfield.
We couldn’t compare the FragBox II’s performance against that of the $1,500 PC we built for the April issue because the OSes are different, but we can compare specs. Our desktop machine outdoes the FragBox II in just about every category: RAM, graphics, storage, and CPU; however, that comparison may be unfair since a desktop is still cheaper to build than a small formfactor rig.
What we have here is a reasonably fast small formfactor box that’s good for standard-resolution gaming. You don’t want to pair this wee rig up with a 30-inch panel—and really, who wants to lug a 30-inch LCD to a LAN party. The bad news is that we probably wouldn’t use the FragBox II with even a 24-inch panel, but that’s because we’re used to the smoking performance of GTX cards in SLI.
We certainly don’t think the FragBox II is perfect. We would have preferred a quad-core Penryn inside and perhaps a GeForce 8800 GTS 512 card, but then it wouldn’t be a $1,500 box or nearly as quiet. Of course, we’re still not sold on Windows Vista, but we’re getting as resigned to it as a 2-year-old is to a new baby sibling. We know that Mom and Dad just aren’t taking the new kid back to the hospital, even if he is Chucky.
Falcon’s FragBox II is not as sexy as what the company normally produces, but for a $1,500 small formfactor machine, it’s pretty damned solid.
|Under the Hood
|Falcon Northwest FragBox II
|CPU||Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 (3GHz overclocked to 3.14GHz)
|MOBO||ASUS P5E-VM DO
|RAM||2GB Crucial DDR2/800 @ 716MHz (one 2GB stick in single-channel mode)
|HARD DRIVES||One Seagate 500GB 7,200rpm Barracuda|
|VIDEOCARD||EVGA GeForce 8800 GT (650MHz core, 950MHz RAM)
|Falcon Northwest FragBox II
|Premiere Pro CS3||1,490 sec
|Photoshop CS3||150 sec
|FEAR 1.07||30 fps|
|Quake 4||69 fps|
|Our current desktop test bed consists of a quad-core 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6700, 2GB of Corsair DDR2/800 RAM on an EVGA 680 SLI motherboard. We are running two EVGA GeForce 8800 GTX cards in SLI mode, Western Digital 150GB Raptor and 500GB Caviar hard drives, an LG GGC-H20L optical drive, a Sound Blaster X-Fi soundcard, and PC Power and Cooling Silencer 750 Quad power supply. The OS is Windows Vista Ultimate.|