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Maximum PC Staff Nov 18, 2009

Falcon Northwest Talon

At A Glance

Viper MK II

Dual Radeon HD 5970s; super quiet; relatively energy efficient.

FD Starfighter

Wheres the Blu-ray drive? Will never get a hexa-core upgrade.

When Falcon Northwest submitted its Talon PC to us instead of its top-gun Mach V, we didn’t think the machine stood a chance of taking down the spate of ripping-fast 4GHz Core i7 rigs we’ve seen in the last few months.

And we were right. But the point Falcon was trying to make with its Talon was that its machine could deliver 90 percent of the performance of those big LGA1366-based Core i7 rigs at half the cost, half the noise, and half the energy consumption. Impossible? We thought so.

But that was before we’d ever heard of ATI’s new Radeon HD 5970 card. Code-named Hemlock, this new card features not one, but two of the GPUs that power the Kick Ass Radeon HD 5870.

Falcon uses two of these cards in the Talon, for quad-GPU action, and pairs them with an LGA1156 Core i7-870 overclocked from its stock 2.93GHz to very stable 3.83GHz. We stress-tested the Falcon for more than 48 hours without a single crash.

For storage, Falcon tapped a pair of Intel’s 34nm X25-M 80GB SSDs. Bulk storage is left to a 1TB Samsung Spinpoint drive.

The 64-bit Windows 7 Pro–based Talon’s benchmark scores  didn’t disappoint—but they didn’t send us swooning, either. The Talon beat our zero point, a Core i7-920 overclocked to 3.66GHz. We saw predictable results, with the Falcon faster in Premiere Pro CS3 and Photoshop CS3. Photoshop CS3 actually saw a performance delta of 19 percent, thanks to the SSDs in the Talon and the higher Turbo mode clocks. However, in ProShow and MainConcept, the Talon’s scores were closer to the zero point’s, but still faster. In gaming, pitting two dual-GPU Radeon HD 5970 cards against a single Radeon HD 4870 X2 turned out as expected: with almost an 80 percent difference in frame rates. Even better, the CrossFire (or should we say QuadFire?) Radeon HD 5970s let you tick on 16x AA in Crysis with nary a drop in performance. Frankly, for folks with a single, 24-inch panel, these two cards are overkill (but feel free to experiment with three or more panels in the cards’ Eyefinity mode).

Now, what about those claims of taking on those 4GHz-plus Core i7 boxes? Falcon hit its target. It couldn’t beat the $9,000 Velocity Micro Raptor SE that we reviewed in December, but it was just 10 percent slower. The Raptor SE’s tri-SLI also held a 5 percent edge in Crysis, but we suspect that with this class of machine, Crysis is quickly being limited by the CPU. Amazingly, the Talon managed to surpass the Windows Vista–based AVADirect machine we reviewed in our Holiday issue, even though the latter’s Core i7 was clocked up to 4.4GHz.

Even more amazing, the Talon could hold its own against machines that are almost twice as pricey, while being incredibly quiet. Not HTPC quiet, but you’d be unlikely to identify this machine as an all-out gaming rig judging by the sound output. In power consumption, the Falcon peaked at about 500 watts—half as much as the AVADirect machine.

The Talon is not the most powerful machine we’ve ever tested, but it still gets our approval for being fast, freakishly quiet, and even energy efficient. Heck, it’ll even save you a few thousand bucks, to boot.

Specifications
Processor Intel 2.93GHz Core i7-870 @3.83GHz
MOBO
MSI P55-GD65
RAM 8GB Crucial DDR3/1600
Videocard
Two MSI Radeon HD 5970 in CrossFire mode
Soundcard
Onboard
Storage
Two Intel X25-M 80GB in RAID 0; 1TB Samsung Spinpoint 7,20rpm hard drive
Optical
Lite-On 22x DVD burner
Case/PSU
Silverstone case with Exotix paint job and 1,000 Silverstone PSU
WINDOWS 7 BENCHMARKS

Zero Point
Falcon Northwest Talon
Premiere Pro CS3 496 sec
459
Photoshop CS3
94 sec
79
ProShow
513 sec 504
MainConcept 977 sec
935
Crysis 37 fps
66
Unreal Tournament 3 198 fps
230

Our current desktop test bed consists of a quad-core 2.66GHz Intel Core i7-920 overclocked to 3.66GHz, 6GB of Patriot DDR3/1333, a Radeon HD 4870 X2, and a 1.5TB 7,200rpm Seagate 7200.11 hard drive. The motherboard is a Gigabyte GA-EX58-UDR3 motherboard and a Corsair TX850 PSU. OS is Windows 7 in 64-bit mode.

THE VERDICT

Falcon Northwest Talon

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