Yeah, we’re hardware junkies. And we’re always chasing that next high. But as with any other addiction, the highs are harder and harder to come by. Gear that had us drifting on a heavenly cloud of bliss three months ago might fail to raise our pulse today.
So when vendors wave “amazing” new hardware under our noses—say, an Athlon 64 FX-55 box with SLI—do we get the shakes? FX-55? SLI? Bah! We use those parts for our zero-points, man. We need a score—a score!
Anticipation ran high when we uncrated Falcon Northwest’s Mach V, even though this wasn’t the dual-core box we’d been hoping for (Intel just wasn’t game this early). But the water-cooled Mach V packs Intel’s new 3.73GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, overclocked to 4.25GHz. And truth be told, with few apps taking advantage of the multiple threads a DC offers, the higher-clocked, larger-cached Extreme Edition might be the right way to go. Until now, even an overclocked P4 would get its butt kicked by a Sempron with SLI, so Falcon chose nVidia’s new nForce4 SLI Intel Edition to power its rig.
Besides supporting SLI, the new chipset also runs DDR2/667, which might help DDR2 shed its poor reputation for performance. Falcon didn’t settle for just DDR2/667, though. The company actually slipped two DDR2/800 modules into the Mach V. We certainly didn’t expect DDR2/800 this early, but Falcon assured us its vendor, Corsair, would have no problems supplying the higher-clocked RAM. We’ve long heard from RAM makers that DDR2 chips were hitting clocks higher than expected—here’s proof.
Topping things off are two new GeForce 6800 Ultra cards, each of which is outfitted with a 512MB frame buffer: That’s more RAM than some people run in main memory. The new cards sport dual-link DVI transceivers, which let them work with Apple’s 30-inch Cinema Display. Previously, the only way to get Apple’s uber monitor to work with a PC was to drop in a workstation graphics card. Unfortunately, a driver bug made the monitor unable to run at its native 2560x1600 in SLI mode. Falcon and nVidia tell us they’re aware of the bug, and they promise to have it fixed before the rig is available to the public.
The Mach V’s performance was disheartening—for us, that is. We established new benchmarks just this April in hopes of raising the bar and keeping it there for at least 12 to 18 months. The Mach V walked in and wiped the floor with our benchmarks. It was faster by almost 25 percent in SYSmark2004, which tests real-world app performance. In Premiere Pro, the Mach V finished 55 percent faster; and in Game 3 of 3DMark 2005, it was a phenomenal 74 percent faster. The Mach V now holds the record for every benchmark we use to gauge a PC’s performance. The only disappointing number we saw was in Doom 3; there, the Mach V managed to just barely squeeze past the ABS Ultimate M6 we reviewed last month. On the other hand, we cranked up Doom 3 to Ultra on the Mach V, and saw absolutely no performance hit.
Falcon tells us there are two games that can take advantage of the dual 512MB frame buffers: Doom 3 and Sony’s EverQuest II. In EQII, textures feature more details than they would on a card with a mere 256MB frame buffer; and as we just mentioned, you can enable Ultra in Doom 3 with nary a performance hit.
Does all this leave us with anything to complain about? We do have a couple of quibbles. First, there’s the Mach V’s use of engineering-sample parts. We do occasionally get ES parts—usually processors or videocards—but the Mach V is composed of an ES mobo and two videocards. Falcon says it’s close to finalizing its choice of P4 SLI boards and will substitute the reference board when that time comes.
Our other complaint comes as a surprise: We’ve long recognized Falcon Northwest’s systems for having the best paint jobs, but our Mach V was a step down from the lustrous boxes we’ve received in the past. While still good, it’s not the perfection we’ve come to expect from the brand. But we concede that Falcon had to rush this system to make our last-minute deadline.
Those complaints aside, it’s hard to knock a machine that sets records in every one of our benchmarks. There’s no arguing that the Mach V is the fastest machine we’ve ever seen; the only remaining question is, can you afford it? -Gordon Mah Ung
+Leopards: 512MB frame buffer and nForce4 for Pentium 4.
-Leonardo: Free heart attack with price tag.
Month Reviewed: May 2005