There’s an annual event here at the magazine: We set performance records every September with the Dream Machine and before we can finish guzzling the celebratory beer, Falcon Northwest shows up to pee on our parade. And we’re getting pretty sick of it. This time, the company gave our Dream Machine a good hosing with its new Mach V, which is (sigh) the fastest PC we’ve ever seen—again. Damn it!
But what else would you expect of a machine featuring Intel’s must-have Core 2 Extreme X6800 CPU? We know the chip overclocks like nuts, but leave it to the O.G. performance crew at Falcon to take this chip to the very heights of its performance. The stock X6800 clocks at 2.93GHz and in our Dream Machine, we hit 3.3GHz using air cooling. Falcon’s Mach V makes it to a stable 3.73GHz using water. By stable, we mean the machine never hiccupped during two days of benchmarking.
The build-out itself is topnotch. The Core 2 Extreme slots into an Asus P5N32-SLI mobo with 2GB of Corsair DDR2 RAM. We said no one would have the nForce 500-series chipset for Intel and we were right. There are apparently enough kinks in the new nForce that Falcon had to rely on its older nForce4 Intel Edition boards. Two slightly overclocked GeForce 7900 GTX cards in SLI handle graphics duties, and Falcon includes an Aegia PhysX accelerator instead of a Sound Blaster X-Fi card.
Falcon says it normally leaves it up to the customer to choose components, but because we don’t recommend configurations for review, the company chose the physics over sound. Our Falcon rep said that they’ll be shipping systems holding both X-Fi and a PhysX cards soon, but they couldn’t meet our deadline. That’s too bad, because the price of the PhysX card is pretty hard to justify given the meager selection of titles available that support it. Does Falcon really think that someone spending $8,400 on a rig will be playing Bet on Soldier?
The inclusion of the extraneous PhysX card really rankles us when we see the budget cuts made in crucial areas—like storage. The Mach V features two 150GB Raptor drives spinning at 10K, for a total of 300GB of lightning-fast storage, but you have nowhere to back up your files.
In the optical drive department, Falcon puts both drives on the same IDE chain. We dinged Monarch’s Nemesis in August for doing something similar, so we thought we had a gotcha on Falcon, too. In Monarch’s case, having the two PX-760A drives on the same chain pushed DVD burn times over the three-hour mark when burning to both drives simultaneously. In the Mach V, Falcon doesn’t use two burners but a single Plextor PX-760A and a Sony DVD-ROM.
Does it suffer the same problem? To test the optical chain, we copied an 8x DVD+R disc from the reader to the writer using the stock setup. Then we ran a second cable between the spare PATA port and the DVD-ROM drive and re-ran the test. The difference? Just one minute. Although we do think the second drive should be on its own port (one IDE port was free), we can’t fault Falcon because the performance difference was insignificant.
So what does 3.73GHz of Core 2 Extreme power give you? Boatloads of performance, that’s what. We keep a spreadsheet of performance scores posted in the Lab, with the record scores in bold. For the Mach V, we opened the spreadsheet, input that PC’s scores, then dutifully unbolded the Dream Machine’s scores—the Mach V set the high mark in four out of our six benchmarks.
Compared with the Athlon 64, it’s as ugly as you’d expect. The Mach V ran fully 46 percent faster in Nero Recode 2.0 than the fastest Athlon 64 FX box. In Premiere Pro, the Mach V is 53 percent faster, in SYSmark2004, 58 percent faster, and in our Photoshop CS2 test, it has a 61 percent advantage. Again, this is against the fastest Athlon 64 FX machines we’ve reviewed. They were among the fastest PCs on Earth until the Mach V hit the scene.
The only scores the Mach V didn’t steal were in gaming, which is more dependent on the GPUs’ overclock. Dream Machine still holds the record for Quake 4—it beat the Mach V by a whopping 5fps. The Mach V isn’t perfect, but it sure is close. We’d like a little more storage and discrete sound, but we’d happily give that up for a production PC that sends an entire schoolyard full of Athlon 64 machines crying to mommy.
Month Reviewed: October 2006
+ SPEED: So fast it makes Pentium 4 and Athlon 64 machines look like they're running in reverse.
- GREED: Why the skimpy storage? Why the PhysX card?