There’s a classic scene in Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 film Jackie Brown, wherein Samuel L. Jackson provides some colorful commentary about the, shall we say, undeniable blanket effectiveness of an AK-47. Falcon Northwest’s Mach V PC is a lot like that.
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Let’s weed out the window shoppers: the specific Mach V I’m reviewing, as configured, carries a sticker price of $9996 (though less expensive loadouts absolutely exist). You may call that exorbitant, but the Mach V’s formidable speed and power demands that you don’t even consider upgrading it for the next 3 to 5 years (and outright replacing it will take even longer). This is a computer built expressly for the hardcore PC gamers and multimedia professionals in the house.
Last year I called Falcon Northwest’s Tiki “the perfect PC” and it’s a claim I’m sticking with. But the Mach V is an entirely different class of system; call it the Tiki’s juiced up, monolithic older brother. In fact, when Nintendo was busy marketing the SNES in 1991, Falcon Northwest was putting the finishing touches on their first iteration of the Mach V. It’s not inaccurate to call it one of the world’s first dedicated gaming rigs.
But let’s get back to how it backs up its price tag. That begins with the sand-blasted aluminum chassis which is a work of art in its own right. My particular system boasted a hematite paint job which lends a professional, wet metallic look to the rig. But don’t rule out the default black aluminum look, which looks plenty elegant and will save you some coin.
Because the chassis is designed for vertical airflow and effective cooling, the ASUS motherboard is rotated 90 degrees, meaning all of your I/O ports (USB, audio, ethernet, video, etc) are located at the top of the system, protected by a removable grill. It’s here that my only point of criticism gets leveled at Falcon Northwest, and even then it’s only a whisper. I love that I can simply bend down to plug in or unplug something. But the more you have (and this system begs for multiple monitors and peripherals galore), the more of an eyesore it becomes having your cables flowing out the top of the case rather than mostly hidden on the backside. You’re gaining convenience here, to be sure, but it can be unsightly depending on your placement of the system. In the grand scheme of things, this is a minor and singular gripe about the Mach V.
Since its chassis is designed to house an insanely powerful combination of high-end components, it’s ok to dream. Maybe you feel like running nearly every game in existence with maximum eye candy — on a 4K monitor — while still achieving 60+ frames per second. Maybe you need two 960GB solid state drives — in RAID — plus a 3TB deep storage drive. Maybe you need 32GB of memory, a liquid-cooled overclocked Intel Core i7 Extreme processor and three of Nvidia's benchmark-destroying Titan Black graphics cards. I won’t judge. I need these things too.
Select System Specs
- CPU: Intel Core i7-4960x overclocked to 4.6 GHz
- CPU cooling: Asetek Liquid Cooling System
- Video Cards: 3x Nvidia GeForce Titan Blacks with retention brackets
- Motherboard: ASUS Rampage VI Extreme
- Memory: 32GB (4 x 8GB) G.Skill Ripjaws 1866MHz
- Solid State Drives: Crucial M500 SSD 960GB x2 (in RAID)
- Hard Drive: Western Digital Green 3TB
- Optical Drive: Asus 12x Blu-Ray writer
- Power Supply: Silverstone 1200W Modular
- 6 internal hard drive bays, 5 external drive bays with quick-release locks
- Warranty: 3 years (comprehensive)
Back In Black(s)
Nvidia’s refreshed Titan graphics card — now dubbed Titan Black — upends the brief reign the 780 Ti had as the fastest GPU in the business. Having three of them priced at $999 each puts us strictly into the territory of Ultra HD gaming, so that’s where my testing began.
Consider that Ultra HD screens pack four times the resolution (about 8 million pixels) as a 1080p (1920 x 1080) display. Making these numbers even more impressive is my requirement for testing each game at their absolute highest graphics settings, tempered slightly by reducing MSAA (multi-sample anti aliasing) to 4x. That’s the sweet spot for 4K; anything more is unnecessary. It’s still incredibly taxing, but the Mach V’s combination of overclocked and high-end components eliminates any potential bottlenecks.
As expected, the most punishing title is Metro: Last Light. That’s right, not even three Titan Blacks can deliver 60fps at 4K in that game with everything switched to maximum. I was really pleased with the results from Tomb Raider and Battlefield 4, but an important story is also told by looking at a different number. The median framerate across all these titles when combined is 75fps, for largely very demanding games at their maximum quality settings at 3840 x 2160 resolution.
Needless to say, if you have 4K pegged on your personal gaming roadmap, this Mach V can handle it without breaking a sweat. But what if you’re biding your time, perhaps waiting for Lenovo’s more affordable ThinkVision Pro 2840m monitor? I ran most of the same benchmarks at 1440p as well. It’s overkill, but you won’t be left wanting.
So what about keeping $3000 worth of graphics cards cool when they’re snuggled up right next to each other? Nvidia does their part with a very efficient reference cooler, but Falcon Northwest has some unique solutions at play. First is a 180mm dual-speed fan which directs its airflow exclusively at the cards. This is achieved with the help of a custom-made divider which separates the GPUs from the rest of the components. This divider has a subtle arc to it, which guides a good chunk of the fan’s air upward and to the primary card’s backside, where most of the heat is initally generated.
Better still is that this fan emits a nominal amount of noise even on its highest setting. At one point I opened the side panel during a stress test, and the combined system noise was still quieter than a single reference AMD Radeon 290x at its Uber setting of 56% fan RPM. No, seriously.
Samsung EVO SSDs may be winning the benchmarks these days, but Crucial isn’t far behind, and Falcon Northwest’s decision to rock dual 960GB Crucial M500 solid state drives in RAID is due in part to their reliability. Kelt Reeves, Founder & President of Falcon Northwest, told me they have “years of solid <1% failure rate history with Crucial.”
This was my first experience having such large SSDs in RAID, and damn are they speedy. I saw sequential read rates of 841.55MB/s and sequential write rates of 815.251MB/s. If you don’t think this results is dramatically reduced load times for games and software, you’d be dead wrong. Knowing that, it was thrilling to load up dozens of games from my Steam library all to the SSD drive, knowing I still had tons of deep storage (3TB) for music and Blu-Ray rips.
It’s impossible for me to compare this particular Mach V to other systems available from various boutique vendors, because of two reasons: Primarily it’s because I haven’t reviewed everything under the sun. Secondly, however, there’s no real template for the Mach V other than its ICON 2 chassis and the expectation that you load it up with future-proofed hardware. What I am confident saying — as someone who has purchased a system from them in the past — is that their 3 year warranty leads the market, even though you’ll probably never need it. (I was so impressed with the Tiki after reviewing it that I bought one for my wife). Their warranties even encompass many factors that component manufacturer’s warranties don’t, such as overclocking. These guys are perfectionists, and it’s reflected in the machines they build. Of course, being in business for more than 22 years is probably its own very potent argument.
I also place importance on how well a company’s product imparts a sense of ownership, and Falcon Northwest is king here. From the handwritten QA checklists in your oversized system binder, to the fresh “Falcon Fuel” coffee roasted near their offices in Oregon, they go just a little bit above and beyond what everyone else out there is doing.
If you have 4K gaming in your sights and need a system that you can abuse for years to come, the Mach V is an excellent choice. Yes, it’s a significant investment, but one I believe is wholly backed up by the system’s build quality, excellent cooling, and outstanding performance. There are no deal breakers, and only a very minor gripe with regards to the I/O placement — even then, it’s a very subjective opinion.