Many self-respecting gamers have always favored building their own custom gaming PCs. But people like me don’t have the time or skill to do it right, and that’s why Falcon Northwest exists.
Kelt Reeves started the company out of his dorm room in 1992. While rivals such as Voodoo PC and Alienware emerged and became bigger, they got acquired and subsumed into larger companies. HP disbanded Voodoo PC and kept it going as a brand. Dell bought Alienware and turned it into a mass-produced brand. But Medford, Oregon-based Falcon Northwest stayed small, and today is still has just 25 employees.
The team crafts gaming PCs, which were once the domain of high-end enthusiasts. But now these rigs are driving the PC business forward, infiltrating the mass market with high-end gaming laptops and desktops with multiple graphics cards and processors with dozens of cores.
I tried out a Falcon Northwest Talon machine. The 20th-anniversary edition features a custom insignia on the front of the machine. It has options for glass or solid metal sides. Like the first Talon two decades ago, it features a processor from Advanced Micro Devices. In my case, the machine had an AMD Ryzen 9 3900X 12 Core CPU. That tells you that AMD is giving Intel a run for its money for the first time in a long while in the high end of the PC market.
“These new Talons we sent out, the new 3900X, are the first new AMD review units that I think we’ve sent out in 15 years. It’s been a long time coming,” Reeves said in an interview with GamesBeat.
It also features an Nvidia GeForce GTX 2080 Super graphics card, with 32 gigabytes of G.Skill Memory, a Samsung 970 Pro 2TB M.2 NVMe SSD, an ASUS ROG Crosshair VIII Hero X570 chipset motherboard, liquid cooling, an EVGA G3 750 Watt power supply, custom wiring by CableMod, Microsoft’s Windows 10 Pro software, and a (separately priced) curved Asus ROG monitor.
What you’ll like
A custom PC, built just for you
When it comes to building PCs, I no longer have the capability or the time. So Falcon Northwest’s Talon machine is the ideal kind of machine for me. Busy people and many parents don’t have the time to do this, even though they appreciate what a custom PC can deliver.
Each custom Talon PC has a space in front where Falcon Northwest will emblazon anything you want. They sent me a machine with the VentureBeat logo on it.
“The cases are very expensive,” Reeves said. “We’ve plated that with all 4mm aluminum, not because it was necessary, but because nobody else was doing it.”
Falcon Northwest’s liquid-cooled machine looks great and it makes you feel like you’ve got a hand-crafted one-of-a-kind machine.
“The nicest compliments we ever get are from former DIY (do-it-yourself) guys,” Reeves said. “I used to build my own system. Now I work 50 hours a week. The money is no problem, but I don’t have the time or the patience to deal with all the problems with building and supporting myself. I want somebody else to handle it.”
Besides the custom insignia and the metal or glass siding options, the machine has other ways to show itself off. Inside the case, the machine also features RGB lighting that you can configure as you wish.
Outstanding benchmark performance
The system’s benchmarks were impressive. It scored X13964 on the 3DMark 2011 benchmark, and it scored 24,214 on the 3DMark Firestrike benchmark. Both reveal how good it is at running 3D games. On the PCMark 7 benchmark, it scored a PC Mark score of 9,693, an entertainment score of 8,374, and a creativity score of 12,432. On Cinabench, it scored 3,109. Basically, yeah, that’s badass.
You can also see how it performs with the two embedded Call of Duty: Modern Warfare videos. I’ve embedded the videos so you can see how Modern Warfare looks with RTX real-time ray tracing 3D graphics.
And it looks good, too
I marveled at the imagery in Modern Warfare, with effects such as smoke, high-dynamic range with light and dark imagery on the screen at the same time, and cool effects like rippling water.
I also enjoyed seeing the waving grass in Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint. I actually paused and stood in the grass for a while to soak in the effects of the wind blowing and the overall beauty of the environment. Both games really show off what the Talon can do when equipped with AMD processors and Nvidia RTX graphics.
If you look at my embedded Hunting Party video for Modern Warfare, you’ll see the multiple light sources and reflections in water in the alley scene at 2 minutes and 50 seconds. The shadows and lighting add so much to the realism of the moment. You can see similar effects throughout the level. And at 2:45 into the multiplayer video, you can see reflections on the palace floor from multiple light sources.
With the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super and even the 2060, you can play Modern Warfare at 60 frames per second, with maximum settings, at 1080p with raytracing enabled. With the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, you can get 4K resolution with raytracing, 60 FPS, and Ultra settings.
What you won’t like
The Falcon Talon has an introductory price of $2,432. But the system I tested is $4,300. That’s not cheap by any standards, and a lot of that price comes from the craftsmanship put into the desktop. That is, it’s not the performance of GPUs or CPUs alone that you’re paying for. Certainly, you are paying for that. If you throw everything in the machine, it can exceed $6,000.
But you are also paying for the custom paint job. If you care about the price, then you can obviously get something cheaper from somewhere else or by building a PC. You get a lot of coolness and panache out of that, but it’s not clear how much you should value that. Dell and HP target machines below $3000 or $2,000.
The Falcon Northwest 20th anniversary Talon is a magnificent machine that gives you that custom gaming PC feel as well as great performance with standardized components. I tested it thoroughly on a variety of games, including Apex Legends Season 3, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, and Modern Warfare. I had a few crashes, but nothing that suggested ongoing problems.
The special effects look both subtle and spectacular. It’s great to see your own reflection in a water puddle, and it is cool to see some extreme combat scenes with lots of characters moving around at the same time — without causing a performance hiccup. You’ll probably see new versions with new processors and graphics chip options soon.
The machine is also pretty good for productivity reasons. After all, if you’ve got a browser open with tons of open windows, all of the cores on the AMD processor will be put to work. Overall, it was a treat to play around with a machine that delivered such awesome PC gaming performance.
Disclosure: Falcon Northwest provided me with a machine for the purpose of this review. Our coverage remains objective.