Lori Grunin reviewed the Falcon Northwest Talon 20th Anniversary Edition for cnet, and this is a rundown of her take.

When you write tech reviews, people often want you to put your money where your mouth is and want to know what you’d buy using your own cash. It can depend on how much cash the questioner thinks a tech reviewer has, but if there was no cash limit a Falcon Northwest PC based around the Talon 20th Anniversary Edition would most definitely be on the shortlist.

Apple iMac 27-inch (2019) 8.4 ———————> $1,799
HP Envy 32 All-in-One 8.4 ———————> $2,500

Likable things:

Great design and the chassis customization is nice

High level of stability

Plenty of options for configuration

Not so likable things:

Can’t connect with Thunderbolt 3 for AMD

Rather pricey

Not easy to get screws for the card connection that are required

Your choices

Falcon Northwest Talon 20th Anniversary Edition. Image credit: pinterest.com

Falcon Northwest builds each computer to order, making it impossible for us to list the details of every configuration without boring you to tears. Even the casings have options, like on the Talon 20th Anniversary Edition, you can choose four sizes, in descending order: Mach V, Talon, Fragbox, and Tiki. The size overall has decreased in the 20th AE version, with spaced being saved from the extra drives. Even with the shrinkage, you can still squeeze in three SATA solid-state drives, two M.2 SSDs, and dual graphics, but you’ll find no space for an optical drive. It’s worth knowing that the Mach V case has been out of stock for a good while now.

You can choose your processor and build from there, with options of up to 10th generation X series Intel Core, or a Zen 3 Ryzens and Threadripper processor from AMD. From here you get to pick your motherboards, power supplies, fans, and liquid cooling options. If you’ve got a workstation, you’re out of luck if you want a Xeon, you can opt for a Nvidia Quadros up to an RTX 8000. After three days of testing, it was possible to overclock the Intel processors, although they warn you that you void your warranty doing it. You can’t overclock AMD processors, but you do get the AMD Ryzen Master software included with them, so you do your own monitoring and overclocking. 

The company’s standard warranty covers you for a total of three years. Grunin echoes the concerns of lots of people buying off customer builders, even on their ready-to-use kit: there are no publicly accessible support resources that don’t require you to call someone. There’s not even a knowledge database you can access.

The specs

The cheapest rig you’ll find comes in at $2,434, but this has restrictions you might not want to make like a quad-core Core i3-9100F and no wifi built-in. To give it an international flavor, this price shakes out at £1,845 or AU$3,600, although international pricing isn’t noted on the site. For the same money, there are better configurations out there. Grunin says that the builds she’s had from FNW have been dependable and stable, with stability taking a knock as the annoying Windows settings get flicked off. The layout is indeed attractive, and it has an efficiency to the design too, which looks premium with the use of plenty of glass and metal. This is a common trope for the company, they’re pretty long in the tooth.

Price as reviewed Approximately $3,900
Size 38-liter ATX midtower
Motherboard Asus ROG Crosshair VIII Hero (Wi-Fi)
CPU 3.8GHz AMD Ryzen 9 3900X
Memory 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 3,200MHz
Graphics 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super
Storage 2TB SSD (RAID)
Ports 12x USB-A, 2x USB-C
Networking 1x Gigabit Ethernet, 1x 2.5Gb Ethernet, Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX200
Operating system Windows 10 Pro (1903)

To be able to tinker yourself, you can get into the case without tools and the sides are easy to remove, however, if you’re the type that needs to swap cards about there’s an edge connector recess and tiny screws that might start to grate. This isn’t completely out of the ordinary, yet the side and front mounts look so nice that you’d expect something a little bit better.

To stop dust getting in, you’ll find a fine filter slid between the front cover and fans, useful since the air gets pulled through the front and sent directly back out the opposite end. Because you’re going to be cleaning it often, be thankful that it’s an easy task. Since the case is compact, the airflow looks like it’ll be sufficient in the long-run.

The look

The paint jobs FNW offers are one of the things they’re notorious for, using their Exotix line. The look is awesome when done in solid colors. But if you choose to move away and towards airbrushed gradients, logos, game graphics, or anything else you find in their catalog, you’re going to be better sending in your own image and keep away from designs with lots of tones that are around shades of dark grey and black.

Grunin, an old hand at FNW as she is, still forgot this golden rule with her recent purchase. In her most recent order, she decided her case was going to have the opaque side look the same as the glass side of the casing, particularly the illuminations. What she didn’t think about was that the standard lighting is just blue and not full of a rainbow of colors like she’d imagined. The photo that was used would have needed a retouch to look after the areas around the motherboard clean.

On the software front, there’s a lot less bloatware than you normally get on a new PC. No one’s perfect, so there is still some, but it’s not overbearing like some.

Speedy and stable

“I am speed”. Image credit: destructoid.com

The test rig was Ryzen-based and wasn’t overclocked so it didn’t get near the top speeds that you can theoretically get out of a 12-core Ryzen 9 3900X. Top speeds get to 4.2GHz for all cores, although over at AMD they say the 4,6GHz claim is for “bursty”, single-thread tasks. Whether looking for something for a workstation or for gaming, the processor and graphics were sold and comparable to other computers in this arena and at this spec.

Having twelve cores is pretty unnecessary for gaming, which uses around 6 cores as standard, and not quite up to the job when you want to do video editing above 4K quality. In testing, the computer delivered great 1440p, high-quality gaming, and solid 4K, which is more down to the 2080S that the processing power.

It’s all well and good for a system to “feel” fast, like this one does when you pit it against other systems based around an Intel Core i9-9900K, but is the “feel” enough? When you’re using Adobe Premiere, 100% of the CPU on all cores gets used, plus the playback is stuttery when you do a basic playback of a 6K video. It also gets jumpy when you try to use the AI-accelerated features like Auto Reframe. The graphics card has a pretty small memory, this system had a 2080S’ 8GB. If you’re working in 4K and with workloads balancing between the CPU and GPU, like streaming game broadcasts, for example, you’re getting a very effective performance from the 12-core and RTX 2080S.

There is definitely potential to be able to overclock the CPU, too. Thermal limits weren’t even skimmed when the testing kit was ran to the max on all cores, with video encoding and editing being done at the same time, and the fans didn’t go mad either. Talking of the fans, you’re only going to notice them when you’re booting up or waking it up from the default hibernation mode. It’s important to note that this can’t be said for certain about all core set-ups.

Even with PCI 4, there’s nothing that points to when the extra channels are going to be necessary. However, this configuration is one of just a few that have onboard wifi, with this one being particularly interesting – Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax). For a desktop, it gives one of the most stable connections yet there’s no ugly external antenna to worry about. For connectivity, there are two USB-C ports – one at the top and one at the back – but there’s no Thunderbolt 3 support, as with all AMD desktops.

System configurations

Falcon Northwest Talon (2018) Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); (oc) 3.2GHz Intel Core i9-9900K; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 3,000MHz; 2x 11GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti; 2TB SSD
Falcon Northwest Talon 20th Anniversary Edition Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (1909); 3.8GHz AMD Ryzen 9 3900X; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 3,200MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super; 2TB SSD RAID 0
Origin PC Big O (PS4 Edition) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (1909); 3.8GHz AMD Ryzen 9 3900X; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM; 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super; 1.5TB SSD (2TB SSD for console)