Small desktop computers have become more popular over the last few years thanks to huge improvements in processor and GPU efficiency, and new designs from major boutique PC makers. Yet there’s still something compelling about a simple mid-sized tower. These computers don’t require a hand truck to move, and tend to offer solid value.
Falcon Northwest’s Talon is a veteran in this field. While new hardware has come and gone, the Talon, a line which was first sold starting in 1999, is still standing. Our review unit, which features an overclocked Intel Core i7-4770k CPU, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 Ti, 16GB of RAM and two 240GB SSDs, is priced just north of $3,000. Though that’s a lot, the potential of the system is impressive, and its priced far less than an equivalent Mach V, the company’s full tower system.
Moderation breeds competition, however. Both buyers and builders know a mid-sized tower is the sweet spot of standard PC form factors, so everyone has at least one, and some offer several. Can the Talon claw its way to the top of the pack?
The Talon, like other Falcon systems, defaults to a black monolithic look that’s elegant and luxurious but conventional. A power button adorns the front while a reset button lurks up top, and while both are easy to access, but they’re not well labeled.
A white LED-backlit strip along the top-front portion of the enclosure provides some visual flair. If you want to add some pizazz to the Talon, it’ll cost you $359 for a Falcon Northwest paintjob. Though it’s not cheap, you can choose to slather your Talon rig with metallic, pearlcoat or even color-shifting finishes.
Functionally, the Talon works well enough, though we wish the case door could be arranged to swing either left or right, rather than just to the right. The two front USB 3.0 ports and front headphone/microphone jacks are all top-mounted and labeled, so they’re easy to access no matter where the system sits. Around back, you’ll find six more USB 3.0 port, one ancient PS/2, two DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort, Ethernet and 5.1 audio. While the port selection is robust, we wouldn’t call it exceptional.
Conventional isn’t bad
Opening the Talon requires the removal of two thumb screws that attach to the side panel. Once you pop the panel open, you’ll find the layout to be pretty standard. Almost everything is exactly where you’d expect it to be in any ATX-based computer.
That doesn’t mean the layout lacks quality, however. Almost all the system’s internal wiring is woven through cut-outs behind the motherboard, which means that there are no wires in the way of components you may want to replace or remove. The hard drive bay is tool-less and oriented towards the side panel, so replacing a drive takes mere minutes. Anyone who’s opened a PC before will feel right at home, which is great.
Overall, there’s no challenge here, just a wide-open interior that’s easy to work with and has plenty of room for future upgrades. A Talon can’t accommodate gobs of hard drives like a Mach V or an Origin Genesis, but it does have room for up to seven if you use adapters to convert the 5.25 inch optical bays. There’s plenty of room for any video card you could imagine, and while our review unit was water-cooled, there’s no shortage of space for a big air-cooler if that’s what you prefer.
Big PC performance
The overclocked Core i7-4770K in our review unit was clocked at 4.5 GHz rather than the default 3.5 GHz, an improvement of over 25 percent, and the benefits of the bump showed up in our benchmark results. SiSoft Sandra’s Processor Arithmetic test earned a score of 152.67 GOPs, and the 7-Zip compression test returned a result of 27,615. The smaller Cyberpower Zeus Mini, which wielded an Intel Core i7-4770K CPU clocked at the stock speed, turned in respective scores of 125 and 22,371. Falcon only charges $50 for the overclock service, which seems a great value in light of the performance boost it provides.
The Talon is conventional, yet refined, and its performance speaks for itself.
PCMark8’s storage performance test turned in a score of 4,896, which is solid, but a bit lower than we expected given that our review unit was equipped with two 240GB Crucial M5 drives configured in RAID 0. The last-gen Origin Millennium, which we also reviewed with two SSDs in RAID 0, scored 5,030, and the single-SSD Cyberpower Zeus Mini scored 4,991. The Talon’s SSDs were backed up by a 3GB Western Digital mechanical drive for bulk storage.
Our synthetic gaming benchmark, 3DMark, posted great scores; 28,316 in the Cloud Gate test and 9,759 in the demanding Fire Strike test. These scores beat the Zeus Mini (which scored 23,767 and 8,780 respectively) and obliterated the budget-oriented Acer Predator G3 (which scored 17,941 and 3,971.) We’d expect no less given the hardware inside, as the Nvidia GTX 780 Ti is essentially neck-and-neck with the AMD Radeon R9 290X.
Real world gaming
To see how the Talon handles real games, we tested it using three titles: Total War: Rome 2, Battlefield 4 and League of Legends. All testing was conducted with real gameplay at 1920×1200 resolution.
At medium detail, the Talon delivered an outstanding average of 101 frames per second, with a maximum of 127 and minimum of 82, on the campaign map. Turning the dial up to extreme reduced performance to a still-excellent average of 69 FPS with a maximum of 90 and minimum of 42. These results compare favorably to the Cyberpower Zeus Mini, which scored an average of 58 FPS at extreme detail.
EA’s latest shooter hardly challenged the Talon. Medium detail bumped off the software’s framerate cap of 200 FPS, while ultra detail turned in an average of 106 FPS with a maximum of 138 and minimum of 86. That’s almost twice as quick as the Zeus Mini, which scored an average of 58 FPS with the eye candy set to ultra.
League of Legends
As you might expect, this barebones 3D title didn’t challenge the Talon in the least. The average framerate was a ridiculous 248 fps at medium detail, with a maximum of 377 and minimum of 168. At very high detail we recorded an average of 176, with a maximum of 239 and minimum of 96.
Deadly, but silent
Powerful computers often generate a lot of heat, resulting in the need for massive cooling, but the spacious Talon doesn’t fall victim to this issue. At idle, and even at full processor load, the desktop emits very little noise; no greater than 41.2dB according to our gear.
Maxing out the video card increases noise to a more noticeable 46.8dB, but this figure is far more tolerable than the Cyberpower Zeus Mini’s 51.8dB or the Origin Millenium’s 52.1dB. Only the most sensitive buyers will find the Talon’s racket to be offensive.
Our wattmeter indicated that the Talon consumes 67 watts when at idle. That’s a lot more than a run-of-the-mill desktop, but only 6 watts more than the Cyberpower Zeus Mini and 25 more than the Acer Predator G3. Not bad, when you think about it, because the Talon is both impressively equipped and overclocked.
At full load, the Talon consumed 349 watts, which again seems moderate in light of the hardware that’s under the hood. The Zeus Mini used 346 watts at full load and the 2013 Falcon Northwest Fragbox required 330 watts of power, though it was equipped with a less powerful graphics card when we reviewed it.
In short, Talon is a fantastic gaming desktop. Though it doesn’t look terribly exciting, this desktop is quick, quiet and easy to upgrade, and there are no major flaws to be found here. Falcon’s fifteen years of Talon-building experience shows through in its refinement and excellent build quality.
Of course, for just over $3,000, you’d expect no less, but it’s worth pointing out that the Talon is not a terrible value by any means. A similarly configured Origin Genesis is several hundred more (primarily because Origin charges more for overclocking).The Maingear Vybe and Alienware Aurora can’t be similarly equipped due to a lack of an option to outfit either of them with a third hard drive. However, when roughly similar options are selected, they’re only a few hundred less with the second SSD and overclocking excluded.
This leaves us with little to complain about. The Talon’s not the cheapest mid-tower on the market, for sure, but you’re getting what you pay for, as this desktop excels in every area that matters. Any gamer looking for a powerful, do-it-all system should put the Talon at the top of their list.
- High build quality
- Easy to upgrade
- Excellent performance
- Surprisingly quiet
- Aesthetically dull
- Could use a few more ports