As I mentioned in my recent Falcon Northwest unboxing article, I’ve seen my fair share of pre-built gaming PCs over the last year. In terms of quality, the spectrum is rather dramatic. The late 2021 Talon, which Falcon Northwest shipped over for review, is packed to the hilt with Intel’s newest Alder Lake technology, already placing it into a unique category.
The interesting thing is that, even though new PC gaming platforms are undeniably exciting, all this freshly formed silicon practically pales in comparison to the care with which Falcon Northwest compiles its hardware. As you’ll read, the Talon’s guts are rather unrivaled at this point, but its the renowned Pacific Northwest company’s relentless dedication to quality that truly shines here.
Before we begin, here is the bulleted spec sheet for my Talon review unit:
- Case: Falcon Northwest Talon Mid-Tower w/ custom Intel 12th-Gen artwork
- CPU: Intel Core i9-12900K
- Motherboard: ASUS ROG Strix Z690-F Gaming WiFi
- Memory: Crucial DDR5 4800MHz 32GB (2 x 16GB)
- Storage: Seagate Firecuda 2TB 520 PCI Gen 4 NVMe drive
- AIO: Falcon Northwest custom rectangular block 280mm liquid cooler
- GPU: EVGA XC3 GeForce 3090
- PSU: Seasonic Prime 1000 watt Titanium-rated ultra-quiet
- Cable Management: Custom cabling by CableMod
- Total Price: Approximately $6,000
Arrival, Talon Case and Cable Management
A big part of Falcon Northwest’s expensive boutique appeal is its insane attention to detail, and you really get that sense of loving minutiae when opening the shipping box. There’s a bunch of niceties included, like a complimentary bag of coffee (yes, coffee), an accompanying FNW mug and a mouse pad. Beyond that, though, are detailed hand-notated checklists situated in a classy black folder that keep the whole build process open, transparent and ultimately trustworthy.
Basically, you can follow exactly how Falcon Northwest put your specific build together, from a painstakingly documented system QA breakdown to a handy burn-in testing sheet that shows technical bits like benchmark scores/results, CPU temperature maxes and reboot looping. Falcon Northwest doesn’t need to include this sort of documentation, but it does, and it’s an appreciated touch.
Lastly, there’s an extensive ‘Getting Started’ guide that goes into instructions like how to resituate the liquid cooling system to expel any air bubbles that may have built up during shipping and tips on keeping the rig running both clean and fast.
In addition to the general posh buying experience, Falcon Northwest sets itself apart from other system integrators with its bespoke Talon chassis. You can look far and wide, but you won’t find the Talon anywhere else, not even sold separately for DIY building projects. The exclusivity certainly adds some mystique to FNW’s reputation, as you just don’t see these Talon cases very often.
My review unit isn’t just any Talon, though. Falcon Northwest has worked closely (and down to the wire) with Intel for the launch of Alder Lake and rather appropriately emblazoned the entire case with Intel imagery.
Giant Intel text adorns the top and front panels, while automotive-grade blue and yellow Alder Lake art is plastered all over the sides. If we’re being totally honest, the whole thing is basically a glaring Intel advertisement, and if that sort of thing bothers you, then you probably won’t be into what’s going on here. At least aesthetically, that is. Even the integrated RGB — which extends from the falcon logo on the front of the Talon to the cooling block and fans within— dons the famous ‘Intel blue’ color scheme. Changeable of course via software, but still.
Luckily, this is solely a review unit, which for all intents and purposes is advertising only to me (the absolute horror), so it’s not a huge deal. If you order directly from Falcon Northwest, you can basically customize your Talon to look however you want, making this somewhat of a moot point.
While I could do without all the Intel text on this rig, I actually kind of like the art on the side panels, which is very high quality in terms of application. It’s got a sort of abstract charm that I can’t deny.
The 2021 Talon itself sports a tool-free hinged glass door which swings open easily by hand without the need to mess with any captive screws; the opposite all-aluminum panel does the same, and FNW thought to apply blue painters tape to all the magnetic contact points to avoid damage during shipping.
Keep in mind that these well-built panels aren’t hiding any mess whatsoever — the Talon’s internals are meticulously managed with the help of custom cables by CableMod, and stamped with limited edition approval by a custom mini (and numbered) plaque affixed near the back of the motherboard. On that note, I can’t stress enough how well-built this Talon is, especially after seeing so many half-efforts by other system integrators.
Top I/O includes two USB-A 3.0 Type A ports, one USB-C 3.1 port, a headphone jack and a squared illuminated power button. Input feels adequate enough, but I’ll always be wanting at least one more USB-C port for easy front access.
Booting up the Talon revealed an extremely clean install of Windows 10 Pro (which I promptly upgraded to Windows 11 — I can hear the legacy diehards moaning already) and literally no bloatware in sight. Just the essentials for basic computing and gaming, like ASUS’ Armoury Crate, EVGA Precision X1 and the usual Windows app suspects.
The last thing to note is how hefty the Talon is. It’s admittedly compact and contained for a mid-tower, but as I mentioned in my unboxing article, Falcon Northwest puts together a noticeably dense build. Other reviewers and FNW website copy have compared the Talon to a tank, and they weren’t lying. Tiny but mighty, this is, and appreciably heavy.
Motherboard, AIO, Rear I/O and GPU
The brand new ROG Strix Z690-F Gaming WiFi motherboard is quite aesthetically pleasing, featuring an etched RGB ‘Republic of Gamers’ slab situated over the rear I/O cluster. It also features a whopping four M.2 NVMe slots, complete with edgy heatsinks, that allow for plenty of high-speed PCIe Gen4 storage. This motherboard does support PCIe Gen5, which should prove interesting in the future, though as far as I know, there aren’t any Gen5 devices yet available to test.
We can’t forget the handy PCIe slot Q-Release button, a common sense solution that finally makes ejecting your GPU as simple as it should have always been. This is great for builders that may be utilizing large CPU coolers which might make it difficult to reach stubborn PCIe retention clips.
There’s plenty of quality rear I/O to sink your teeth into: A DisplayPort, an HDMI port, two USB 2.0 Type-A, four USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A, three USB 3.2 Gen 2 (2 x Type-A, 1 x Type-C), one USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 Type-C, an Intel 2.5Gb Ethernet port, a BIOS FlashBack button, a CMOS clearing button, an optical audio out and a bevy of gold-plated audio jacks. The Z690-F also supports WiFi 6E via an external desktop antenna.
Additionally, the Z690-F supports ASUS’ Enhanced Memory Profile (AEMP), which supposedly automatically regulates DDR5 frequency and voltage according to what’s needed during specific applications.
The custom 280mm AIO, complete with the titular RGB falcon logo, is largely whisper-quiet during use, even while working hard for games or workstation scenarios. With a noise floor of 45 dBA, I put the Falcon Northwest rig under various stress tests through 3D Mark, Cinebench and Aida64 (more on some of these later). Even under full extended load, this machine only ever reached around 53 dBA. You could honestly take a nap next to it, and maybe you should.
Lastly, the monstrous EVGA XC3 RTX 3090, which needs no introduction, arrived bolted into the Talon at both ends — a case feature that should totally be engineered into every chassis from every manufacturer. Sure, having the extra screws makes it somewhat of a pain to swap out the GPU if needed, as you need to take an extra step to loosen the extra installation. But the additional mounting ensured that FNW didn’t need to use that annoying sprayfoam during shipping. Plus, GPU sag is no longer an issue with the added support. I hate GPU sag with a burning passion. It’s an aesthetics ruiner.
CPU, Memory and Storage
I suppose the real star of the show here is Intel’s Core i9-12900K CPU, the Alder Lake flagship filled to the brim with those now infamous E-cores and P-cores.
With Falcon Northwest’s pre-loaded BIOS profile, the 12900K sat pretty happily at a cool 4.9GHz, though I did do some minor settings tweaking and pushed the CPU to around 5.1GHz during certain applications. Thermals never exceeded 87 C during heavy usage and stress tests.
My Talon review unit came packed with 32GB of hot-off-the-presses 4800MHz DDR5 by Crucial. These DIMMS are pretty barebones in terms of aesthetics, as there’s no fancy heatsinks or RGB to speak of. I think I’d have appreciated some memory lighting to match the CPU block and fans, but taking into consideration how difficult it was to even source this DDR5, I’m not complaining.
Falcon Northwest did kindly enable the XMP profile, which seemed to hit the advertised 4800MHz frequency via CPUZ and has timings of 40-39-39-77.
If you’re coming from the fastest DDR4, those numbers will seem rather high. That’s the thing with a brand new generation of memory — latency is going to be noticeably different than the tightest timings on the previous generation, and will likely tune down over the next few years as the platform matures.
4800MHz appears to be the baseline for DDR5, and that puts it a bit behind (at least in terms of frequencies) the most impressive DDR4, some of which clocks in at speeds up to 5333MHz. I’ve already seen DDR5 kits floating around that hit 5200MHz — Falcon Northwest is offering 5200MHz Kingston Fury DIMMs on their new Alder Lake builds for customers — and multiple manufacturers recently announced 7000MHz DDR5.
The Talon’s storage is taken care of by a single FireCuda 520 2TB Gen4 PCIe NVMe SSD, which according to Seagate, has a max sequential read speed of 5,000 MB/s and a max write speed of 4,400 MB/s. Unfortunately, it’s not one of Seagate’s beastly FireCuda 530s that boast read speeds of around 7,300 MB/s, but a 520 is more than adequate for gaming. Check out the benchmark below:
A Note on Testing
I should mention that I ran all gaming and synthetic benchmarks on the system just as FNW sent it. In other words, there was no overclocking done beyond XMP, and we’ll surely explore the OC potential of this hardware in later articles. Thus, the results that follow are all based on Falcon Northwest stock/factory default settings.
Also, these tests were deployed using the free upgrade from the included Windows 10 Pro to Windows 11, as according to early reports, Microsoft’s recently released OS is the ideal environment in which to see Alder Lake shine. I won’t be comparing any of the results to other similar rigs at this time, but I will be including Talon benchmarks in upcoming gaming PC reviews to post alongside other system integrator scores.
As to be expected, the Alder Lake Talon is a gaming behemoth. The combination of an EVGA XC3 RTX 3090, Intel’s flagship 12th gen CPU and Crucial’s cutting edge DDR5 make for top-of-the-line visuals and performance, though the experience hasn’t been without a few odd hiccups.
Notably, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Forza Horizon 5 exhibited some strange behavior, all of which I initially attributed to Alder Lake growing pains. Forza Horizon 5 would crash to desktop not long after loading into the main map, and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, a title that’s been notoriously finicky on Intel chips due to its AMD leanings, oftentimes wouldn’t even load past the initial menu screen.
I spent lots of time tinkering around in the ROG Strix Z690-F BIOS, uninstalling potentially problematic apps and generally tearing my hair out. Finally, I stumbled across a troubleshooting thread of similar Forza Horizon 4 problems from a few years ago and discovered a pesky app hiding on my review rig called Sonic Studio 3. It’s some sort of ASUS motherboard audio application that got auto-installed through the Armoury Crate software when I first ran it, I believe. Anyway, once I nuked it, Forza Horizon 5 ran beautifully.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, on the other hand, was and continues to be more of a mystery. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and I’ve been hearing from other Alder Lake reviewers that this issue, unlike Forza, does have something to do with general DRM Alder Lake compatibility. Apparently Intel and Ubisoft are working on some sort of fix, but at least I was able to grab some benchmarks while the game decided to randomly work.
Other than those two outliers, everything I’ve yet tried on Falcon Northwest’s system plays like an absolute dream. Forza was especially stunning in 4K, and so was the action-packed train heist intro level in the new Call of Duty. That said, I’m sure any yet to be discovered glitches will surely be ironed out as Intel and game developers come to grips with the new technology.
Also of note is how New World didn’t phase this particular 3090. It still feels like a gamble to play Amazon’s MMORPG on such a high-end GPU, but even totally maxed out, New World couldn’t put a dent in the Talon’s performance.
In the meantime, check out the impressive real-world gaming performance benchmarks below:
- New World (Very High): 91fps (4K), 116fps (1440p), 125fps (1080p)
- Far Cry 6 (Ultra Custom): 70fps (4K), 94fps (1440p), 98fps (1080p)
- Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (Ultra High): 64fps (4K), 90fps (1440p), 110fps (1080p)
- Forza Horizon 5 (Extreme): 82fps (4K), 104fps (1440p), 118fps (1080p)
- Riders Republic (Ultra): 78fps (4K), 131fps (1440p), 163fps (1080p)
- Call of Duty: Vanguard (Ultra): 75fps (4K), 114fps (1440p), 167fps (1080p)
If you’re paying $6,000 for a gaming PC, it might be nice if it could double as a workstation. Luckily, the Alder Lake Talon is certainly up to the task, especially if any of the following benchmarks are to be considered.
I do think that if you’re shopping for a similarly built Talon that doubling the 32GB of memory shown here to a more appropriate 64GB (or even 128GB if making digital stuff is your thing) would greatly benefit creative work and general multi-tasking. But as it stands, the results are more than acceptable and speak for themselves in terms of productivity tasking:
- 3D Mark: 18635 (Time Spy), 36943 (Fire Strike)
- Blender: 2m26s (bmw27), 4m18s (classroom), 2m13s (fishy_cat), 3m22s (koro), 4m27s (pavillon_barcelona), 8m22s (victor)
- PC Mark 10: 8472 (overall), 11257 (essentials), 10020 (productivity), 14626 (digital content creation)
- Cinebench R23: 26565 (multi-core), 1872 (single core)
Somewhat unsurprisingly, Falcon Northwest has seriously delivered on the developing promise of Alder Lake with a cutting edge rig that runs games better than any PC I’ve yet used. It also sports a meticulous build that towers above the competition. FNW’s Talon is in a rarified category of its own, and it should be for a staggering $6,000.
The outlandish price is really my biggest complaint with the build. This isn’t your hyper-accessible, Build Redux-esque computer, nor is it trying to be. FNW builds high-end systems for high-end budgets, and from what I can tell via my recent hands-on experience with the company’s work, you truly get what you pay for. Moving to any other pre-built gaming PC after using such a fancy machine feels like a massive practical downgrade, or at the very least, vaguely sacrilege.
Essentially, if other system integrators are those underwhelming store brand ‘creme-filled sandwich treat’ cookies you find on the bottom grocery shelf, then Falcon Northwest is a pristine pack of bonafide Nabisco Oreos. You know, if Oreos were to cost more than a single monthly mortgage payment.
Disclosure: Falcon Northwest provided review product for coverage purposes.