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Falcon Northwest Talon (2020) - Review 2020


Oregon-based Falcon Northwest specializes in building systems that inspire envy. Its Talon mid-tower (starts at $2,919) is back to us for review, this time more powerful than ever thanks to AMD’s latest 16-core Ryzen 9 5950X processor and Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3080 in our $4,956 test guise. Outfitted with top-shelf everything—an Asus ROG X570 motherboard, tasteful RGB lighting, custom cabling, liquid cooling, and more—this gaming desktop is engineered from the ground up to be the best it can be. For those fortunate enough to have the budget, the Talon doesn’t just meet expectations—it soars right over them, easily earning an Editors’ Choice award among cost-no-object gaming rigs.


Custom Engineered

Falcon Northwest designed and built the Talon, including its case, so there’s nothing quite like it in the aftermarket. Its steel construction has a tank-like feel; my review unit tips the scales at about 35 pounds. Its 17.25-by-8.75-by-15.5-inch (HWD) measurements are on point for a mid-tower.

Falcon Northwest Talon (2020) diagonal view

The standard black sandblasted finish has a quality look and resists fingerprints. Falcon Northwest’s front-panel logo is RGB-backlit, customizable via the Asus Aura app.

Falcon Northwest Talon (2020) Asus Aura

Our UV-printed PCMag logo on the panel adds a subtle personalized touch. The panel pulls off with just the right amount of effort to reveal a removable dust filter.

Falcon Northwest Talon (2020) front panel

Similar UV treatment can be applied by Falcon Northwest to the entire side panel, as shown in our review of the 2019 Talon. For those going all in, Falcon Northwest offers stunning full chassis painting, too. 

Falcon Northwest Talon (2020) rear diagonal

Topside, the front-accessible ports include one USB Type-C and two USB Type-A ports, all version 3.2 Gen 1 (5Gbps), plus a headphone/microphone jack.

Falcon Northwest Talon (2020) top ports

The Talon’s side panels can be ordered in tinted tempered glass, like my test unit, or solid metal. Undecided buyers can simply order both sets. Swaps are easy thanks to a simple lift-off hinge mechanism.

Falcon Northwest Talon (2020) side panel removal

Both side panels open like automobile “suicide doors,” hinged at the rear. Simply hook a finger under the bottom front edge and gently pull to defeat the magnets.


Now That’s What I Call Cable Management

The Talon’s immaculate interior demonstrates the attention to detail in this system. Falcon Northwest uses Cablemod to custom sleeve and cut the cables to length, a notably standard service on the Talon. Custom colors are available. The photos speak for themselves.

Falcon Northwest Talon (2020) custom cablingFalcon Northwest Talon (2020) custom interior

The company takes a cautious approach to RGB lighting. Rather than brightly illuminating every square inch of the interior with dedicated case lighting, subtle ring effects around the system fans and small lights on the motherboard, memory, CPU waterblock, and graphics card create a tasteful look. Most of this lighting can be controlled with the Asus Aura app.

Falcon Northwest Talon (2020) side view

The Asus ROG X570 Crosshair VIII Hero motherboard is standard on AMD X570-based Talon configurations. Like everything else in this desktop, it’s far from the bottom shelf, an enthusiast-grade board with all kinds of extras. Meanwhile, cooling the Ryzen 9 5950X is an Asetek 680LS liquid cooler with a front-mounted 280mm radiator. Its twin 140mm fans were barely audible throughout my testing. The 120mm rear fan was also nonobtrusive.

For storage, my system held just one 2TB Seagate FireCuda 520 solid-state drive in the motherboard’s upper M.2 slot, but the Talon can hold an additional M.2 drive, two 2.5-inch drives, and two 3.5-inch drives. Meanwhile, the board’s four memory slots each hold a 16GB UDIMM of G.Skill TridentZ Neo memory running at high DDR4-3600 speeds for a total of 64GB of dual-channel memory.

Below, the huge GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition card is hard to miss. I like that Falcon Northwest offers this very high-quality board as an explicit option; vendors will often offer a generic RTX 3080 option and send an undetermined third-party model. (It’s not that any GeForce RTX 3080 board is likely to be of bad quality—it’s just nice to have the choice.)

The neat cabling continues on the other side of the tower…

Falcon Northwest Talon (2020) far sideFalcon Northwest Talon (2020) cable management

The 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch drive bays are accessible from this side. The bottom-mounted 750-watt power supply is a fully modular EVGA SuperNOVA G3. A magnetically attached dust filter beneath it makes for easy cleaning.


Ample Connectivity

When it comes to connectivity, the Talon’s motherboard offers an arsenal of input and output—11 USB Type-A ports (seven version 3.2 Gen 2, four version 3.2 Gen 1), one USB Type-C 3.2 Gen 2, digital audio (S/PDIF), and traditional audio jacks (rear, center, microphone, line-in, and line-out). 

Falcon Northwest Talon (2020) rear ports

A handy BIOS flashback button and an overclocking-friendly clear CMOS button are two of the board’s high-end features. The CPU in my unit isn’t overclocked, though Falcon Northwest offers it as a service.

Falcon Northwest Talon (2020) rear view

For video output, the GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition offers one HDMI 2.1 and three DisplayPort 1.4b connectors. For networking, the board offers traditional gigabit Ethernet and a much faster 2.5Gbps version. An onboard Intel AX200 wireless card provides Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5. (Its antennas aren’t connected in the photos.) 


AMD’s Latest and Greatest: Benchmarking the Talon

My $4,956 Talon is priced above the competition based solely on its hardware. I configured an Alienware Aurora R10 Ryzen Edition for $4,244; a Maingear Vybe for $4,471; and a Digital Storm Velox for $4,580, all with the Ryzen 9 3950X chip since I wrote this review before the Ryzen 9 5950X was available for purchase.

There were differences among my mock-builds. Not all let me select the equivalent grade of parts found in the Talon, and I had to add three-year warranties to match the Falcon Northwest’s admirable standard coverage.

Last, there is the Talon’s build quality to factor into its value. Its custom cabling and other intricacies may not be strictly necessary, but I would say that when spending for a desktop with this kind of hardware—a luxury on its own—they make the expenditure easier to appreciate.

For comparison, I pitted the Talon against the desktops whose basic specifications are below.

Falcon Northwest Talon (2020) comparison chart

The Corsair Vengeance i7200 and the Alienware Aurora R11 will provide good insight into the gaming performance of the Ryzen 9 5950X chip since they pair their GeForce RTX 3000 series cards with 10-core Intel Core i9 processors. (The Talon is also available with the Alienware’s Core i9-10900K.)

The Corsair One a100 and the MSI MEG Trident X are the other two contenders, both packing the previous-generation flagship GeForce RTX 2080 Ti.

The Ryzen 9 5950X replaces the Ryzen 9 3950X (featured in the Corsair One) as AMD’s flagship consumer CPU. It has 16 cores and can process up to 32 threads, like the outgoing chip, and boasts a slightly higher boost clock (4.9GHz versus 4.7GHz). The real performance improvement, however, should come from its new Zen 3 architecture, which AMD says brings better single-threaded and gaming performance. Let’s let the numbers speak for themselves.

Before we get to testing, note that Falcon Northwest applied a healthy 125MHz overclock to the core of my unit’s GeForce RTX 3080 as a part of its overclocking service, so it will be a little faster than the stock Founders Edition card PC Labs tested a few weeks back.

Storage, Media, and CPU Tests

The Talon produced the highest score we’ve seen in our first benchmark, PCMark 10. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheeting, web browsing, and videoconferencing. We consider 4,000 points a sign of excellent productivity, so the Falcon Northwest’s 8,454-point showing is astronomical. Meanwhile, the Talon didn’t complete our PCMark 8 storage benchmark, but that’s not unusual for top-shelf hardware. (The same occasionally happens in PCMark 10, as it did to the Alienware and Corsair Vengeance.)

Falcon Northwest Talon (2020) PCMark

Next up are two CPU-crunching tests: Cinebench R15 stresses all available processor cores and threads while rendering a complex image, while in our Handbrake test, we transcode a 12-minute 4K video down to 1080p.

Falcon Northwest Talon (2020) CinebenchFalcon Northwest Talon (2020) Handbrake

The Ryzen 9 5950X in the Talon showed a healthy 16% gain over the Corsair One a100’s Ryzen 9 3950X in Cinebench R15 with another impressive score. The Handbrake results also showed solid gains. It goes unsaid that the 10-core Intel chips in the Aurora and Vengeance aren’t in the same league. (Their AMD equivalent is the Ryzen 9 5900X, though even the Zen 2-based Ryzen 9 3900X outperforms them in most areas.)

The final test in this section is photo editing. We use an early 2018 release of Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud to apply 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG image, timing each operation and adding up the totals. This test is not as CPU-focused as Cinebench or Handbrake, bringing the performance of the storage subsystem, memory, and GPU into play.

Falcon Northwest Talon (2020) Photoshop

The Talon’s leading score is a pleasant surprise here since high-clocked Intel chips usually dominate this benchmark. But despite the 5GHz-plus boost clocks of their Core i9 CPUs, neither the Alienware nor the Corsair Vengeance i7200 kept up. The Talon’s massive lead over the Corsair One a100 is another indicator that the Ryzen 5000 series makes good on AMD’s generational performance improvement claims, too.

Graphics Tests

Our first two benchmarks in this section measure the gaming performance potential of a PC. In UL’s 3DMark, we run the Sky Diver (lightweight, capable of running on integrated graphics) and Fire Strike (more demanding, for high-end gaming PCs) subtests, both DirectX 11-based. Unigine Corp.’s Superposition is another gaming simulation that uses a different rendering engine to produce a complex 3D scene.

Falcon Northwest Talon (2020) 3DMarkFalcon Northwest Talon (2020) Superposition

The 3DMark tests responded particularly well to the Talon’s Ryzen 9 5950X; the system scored much higher than the Corsair Vengeance i7200 despite also using a GeForce RTX 3080. The Talon’s graphics-card overclocking wouldn’t account for anywhere close to that difference on its own. Superposition, on the other hand, is entirely GPU-focused, so the Talon matched the Vengeance i7200 there and was a little behind the Alienware’s GeForce RTX 3090, a $1,500 a la carte card that is aimed at creative and workstation use.

Now let’s try some real games. We use the built-in benchmarks in Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider at various resolutions at the games’ highest image quality settings. Far Cry 5 uses DirectX 11, while we flip Rise of the Tomb Raider to DirectX 12.

Falcon Northwest Talon (2020) Far Cry 5Falcon Northwest Talon (2020) Rise of the Tomb Raider

Averages of 100fps or more at 4K resolution with a single graphics card have only become reality since Nvidia released its GeForce RTX 3080 and RTX 3090. The Talon’s numbers are excellent as expected, though the Corsair Vengeance i7200 kept up with it. That’s not a knock against the Talon; rather, it shows that for gaming, the Ryzen 9 5950X is overkill when similar performance can be had with a much less expensive chip.

Falcon Northwest Talon

Overall, the Talon is remarkably powerful. My test model’s 64GB of memory and Ryzen 9 5950X CPU make it suitable for extremely demanding tasks, such as video editing with multiple 4K streams. Pure gamers can stick with a Ryzen 9 5900X and 32GB of memory for a little economy. The system can also be ordered with the GeForce RTX 3070.


A First-Class Ride, AMD-Style

This latest Talon is no less impressive than the past versions that PCMag has reviewed. Equipped with AMD’s flagship Ryzen 9 5950X, it’s a true barnstormer, even if the chip is overkill for pure gaming applications. The Talon is expensive, but for those already spending for this level of hardware, the premium buys Falcon Northwest’s unmatched attention to detail and peace of mind. It’s one of the finest mid-towers that money can buy in late 2020.

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