Falcon Northwest Talon Review: Threadripper 3990X Powerhouse
A Hybrid Workstation Monster With Unmatched Craftsmanship
We’re taking a short break from our usual component-focused reviews to look at a pre-built desktop system, but this is no ordinary computer. An epic build, the system is outfitted with an astonishing complement of high-end components that blurs the line between gaming PC and professional workstation.
It is the Falcon Northwest Talon, a high-end desktop available with your choice of AMD or Intel platform, and myriad configuration options limited only by what you can fit inside a mid-tower case (not to mention endless design and paint customization options).
And from every angle this just happens to be one of the cleanest, most meticulous builds I’ve ever seen. And Falcon Northwest builds all of their systems this way. They don’t come cheap, but it’s hard to argue with the product itself. Everything about it screams quality, and it’s even better in person.
- Model: Talon with TRX40 chipset
- Review Configuration:
- Processor: AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X
- Motherboard: ASUS ROG Strix TRX40-E Gaming
- Memory: 128GB (16GB x 8) G.Skill Ripjaws V, DDR4-2666, CL15, 1.2V
- Graphics Cards: Dual NVIDIA RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition (SLI)
- Storage: 4TB (2TB x 2) Seagate FireCuda 520 PCIe Gen4 NVMe SSD, RAID-0
- CPU Cooler: Asetek Liquid Cooling 680LS 280mm
- Power Supply: EVGA SuperNOVA P2 1200W
- Front USB Ports: Two USB 3.0 (Type-A), one USB 3.1 (Type-C)
- Internal Drive Bays: Two 3.5″, two 2.5″
- Dimensions: 8.75″ wide x 15.5″ deep x 17.25″ tall, 2,340 cubic inches volume
- Weight: 42 pounds (average)
- Warranty: 3 year parts & labor
- Technical Support: Lifetime
- Falcon Overnight Service: 1 Year
$11,046 USD, as configured
“Named “Gear of the Year” by Maximum PC, and “Best Gaming Desktop for 2020″ by both C|NET & PC Mag, the 20th Anniversary Edition Talon packs decades of Falcon Northwest’s experience into an in-house designed case that sets a new standard for PC quality. The Talon can be configured with a vast array of hardware loadouts and aesthetic options for both work & play. Whether you want an attention-grabbing gaming system with beautiful internal lighting and glass side panels, or just an elegant black workstation built from high-end metal, the Talon can be configured to exceed your expectations.”
About Falcon Northwest
If you are not familiar with Falcon Northwest, the easiest explanation is that they were the first gaming PC company, founded way back in 1992.
Think about that for a moment. The first Falcon systems were built when Intel’s high end CPU was still a 486 (with 1992’s brand new i486 DX2 up to a whopping 66 MHz), and DOS still ruled the gaming world. When OEMs were showcasing Windows 3.1 productivity, Falcon Northwest was was targeting pure DOS gaming performance.
“The first of the ‘boutique’ PC makers, Falcon Northwest has been custom designing dream systems since 1992. Often credited with the creation of the ‘Gaming PC’, Falcon Northwest’s focus has remained on building systems with high speed graphics, the world’s fastest CPUs and custom paintwork to make each system truly unique.
This performance and customization has attracted ever-widening markets that need powerful systems, including government and military applications, academic and scientific lab needs, digital photographers and video editors, stock traders, general business use, virtual reality and more. For anyone that needs power, Falcon Northwest can craft it for you.”
While most other of the so-called “boutique” PC companies have either folded or been acquired over the years, Falcon Northwest remains; still an independent company, based in Medford, Oregon, and still building custom PCs, one at a time.
“We’ve been building elite PCs for power-users and gamers since 1992. This long tenure has given us a uniquely long-term perspective in an industry known only for fast-paced, throw-away technology. We’re still supporting systems we built a decade ago, and building systems for the next decade. We’ve had a long time to get very good at what we do.”
Falcon Northwest’s original gaming PC was the MACH V, appropriately named given their roots as makers of high-end machines for flight sims. By 1999 the Talon had arrived, beginning life as a pre-built – rather than custom – option that featured AMD’s new Athlon processor (and a 3dfx Voodoo3 AGP card, naturally).
Eventually the Talon replaced the MACH V as the signature, and fully customizable, mid-tower system from Falcon Northwest, which is now joined by the small form-factor Tiki and “shoebox” sized FragBox.
And that’s where we are today, 28 years after the company was founded and 21 years after the Talon launched, with a 2020 version of the Talon (with one of the most impressive list of specifications you will ever see) beckoning from its imposing shipping carton…
The Talon Has Landed
While we would have expected a powerful system from anything arriving in a Falcon Northwest box (there is nothing even remotely “low-end” on offer from this company), what we have here is pretty special. Our review system arrived doubled-boxed, and protected with a lavish amount of thick foam. It’s an impressive amount of packaging, and there appears to be zero chance of ground shipping damage to the system within.
Once the boxes have been unpacked, the Talon system is protected via another layer of thick foam, followed by a cloth bag on the system itself, which keeps the finish from getting marred. And once that bag has been removed we have our first look at the Talon 20th Anniversary case design (customized with the PC Perspective logo!) that houses this insane Threadripper 3990X build.
Enjoy these studio shots of our review system, featuring not only the PC Per logo but incredible Threadripper-themed artwork on the rear panel!
Clean and sophisticated are two words that come to mind, though “solid” will probably be another if you’ve actually handled this system yourself. There’s virtually no plastic, with thick aluminum panels over a steel frame that feels like it could double as a load bearing wall. Talon systems weigh an average of 42 lbs, and ours is on the high end.
But as awesome as this bespoke enclosure design is (and we will talk more about it shortly), the system within steals the show.
The Build: A Premium System Calls for Premium Components
As configured, our review system is a monster. How else would you define an $11,000 PC that features (brace yourself) a 64-core AMD Threadripper 3990X processor, dual RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition graphics cards, 128GB of RAM, and an OS drive made up of two 2TB PCIe Gen4 SSDs in RAID-0? Yeah, it’s a monster.
This configuration is a unique hybrid of world-class workstation and gaming rig, built to handle extremely high levels of both CPU and GPU compute, and with a crazy fast storage system to keep data flowing faster than most applications can even make use of.
A build as close to perfection as you will see. The definition of “clean”
In fact, with its AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X processor this Falcon Northwest Talon system was doing the 64-core workstation thing before the Lenovo P620 (which AMD and Lenovo recently announced along with Threadripper Pro). Built on a retail, gaming motherboard, and using only high-end retail components throughout, this Falcon Northwest system has little – ok, nothing – in common with OEM workstations, however.
In a word, this configuration is all about overkill, and I love it. Let’s explore the components within.
At the heart of the system is an ASUS ROG Strix TRX40-E Gaming motherboard. As this is a gaming board, it of course allows for a level of configuration and overclocking options far beyond that of OEM offerings – though it has already been set up for optimal performance before shipping.
Little needs to be said here. AMD’s 3990X is the most powerful Threadripper you can buy, and the most powerful consumer processor ever made.
I’ll pause here to add that since I began the review Threadripper PRO happened, and while the new 3995WX 64-core workstation part offers 8-channel memory support among other differences, it is strictly an OEM (not system integrator) product, with Lenovo the initial partner.
With 64 cores and 128 threads, the Threadripper 3990X has a bit of a reputation regarding compatibility with Windows and some applications, though Windows 10 Pro is now supporting it properly after some initial growing pains.
Of course, for most people the 32-core Threadripper 3970X would have been more than enough, and even the “entry level” Threadripper 3960X is a very capable part for a workstation/gaming PC configuration like this.
Our system shipped with 128GB of RAM, consisting of eight matched G.Skill Ripjaws V DDR-2666 CL15 1.2v non-ECC modules of 16GB each (the equivalent of two F4-2666C15Q-64GVR kits).
Yes, 2666 MHz is actually correct for this much RAM with a Threadripper 3990X, per AMD’s recommendations
And a quick note here about the use of “gaming” RAM, which is probably frowned upon by some for workstation use. The G.Skill memory as configured offers higher performance than modules adhering to strict JEDEC standards thanks in large part to significantly lower timings (15-15-15-35) compared to available PC4-21300 CL19 server/workstation memory.
I’ll add that ECC memory is supported on the TRX40 platform, though it is limited to un-buffered DIMMs. (We will not attempt to argue for/against the use of ECC memory in workstations in this review!)
Here we have another hybrid/overkill configuration choice. Rather than going with a Quadro workstation card, Falcon Northwest equipped our Talon with a pair of NVIDIA RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition graphics cards (with the matching NVLink bridge, of course). Why? Why not!
Of course, you could choose to move up to TITAN RTX or even Quadro RTX 8000 cards when you configure the Talon.
In keeping with the rest of the build, a single NVMe drive just wasn’t going to cut it here. I mean, it would be totally fine, but not overkill. So, as we have a matched pair of graphics cards, could we somehow integrate a matched pair of PCIe Gen4 SSDs, too? The answer is a resounding yes.
Enter the new Seagate FireCuda 520, a PCI Express 4.0 NVMe SSD with 3D TLC NAND, available in capacities of up to 2TB. Naturally our system was equipped with a pair of the 2TB model (ZP2000GM3A002) – configured in RAID-0, of course – as the OS drive.
With a CPU that carries a 280W TDP and a pair of 250W graphics cards, a powerful PSU is called for. Here Falcon Northwest doesn’t skimp, providing nothing short of an EVGA SuperNOVA P2 (1000W and 1200W models available) offering 80+ Platinum efficiency.
Oh, and while Falcon Northwest provides the bag of cables that EVGA normally ships with this retail power supply in the accessory box, the Talon built includes a full set of individually-sleeved PSU cables from CableMod– not just cable extensions. It’s an impressive addition, and the care taken in cable management is second to none.
Here we have an Asetek Liquid Cooling 680LS, a 280mm closed-loop liquid CPU cooler. This is part of Asetek’s line of system integrator-specific coolers, and these undergo both performance and helium leak testing before leaving the factory.
This is a 6th-generation product from the inventors of the sealed-loop liquid cooler, and while there are more exotic cooling options the goal here is maintenance-free performance, long-term. Naturally it has a lighted Falcon logo on the pump.
The other ARGB lighting in this case comes via the fans, which have a simple lighting ring around the perimeter. The look is quite understated by modern RGB standards, I must say.
Non-RGB fans can also be selected, with a pair of low-noise options available.
The 20th Anniversary Talon Enclosure
Falcon Northwest does not use off the shelf enclosures, and this design is unique to the Talon mid-tower. I have reviewed cases for years, and very little surprises me anymore. But with the Talon enclosure I had to stop and admire what Falcon has done here. It’s the most impressively machined and assembled case I’ve ever encountered.
Here are some studio photos via Falcon Northwest:
“We started with great thermal design. We finished with 4mm thick aluminum plating. Too many PC makers think a computer case is just a box that holds components. At Falcon we see the PC case as a thing of beauty – the physical form you can touch that contains billions of transistors and decades of technological advancement. But form must follow function. Proper heat management is not simply installing a dozen case fans and vents everywhere. The 20th Anniversary Edition Talon took almost 2 years to develop. Much of that time was spent on meticulously testing the cooling and airflow patterns, and sourcing the perfect liquid cooling and fan combinations. We know that enthusiasts like you expect more from their system. Everything from airflow to noise to how fingerprint-resistant the exterior is was carefully considered for Talon.”
And no gallery of images would be complete without this press photo, illustrating the total plastic content of this Talon 20th Anniversary enclosure:
That’s…not a lot of plastic. And it helps explain why the case feels so incredibly strong.
It’s quite a good looking design, too, with an understated vibe but a muscular undertone. And I know this has been said before, but it really is built like a tank. Am I a little preoccupied with the enclosure? Maybe. But I like it. And they don’t sell it separately. I have mixed feelings about that. Let’s move on.
A Blank Canvas
Falcon Northwest doesn’t just make this impressive Talon enclosure, they can can fully customize it to your liking.
They offer their “Exotix” custom paintwork as an option, allowing for any imaginable color. Check out the custom painting gallery to see what they can do. Custom UV graphics are also available on any – or all – panels.
In addition to colors and graphics, Falcon Northwest also offers some unique finishes (in colors of your choice, naturally), with rain my personal favorite. We’re essentially talking about high-end automotive paintwork here, and it’s on a computer case. Perfection.
Our classy PC Perspective logo is probably the ultimate expression of art, if I’m being honest.
But the Talon is more than just an aluminum and/or glass canvas for custom paintwork, as this enclosure is a meticulously designed and constructed mid-tower to rival anything on the market, regardless of price. It really is that impressive in person, and it looks great without any custom paint or graphics, too.
Form and Function
The Talon 20th Anniversary case showcases lean, careful design. It’s incredibly solid, precisely machined and built, and has a unique feel with its fingerprint-resistant finish. I could gush about the case all day, as the photos don’t really do it justice.
The cable management is so well realized that makes the interior of this mid-tower feel quite a bit bigger than it actually is. And accessing this interior is as simple as possible. These side panels offer a simple magnetic closure for a clean appearance, and they can be easily swapped, lifting straight off of their hinges. Simply swing a panel open, or lift it off entirely.
Our review unit included both the custom-painted aluminum side panels and tempered glass, one of many configuration options when you put a system together. And on that subject, here are a few shots of the system with the glass side panels in place:
The enclosure offers screen filters for the front intake and the bottom PSU intake (hidden from view under the large rear foot). Both of these filters have a magnetic frame, and access to the primary intake filter is accomplished by removal of the aluminum front panel – which pulls off easily (and can be fully removed after disconnecting the ARGB cable leading to the illuminated logo).
The Talon enclosure is a case study in clean lines and rock-solid construction. To say I was impressed is an understatement.
If Falcon Northwest had sent an empty Talon case I would have been sad to send it back, but there is a rather powerful system in here. I keep forgetting…
So far we’ve gone over system components and the custom Talon enclosure, but what about system performance, itself? Well, AMD’s Threadripper 3990X isn’t your typical enthusiast processor, but if you have software that can take advantage of its 64 cores and 128 threads, it’s unstoppable.
Our test suite is very much desktop-focused, but there are some easy ways to saturate even 128 threads – if you have an OS that can handle it. Earlier builds of Windows 10 could not, but Falcon Northwest ships these systems with appropriate builds and the latest drivers. Our system was built in early June (yes, I have been hanging on to the system for that long), and was fully up-to-date when I first powered it up.
This never gets old (screenshot during a Blender all-core load)
I won’t even attempt to review the Threadripper 3990X here, nor will I attempt to review an RTX 2080 Ti FE card (or two!). These are extremely powerful components, running on a very nice ROG Strix motherboard with 128 GB of RAM (configurable to 256 GB), and with plenty of clean power from the 1200W EVGA Platinum PSU.
A Blender Classroom CPU cycles render completed in 96 seconds with this system. To put this into perspective, in a recent CPU review we recorded 464.6 seconds from our Core i9-10900K, and 359.9 seconds from our Ryzen 9 3900X. 96 seconds is just insane. Cinebench R20 multi-threaded scores were over 24,600. Suffice it to say, if you have an application that can take advantage of this many threads, it’s unbeatable.
On the graphics front we’re talking about dual RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition cards, and while the days of SLI supremacy are behind us it’s still impressive. Obviously these cards could be put to good use with various GPU compute tasks, but gaming performance is going to be tremendous, even if the application only takes advantage of one 2080 Ti.
And sure, the Threadripper 3970X would have made more sense for pure gaming performance, or even a Ryzen 3950X (or an Intel platform, for that matter). The point here is workstation-level CPU overkill, with RTX 2080 Ti-level gaming performance just the icing on the cake. (And just maybe we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get our hands on a 3990X. I mean, wouldn’t you get one if you could?)
While the above CPU and GPU selections are already incredibly impressive, we can’t overlook this system’s 4TB of PCI Express 4.0 storage. This is realized in the form of dual 2TB NVMe SSDs in RAID-0 (not a bad OS drive, huh?). This pair of Seagate FireCuda 520 drives is capable of nearly 10 GB/s sequential transfer speeds, depending on file size and queue depth, of course.
Straight line speeds are really, really fast. Overkill is the theme here, and the FireCuda RAID did not disappoint.
And for a mid-tower with such a ridiculous level of CPU and GPU compute power, thermals were controlled and they system surprisingly quiet, too. Looking at thermals first, the Asetek 680LS 280mm cooler kept the hottest 3990X core to just over 80 C during our longest test runs, with the highest recorded package temp at 88 C (while the CPU was pulling nearly 300 watts).
That thick aluminum does cut down on noise levels, but the 280 mm Asetek CLC and Founders Edition GPUs aren’t exactly loud, anyway. I recorded 34.5 dBA at idle and during light workloads, with system noise rising to the ~37 – 38 dBA range under heavier, short-term loads. Extended stress will cause the fans to spin up higher, of course, and I did occasionally get the system up over 40 dBA. Not loud by any means.
Service and Support
As this is a pre-built system, there is the advantage of a unified warranty – a luxury DIY computers obviously don’t enjoy. But how good is the warranty? Pretty great, actually.
Falcon Northwest offers a 3-year parts and labor warranty on all of these Talon systems, with Falcon Overnight service for the first year.
“Should the consumer encounter a serious hardware related problem in their Falcon system that cannot be solved though Falcon Northwest’s technical support, Falcon Northwest will cover the costs to have the consumer’s system ship to Falcon Northwest via overnight courier, repaired, tested, and shipped back via overnight courier to the consumer at no charge.”
If anything goes wrong after the first year, the customer covers shipping to Falcon, and they cover shipping back to the customer. It’s pretty straightforward, with the full details on their warranty page.
Beyond repairs, Falcon Northwest also provides priority technical support during the full 3-year warranty period, and lifetime technical support. How many companies in any market segment offer lifetime tech support?
An Unreal Workstation
As much as I’d love to have the $11k PC budget and just order this configuration for myself, I know I don’t really need it. In fact, it’s so far outside the range of most people that it begs the question, who is this system configuration for? Well, when you consider that it is really more high-end workstation than gaming rig, the discussion changes very quickly.
Professional workstations have never been cheap. This isn’t exactly new information. Think back to the days of the SGI workstations (when a price drop to $25k was heralded with a press release). Even in the past 5 years, for professionals looking to reduce production time, Threadripper has been a game-changing product.
Just think, a few years ago it would have seemed impossible that a 64-core workstation with two very high-end GPUs – let alone one with this much memory and ultra-fast storage – would be available for anywhere near $11k. AMD’s Threadripper is a disruptive force, to be sure, and is perfect for workstation applications like this where multi-threaded performance is paramount.
As a matter of fact, Falcon Northwest counts a rather prominent game development company among their many professional customers. You may have heard of Epic Games? A regular client of Falcon Northwest, Epic uses a very similar computer to the one we were lucky enough to enjoy over the past several weeks, though Epic configures their 3990X systems with 256GB of RAM (naturally).
“The 64c Threadripper CPU is a fantastic CPU for developing games and game engine technology.
There are multiple stages involved when it comes to building Unreal Engine and cooking content for our games. In some stages the requirements are embarrassingly parallel, where core count is king and we’ll throw as many cores as we can at the jobs (and then some), while other portions of the process are highly serial, relying on one or two cores to execute single-threaded processes as quickly as possible. Here, the importance of IPC and clock speed cannot be understated. In addition, designing in-engine and testing our games both rely on and benefit from high clock speed and IPC as well.
Previously, we always had to choose between either high core count or high clock speed. Threadripper is optimized for both aspects in a way that previous HEDT CPUs never quite were. The latest Threadripper CPUs open up new opportunities for deploying small office and work-from-home development that we didn’t previously have, along with new strategies for shared resource architecture in medium-to-large office settings.
The price point is simply icing on the cake.”
– Pat Swanson, IT Engineer, Epic Games
If it wasn’t already obvious, AMD’s Threadripper 3990X is an insane processor, and a bargain for professional work.
This was my first experience with a Falcon Northwest system, and it was certainly a memorable one. And that goes beyond the insane system configuration and staggering performance capabilities, because it was the attention to detail that really impressed me the most, once I had a chance to look at the computer in person.
Simply put, this Talon system offered easily the best build quality and best attention to detail I’ve encountered in 20 years as an enthusiast. From case construction to cable management this is one hell of a PC, regardless of how you choose to have it configured.
As to pricing, Falcon Northwest is certainly not in the business of making budget computers, but even with the high-end pedigree it surprised me to find just how reasonable configuration costs actually were. If you look at their pricing relative to the SI (system integrator) market, they are quite competitive.
But this was never going to be an article about Falcon Northwest being a “bargain”. That just isn’t their business model. They are all about high-end, and custom. No aspect of this Talon system suggested any cost-cutting choices, and we were only limited by the configuration options we worked out before our review unit was built.
I finally had a taste of a truly high-end system, and it was an eye-opening experience. It goes without saying that I didn’t want to send it back. But I got more out of this review than I was expecting, having received an education in the art of the system build by simply pouring over this system’s interior (and the case envy I now have after experiencing the Talon 20th Anniversary enclosure is strong).
Without going too overboard in heaping praise on this Falcon Northwest system (trust me, we were not paid for this review and I am actually holding back), I’ll simply say that this 3990X-powered Talon was the most powerful, most impressively built computer I’ve ever used, and the cable management almost made me weep.
We don’t really have a scoring system, but I’ll go ahead and rate this one 11/10. Or editor’s choice. Whichever one is higher.
This is what we consider the responsible disclosure of our review policies and procedures.
How Product Was Obtained
The system was on loan from Falcon Northwest for the purpose of this review.
What Happens To Product After Review
The system will be returned to Falcon Northwest.
Company InvolvementFalcon Northwest had no control over the content of the review and was not consulted prior to publication.
PC Perspective Compensation
Neither PC Perspective nor any of its staff were paid or compensated in any way by Falcon Northwest for this review.
Advertising DisclosureFalcon Northwest has not purchased advertising at PC Perspective during the past twelve months.
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