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One Expensive Shoebox

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By Doug Thompson

I’ve had fun in this space talking about the $500 price of PlayStation 3s.
Now something that triples that price intrigues me.
It’s a computer called the “FragBox” made by a company called Falcon Northwest (www.falcon-nw.com/).
This is a souped-up game-playing PC roughly the size of a shoebox. It has a handle on the top. Earlier models were good, supposedly. This one, according to PC Magazine, is great.
Now, before somebody reads this and calls my wife, I have no intention of replacing my PC anytime soon. Somebody out there does, however. He or she should know about this.
How can I write that about a machine I haven’t tried, or even seen? Because this gizmo that’s halfway between a laptop and a desktop is interesting in principle. Also, this computer knocked the Dell XPS 630 off the “Editor’s Choice” top of the gaming computer list at PC Magazine for this price range. The Dell machine had only been there two months. That’s some kind of record.
The FragBox weighs 20 pounds. It is a fully functioning Windows machine. It was designed for lugging around to LAN parties, where computer gamers meet and hook up their machines to a network to play against each other. Getting top-line game-playing performance out of a laptop is a very expensive proposition. Hauling around a full-sized game machine with all the frills is a pain, and can be expensive too if you drop it.
I don’t go to LAN parties. I’m still intrigued. This is because my biggest problem with home PCs — by a long shot — is a combination of dirt, dust and carpet fibers.
We keep a clean house. Unfortunately, even a budget gaming machine has problems keeping cool. The basic solution is fans — lots of them. These turn a computer into a low-intensity vacuum cleaner.
This dust-bearing airflow has caused me more trouble with optical drives (DVD drives, etc.) than with all other types of computer problems put together.
I thought the problem might be heat, but no amount of clear space around the airways helped. I considered electrical problems, but other components that were far more sensitive never burned out.
When the drives stopped working. I’d spray them out with canned air. They’d work again for a while. I also bought a computer with a door that closes over the front, preventing air from being sucked through the drive. The curse still became so bad that I put the whole computer tower on top of my desk for a period of months, before buying yet another, higher stand for the PC.
A shoebox on top of the desk would fit nicely.
I consider the prospect of cooling such a compact machine with both wonderment and skepticism. The PC Magazine review is at www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1895,2287768,00.asp. It doesn’t mention how loud the FragBox is. It swears the machine not only works, but also runs the game “Crysis” at a very smooth 71 frames per second at a high resolution.
To give some idea of how good that performance is, the gaming Web site “Joystiq” had an April Fool’s issue that showed the people in the control room at NASA giving each other high-fives. “Crysis” was superimposed on the control room screen. The spoof story credited NASA with running “Crysis” without a system crash for 15 minutes, though at a higher resolution.
PC Magazine’s reviewer, Joel Santo Domingo, calls the 8500 model FragBox “almost reasonably priced.” I’ve read this guy’s reviews for a while. That’s high praise from him. The 8500 model costs about $1,800. The 8400 model is about $1,500 but isn’t as powerful.
The thing does have a silly logo on the front: A small human skull with a box sticking out of it. It’s pretty mild compared to the goofy parade-float boxes you can get from Alienware, for instance. A shoebox is also easier to hide.
If I had $1,500 lying around that I could spend on nothing but a PC, I’d probably still buy the Dell XPS 630. A compact design like the FragBox can’t be easy to upgrade or work on. Still, the gadget might be worth a look.

2 Comments

Darrel June 2, 2008 at 3:07 pm

Doug says: “I’ve had fun in this space talking about the $500 price of PlayStation 3s. Now something that triples that price intrigues me.”

DAR
Yes you have. But do remember that this changed some time ago. The PS3 has been available since Nov 2. 2007 (7 months ago) for $399. The Fragbox at $1,800 is 4.5 times the price of a base PS3.

The current estimate is that it costs Sony about $400 to make the PS3 (a considerable drop as expected). It’s apples to oranges but the PS3 probably has more computing power than the fragbox AND you get a Blu-ray player thrown in. And you get this for about one fourth of the cost of the Fragbox. If the Playstation 3 was a good deal before, now that Blu-ray will be the media of the future (and probably the last hard media) it’s even a better deal than ever.

cheers,

Darrel Henschell

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