Summary: HP's rival to the Dell XPS has a name: Blackbird. The Blackbird 002 will be available with a combo HD-DVD/Blu-ray drive, liquid cooling, and factory overclocking! Read more details on this eye-catching system inside!
The point is too many companies are moving away from maintaining their research and development departments as they do not bring in direct profits. We shouldnít let profits dictate our decisions, if we did there would be no risk taking, no innovation, no breakthroughs; the next big thing would stay hidden.
Hewlett-Packard has been one of the fundamental foundations for todayís technology as we know it: computing outside of mainframes that took up whole buildings, began with one of HPís first products, the handheld calculator. Before that though, HP was bringing garage innovation to the marketplace with technical instruments that engineers used to discover new technologies. Over the years, as HP has grown it has expanded into other markets, to becoming the leader in market share for personal computing. They continue to support internal research with 600 PhDís working for them at HP Labs. Yet they havenít lost that hardcore engineering, innovative spirit, as evident by their HP Gaming division. The HP Gaming division had been an interest of the company for a while, but it wasnít until the assimilation of Voodoo PC that all the pieces were brought together.
Many may wonder why HP would bother with creating the HP Gaming division. I find that it is analogous to car manufacturers having a racing, or motorsport division. It is with these small, spec ops, divisions where individuals can innovate, with the huge financial backing of the parent company. Racing technology has given us innovations in car safety, performance, and quality. The first ABS systems or vehicle dynamics controls must have cost millions to develop and test, but that innovation has trickled down to our passenger cars. Car companies recognize that breakthroughs on the race track will, in the future, lead to better mainstream products. Success in racing often translates into success on the street. What comes to mind are Subaruís WRX STI, Mitsubishiís Evo, GMís C6, Audiís Quattro, Nissanís Skyline GTR, Mercedesí AMG division, and BMWís M division. These are all high performance divisions where the cars are sold at a substantial premium, but which offer the buyer a unique experience. Even if you canít own one of these cars, you have a sense of pride that your car shares its heritage with the car that lapped the Nurburgring in record time, or that won too many races forcing rule book changes the next year.
Computer companies are just beginning to realize this. They are starting to realize that excellence with gaming products, the upper high-end market, gives a company not only experience with high performance systems, but more importantly consumer recognition as being a leader in technology. Gaming is more of a global term, not all the systems will be used for games, but if you want the highest performance, you need to get a system that can Game. It has taken a while for computer corporations to get to this point, is that these divisions cannot be responsible to making money in the short term for these companies. Itís the same way with factory sponsored racing teams starting to enter competition with the smaller, dedicated racers.
We have seen the breakthroughs that basic research at HP has brought to our everyday lives. By allowing the HP Gaming division extra freedom to innovate, HP has shown their interest in improving the computing experience for all their customers, although the gamers will get the first crack at it.
These are the ambitious goals that have been set out by HP Gaming, and after nearly a year of collaboration, they have just come out with their first product, the HP Blackbird 002 with Voodoo DNA.
When you hear the name Blackbird, you either think of a small flying avian species with a pretty song, or the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. The SR-71 was a fine example of what an unrestricted spec ops project can accomplish. To this day, we still donít know how fast the SR-71 can actually go, or how high it can really fly. Hopefully, the aliens that helped us build it -- without any computers -- will give us the full spec sheet soon. We anticipate the Blackbird 002 to be the first of many Blackbird products from HP. Hereís what they have done with their first product.
The first aspect youíll no doubt notice is the case. In the anterior-posterior dimension it looks unassuming until you notice that it is elevated off the table by a solid metal foot. This is done to provide cool air for the system's power supply, which is located on the bottom of the chassis. On closer examination the case is made of solid aluminum, the only plastic external parts are the designer customization panels made of acrylic. The aluminum is painted, not anodized. It doesnít appear to use a unibody construction like the Silverstone TJ-07 case, but there is plenty of aluminum to go around. Compared to the Silverstone, which is my personal case, the Blackbirdís pieces fit together much better; the side panels donít rattle, and the fans are much quieter. The Blackbird case, fully loaded, weighs about 80 pounds.
The Blackbird 002 chassis is built around a standard ATX motherboard (manufactured by ASUS), with capability for an Extended-ATX board, a standard 1.1 kilowatt power supply, five hard drive bays, three optical bays, and top panel ports and a memory card reader. The entire system is upgradeable, no proprietary components are found inside.
There is great attention to detail with a combination of painted, polished, and matte finish aluminum. The case is for the most part tool-less, with very easy side panel access.
If you do need tools, there is a built-in area that can hold all the necessary tools. One great innovation here is the use of a tool-less and cable-less hard drive mounting system. The SATA drives simply pop into a carrier and slide into their slots.
The carriers are a little flimsy, but they are designed that way to allow you to ďpopĒ the drive into the carrier. Hot-swappability is not supported because of motherboard limitations.
There is also an LED light at the back of the case illuminating the connectors; itís amazing that nobody has thought of this yet. (Iíve been using my LED headlamp for the difficult connections in the back of my case.) The case includes multiple LED accent lights, white LEDs on top, cyan LEDs in front and on the bottom. HPís literature even says that there is an available snake light that will illuminate the inside of the case for maintenance, but this was not demoed.
Cooling is provided via three 120mm fans, one drawing air from the front, through the hard drives, and two fans supplying air up top. The area around the CPU and GPU is seperated into different chambers in order to prevent hot air from one component affecting the other. Air is then exhausted out the back of the chassis (VoodooPC founder Rahul Sood demonstrates this system in action in image 6 on the previous page).
Liquid cooling is available for the CPU and video cards. You get the same radiator and fan setup for both, but the fans are thermo-controlled (HP quoted a 500 watt capacity for this unit).
The power supply has modular power connectors and is sourced from Top Power, thatís reasonable. A PC Power and Cooling PSU could have possibly provide better power, but it wouldnít fit well into the Blackbird case given its size.
If youíre leery of owning a liquid-cooled system (HP insists that the liquid cooler is maintenance free), HP will also manufacture air-cooled Blackbird systems, but a Blackbird SKU with 100% passive cooling wonít be available. HP did not have any non-liquid cooled systems to play with at their launch event for the Blackbird, so we donít know what heatsink system they will be using.
HP is marketing the case as one big heatsink designed to radiate heat, but there really is no way to transfer heat from the components to the case, other than through the air by convection; certainly not the most efficient method. Some heatpipes from the chipsets and hard drives to the case would have been nice. The video card and CPU cooling is well taken care of though.
HP Gaming is using standard ASUS Republic of Gamers series motherboards (including the Striker Extreme) with support for both AMD and Intel CPUís, using nForce chipsets. The NVIDIA video cards are sourced from EVGA, while Radeon video cards come direct from AMD, and the memory from Corsair.
For HP Blackbird systems, Corsair is using special edition memory that has been tested to overclock to the maximum speed supported by the ASUS board.
HP claims that the Blackbirdís BIOS will be completely transparent and open, allowing end users to overclock to their hearts content (although obviously HP will not take responsibility for fried CPUs from unsuccessful overclocks).
For those of you who are reluctant to overclock your shiny new Blackbird system, HP will also sell factory overclocked systems, although we donít have specifics on what configurations will be offered at this time.
In any case, HP canít be faulted for using ASUS motherboards, Corsair memory, and reference design video cards. HmmÖHP Gaming must be reading our ultimate system build articlesÖ
Moving on to optical storage, there are slots for two slot loading drives. These drives are notebook slot loading designs. HP wasnít able to tell us which brand(s) was being utilized, or if it supports 3.5 inch discs. They have a single full size drive bay which will even house an optional combo HD-DVD and Blu-Ray drive. Interestingly, these drive bays are also tool-less, using nifty plastic brackets.
Tech support is foreign, outsourced to Canada. The system is also built in Canada. Basically much of VoodooPCís staff and facilities have been turned into HP Gaming, but with a big infusion of money. All the systems are hand built by a single person; there is no assembly line here. This is a little less efficient, but as a result there is less chance of your system showing up with missing a card or with a misplaced DIMM. Essentially this shows HPís dedication to making sure gamers are getting the best system possible.
The Blackbird 002 is HP Gamingís first major project and it is a very admirable one. We look forward to seeing whatís next. HP has really committed to cutting edge research and development.
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