We admit we had doubts about HP/Voodoo's new Firebird gaming PC when we got an early look last December. We found the case attractive, and we liked the idea of an mainstream-oriented gaming PC with the polish of a boutique system. Our hesitation came from the fact that for its $2,000 or so price tag, the system lacks a robust upgrade path due to its fixed laptop-style graphics cards and custom motherboard. We also wondered whether gamers would be interested in efficiency and style at the expense of raw horsepower.
After getting our hands on a review unit last week, our hesitation turned to admiration because the Firebird does so many things right. It really is a pretty-looking desktop, first of all. Its power efficiency embarrasses traditional gaming PCs in its price range by consuming significantly less juice (155 watts compared to 255 watts on a Dell under load, for example). The value is also there because its performance and features are exactly where they should be for the price. The Firebird can't dial up Far Cry 2 all the way, but it will certainly play it at most resolutions, and with decent image quality. The Blu-ray drive, the HDMI output, and the 802.11n WiFi even accommodate living room usage, which you might legitimately consider given the Firebird's attractive design.
We found it easiest to think of the Firebird like a laptop or an all-in-one PC. No, you don't get the full range of tear-it-down, built-it-up-again possibilities inherent to most desktops. If that's what you demand in a gaming PC, the Firebird isn't for you. But you also get something in exchange for the upgrade limitations, in this case a full-featured PC that's pleasing to the eye, and forgiving to your power bill. Given the Firebird's more-or-less closed system, we have to wonder why HP and Voodoo didn't simply make this an all-in-one. Perhaps that's next on the product development list.
Read our review of the HP Firebird with VoodooDNA 803.