September 5, 2007 4:30 PM PDT

HP gets in the game with Blackbird

HP gets in the game with Blackbird
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Hewlett-Packard is looking to cast a spell on the PC gaming industry with its first product developed with Voodoo PC.

The HP Blackbird 002 is the first joint effort with Voodoo, the Canadian enthusiast PC maker that HP purchased a year ago. HP is expected to unveil the souped-up PC at a special event in New York on Wednesday evening.

The Blackbird is an all-black, all-aluminum gaming machine that can be configured however the customer wants. The BIOS (basic input-output system) is completely open, and none of the inner components are proprietary, meaning the customer can buy replacement parts off the shelf of any PC supply store.

The shape of the machine should catch some eyes too--the chassis hovers on an aluminum foot. Though it's a flashy design, it's actually a utilitarian measure: it's a sixth side of the box for air to flow out of, which helps combat one of the biggest problems with enthusiast PCs--overheating. The Blackbird also uses a full liquid-cooling system and isolates each of the PC's heat sources in their own thermal chambers to further reduce the temperature output.

The Blackbird is a bold first move from HP, as it takes a step into the ring with other high-end PC makers, particularly Dell, which has the popular XPS line and scooped up Alienware earlier last year.

The gaming market has ballooned in recent years. The worldwide market for PC gaming-influenced hardware purchases will produce $10 billion in revenue annually by the end of 2007, according to Ted Pollak, senior game industry analyst for Jon Peddie Research.

In a computing niche that leans heavily on design, the Blackbird shows careful attention was paid to detail both inside and out, industry observers say.

Photos: HP's Blackbird sings a gaming tune

"Inside, very few products have that level of fit and finish--polished metal and solid aluminum is typically something you see in a high-end automobile--even than you'd see in the most expensive gaming PCs," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. "This approach is at the Lexus (or) Mercedes quality level and build level."

The car analogy is actually quite germane. The outer aluminum casing for the Blackbird is made by a Chinese manufacturer whose specialty isn't consumer electronics or computers, but car doors.

Then, each is configured top to bottom in Voodoo's newly expanded Calgary production facility by the same engineer, said Mark Solomon, HP Gaming's creative director. But you don't have to be a mechanic or even nominally adept with the contents of a toolbox to swap out parts and make your own upgrades. Blackbird is intentionally designed so that any of the components--CPU, GPU, hard drive, optical drive--can be swapped out.

HP hopes that touches like these will lure creative and gaming types with plenty to shell out on a custom performance PC. Priced between $2,500 and $6,500 depending on the configuration, it's firmly within the company of other high-end performance PCs.

"The pricing is pretty aggressive at the lower end for an elite system," Pollak said. "It's surprisingly affordable."

For a certain segment of the market anyway. But paying up to five figures for a gaming machine is not unusual in this relatively small segment of the overall PC market, where the margins are considerably higher. So HP is putting a lot of resources into the performance and the aesthetics. The design and manufacture process is much pricier than the average HP notebook or desktop PC.

CONTINUED: Not just for playing games…
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14 comments

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Should be interesting
Glad to see that Rahul Sood has been doing some productive things
lately! The entire Voodo (well, now HP) staff has been relatively
quiet, so let's just hope that it turns out to be a great product.

I always wondered who bought these luxury PCs and notebooks,
but if companies continue to make them, someone out there is
purchasing the products, right?
Posted by Michael.Hatamoto (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ground level dust
Another benefit to that design should be to cut down on dust collected inside the case. I find that a PC on the ground will collect dust more quickly that one elevated even a few inches.

At work we have a bunch of Apple pro desktops for the graphic arts department. We got these brackets to hang them from under the desk instead of leaving them on the ground and they stay much cleaner as a result.
Posted by Que.Ball (29 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Nice Design...
...but way too pricey for what you get.

DIY with the same basic components is less than $3500, just don't think a fancy case (a very fancy case), some system tweaks and a one year service and support contract are worth $2000 more.

Pros
Supports SLI and Crossfire
Uses off the shelf components (This is a huge)
Best case design I've seen

Cons
Price, Price, Price
One year service and support contract
No dedicated Soundcard
Only comes with 2GB of RAM
Posted by adlyb1 (123 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Let's see you do it yourself, then.
Luckily manufacturers and purchasers of high-end PCs alike couldn't give a lick about the DIY crowd. Do it yourselfers are notoriously cheap and incredibly unprofitable (like you've already demonstrated) and don't see any value in actually getting the most performance out of the SLI Video cards and 15000RPM RAID arrays possible by having a "very fancy case and system tweaks".

Aside from this, polished aluminum with separate heat zones that can still house generic parts - this isn't a small feat and I'd bet if you hired a fabricator to do this for your DIY machine you wouldn't be paying much less than 2 G's. There's a reason why HP is now only the second PC manufacturer that has actually managed to build a case with properly separated heat zones (and you're paying out the nose for those of the "other" manufacturer, as well). I'm sure in mass production they are substantially cheaper to produce, but you don't expect a PC like this to be priced based on cost anyhow, do you?
Posted by daftkey (136 comments )
Link Flag
Thats nice...
Hp,

Now try spending an extra $10 on your $600-$700 pc's and put in a 400 watt power supply instead of those cheapy 250 watt supplies they put on Pavillions so we can all install decent graphics cards.
Posted by voss749 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Very expensive
Like all the other top names, this is ridiculously expensive. The three harddrives are unnecessary, and for a top of the line PC, they should use 4gb of ram, instead of 2gb.
Posted by akhill10 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
4gbs?
This machine comes w/ Vista 32-bit. AFAIK 32-bit OSes don't even support a full 4gb of RAM in a machine. Why spend a couple of hundred dollars for something you can't even use?

OTOH, if this was the 64-bit version of Vista, then I might agree with you.
Posted by M A (51 comments )
Link Flag
A lot nicer looking than an XPS
Sorry, but those garish XPS things are goofy looking - straight
outta the 80s.
Posted by Galaxy5 (391 comments )
Reply Link Flag
If people had any clue how easy it is...
If people had any clue how easy it is to put together your own computer from high quality components (tomshardware.com has several "How To" articles), these high-margin excessively priced gaming computers would be a thing of the past...
Posted by drfrost (467 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How easy is it?
Here's an "easy" exercise that you can enlighten us "clueless" ones with - give us a list of what you would use, the cost (same components, including warranty and service) and the same case design (this is half the battle - there is more than just aesthetics to this case) and show us what premium we're paying to have HP do it for us.

Yes, I could easily do this myself. No, I would never do it. Why? I have a life and am paid enough for an hour of my time that any cost premium would be absorbed by keeping that time for more productive use.
Posted by daftkey (136 comments )
Link Flag
HP announces Blackbird 002 - the "beauty and the beast" in one
I referenced your article and review on my blog post at <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://developershelf.blogspot.com/2007/09/hp-announces-blackbird-002-beauty-and.html" target="_newWindow">http://developershelf.blogspot.com/2007/09/hp-announces-blackbird-002-beauty-and.html</a>
Posted by rupakg (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
I think this exceeds Voodoo's offerings.
They don't offer a case anything like this. Among case designs
and build quality levels from major manufacturers, Apple's Mac
Pro is the only comparison that comes to mind -- aesthetically-
minded shoppers will finally have a welcome new choice in a
really solidly-built machine. Enderle's commentary seemed
rather acrobatic in missing that comparison.

This is good news. I hope the industry rewards them for it with
strong sales.
Posted by ciparis (41 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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