A few weeks back, we provided our initial review of HP's Blackbird 002. What we found was a very interesting and exotic design, but without more information on pricing and availability it was difficult to come to any final conclusions. In fact, we were almost left with more questions than answers, so we spent some time talking to HP Gaming's CTO (and VoodooPC founder) Rahul Sood and the Blackbird sales team. There are still some questions that we weren't able to get answered, but we did get a lot of good material and we felt it would be worthwhile to revisit the Blackbird as well as HP's Gaming division.

One of the first things that might be a bit confusing for some people is how HP Gaming relates to VoodooPC. While HP bought out VoodooPC last year, they continue to exist as a separate brand (though still under the HP corporate umbrella). You can still go out and purchase a VoodooPC computer, and you will get the same thing that you always got from Voodoo: extreme attention to detail, premium components, and prices that might just leave you gasping for breath. VoodooPC is as much a status symbol as anything, and while the performance and construction is definitely top-notch, the simple truth is that we just don't see many people being willing to plunk down as much as $10,000 (or more!) on hardware that is going to be second-tier performance in 12 months.

This gets into one of those dirty little secrets about computers that some companies don't like to discuss. AnandTech of course isn't one of those companies, so let's air the dirty laundry. There are a few truths about extreme performance computer hardware. First, naturally, is that it costs quite a bit of money. Second, you generally get rapidly diminishing returns as you move up the performance ladder. Third, newer and faster products are always just six to twelve months away. Finally, if you take the top performing parts currently on the market and slap them together in a system, the difference in performance between something manufactured by a boutique computer shop (VoodooPC, Falcon Northwest, Alienware, etc.) and something built in your parents' basement is, generally speaking, negligible.

These aren't the only truths, of course. Another point that frequently comes up in enthusiast circles is that overclocking - particularly of CPUs - can save you a truckload of money. Practically speaking, there is no difference in performance between a QX6850 running at 3.0GHz and an overclocked Q6600 running at the same speed (9x333). With the right cooling, you can most likely push both processors up to around 3.5-3.6GHz (9x400), and performance will remain equal. What you do get with the QX6850 is more flexibility and (typically) slightly lower voltages. The unlocked multiplier on the QX6850 (and all of the Core 2 Extreme line) means that adjusting front side bus speeds isn't only way to affect the CPU clock speed. However, it's difficult to find a good reason to spend over three times as much on the CPU just for convenience. The best reason to purchase a Core 2 Extreme is honestly if you're not planning on overclocking and you want the best possible guaranteed performance. In that case, you might be more interested in a factory overclocked - and warrantied - system like the Blackbird.

The take away from all of this discussion is that our real question in regards to something like the Blackbird 002 is: what can it add to the computing experience that isn't directly related to raw performance? With a bit more time using the system, more configuration options available, and a lot more details on pricing, we should be able to answer that question.

Blackbird 002, Take Two
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  • EateryOfPiza - Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - link

    that custom bios might be something special, or maybe its a drag on performance.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - link

    I would be absolutely shocked if performance was more than 3% off with the latest drivers. As it stands, the version of the Blackbird I have for testing has HD 2900 CrossFire, and I think most people would be better off getting 8800 GTX SLI. Even Rahul said, "It's not just about the benchmarks anymore - it's about the experience." Basically, a lot of companies got hung up on oneupmanship, where they would be the "best" in some magazine review, but only by 2%. It's pretty silly, I think.
  • themadmilkman - Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - link

    How long until somebody makes a knock-off of the case design? I'd be interested in one.
  • kmmatney - Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - link

    One will probably come out of China before the HP one is available...
  • Bonesdad - Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - link

    but it might kill your dog
  • Owls - Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - link

    I know you are trying to make a comparison to hand built quality but it was a bit over the top. The Duesenberg is a classic and a symbol of craftsmanship in the meantime, cases and parts made in china assembled by hand does not equal classic or "well built" by any means. How many cases have you seen that are "classics" today?

    Probably none.

    good article though :)
  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - link

    I'd imagine the point is that back in the day whoever bought that Duesenberg new was not buying a classic at the time either, just a nice expensive, well built car.
  • psychotix11 - Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - link

    I would have thought after the foot-in-mouth "it takes $300 to match or beat air cooling" you guys would have had the tact to leave it alone and accept that you really don't know what you're talking about, but of course you couldn't resist the chance to take another dig at it on your crusade for air cooling, bias at it's finest, tomshardware would be proud of you.

    That said from what I can see they are using a dual 120mm radiator to cool two ultras and an over clocker quad core, that isn't enough. A dual 120mm rad will cool either an OC'd quad or the dual GPU's, but with both in a single loop it's not going to be enough even if you slap some delta screamers on it and let your ears bleed. You're going to need a triple 120mm for that.
  • kmmatney - Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - link

    rolls eyes...
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - link

    Read what you just wrote: "...they are using a dual 120mm radiator to cool two ultras and an over clocker quad core, that isn't enough. A dual 120mm rad will cool either an OC'd quad or the dual GPU's, but with both in a single loop it's not going to be enough..."

    Let's talk bias for a second. Suggesting that a $300+ cooling arrangement with dual 120mm fans is not enough cooling and that *more* is required for proper water cooling of this setup illustrates the exact problem. I can get similar results from air cooled GPUs and CPUs for 1/4 the price (on the cooling side of things). Actually, it's even worse on GPUs, as the stock air coolers are "free" and water blocks are just pure expense that may not really even impact performance. Even if a triple-fan WC setup is slightly better in terms of overall cooling, that doesn't make it a great choice. Now read what I *actually* said again:

    "We decided to simply skip out on water cooling, as our own testing has been less than stellar and we're finding that top-quality air cooling is still more than sufficient for the vast majority of people."

    Yes, that's a terrible slam on water cooling: we find air cooling to be more than sufficient for most people. Or if you want to reverse it, water cooling is really only "necessary" for a very small portion of the market. Just like I specifically recommended AGAINST spending $1100 on a QX6850 and instead chose a Q6600 that will beat the pants off it on price and will overclock nearly as far, I chose air cooling that will cost significantly less and overclock nearly as far. While we're at it, I chose 8800 GTX cards that cost less than the 8800 Ultras and will run nearly as fast. See the pattern?

    For the record, the water cooling in the Blackbird does a fine job at keeping the entire system running, and I didn't have any issues with temperatures or escalating noise levels. Without putting a similar setup into the case without water cooling and running benchmarks, I can't say for sure how much of an impact their cooling design has on overall performance and noise levels. However, if I'm building a system for myself or a friend, liquid cooling is just another expense and hassle that I'm going to avoid. I avoid RAID 0 configurations for the same reason.

    Water is more complex and creates more concerns (weight, potential for leaks, installation and upgrade time and effort). Is it bad? Nope. Just like a $5500 prebuilt isn't bad, and a factory overclocked system isn't bad. It's still an expense many will bypass.

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