Hardware

Geek Gifts 2008: The $6200 HP Blackbird 02 and the case it rode in on

The Blackbird 02 from Hewlett-Packard is designed from the ground up to be the ultimate gaming machine for the ultimate personal computer gamer. Combining both style and function, the Blackbird 02 should serve as a blueprint of what a personal computer for the enthusiast market should look and act like. The only real question is whether the Blackbird is worth the premium price tag.

The HP Blackbird 02 was designed with the personal computer enthusiast in mind — a person looking for the best, fastest, and coolest PC around, and willing to pay for it. And, by paying attention to the small details in design and convenience, I'd say that Hewlett-Packard and their acquired custom-built brain trust at Voodoo PC have largely accomplished that task. The Blackbird 02 is certainly cool and certainly fast, but for the $6,200 price tag, I'm not sure it is actually the best.

This blog post is also available in PDF form in a TechRepublic download.

Inside the Blackbird

That is not to say that there is anything wrong with the HP Blackbird 02. (Get a good look at the Blackbird 02 in the TechRepublic Cracking Open Gallery published previously.) The case includes many great features, most of which I would like to see become standard for all PC cases, including easily accessible drive bays, separate air flow streams for the CPU, video cards, and power supply, and tool-less access to all major components. And the care and expertise put into the assemblage of the Blackbird is obvious — the inside is as close to a work of art as the inside of a PC can get.

The knock I have with our review unit involves some of the chosen parts and with the stated price of the system. Here is a quick list of the major components in our Blackbird 02 review unit:

  • ASUS Striker Extreme motherboard (nForce 680i)
  • Intel Core2 Extreme Quad Core QX6850 CPU operating at 3.0GHz
  • 2GB Corsair PC2-8500 DDR2 RAM (1066MHz)
  • Dual ATI Radeon X2900 XT (512MB GDDR4 RAM each)
  • Two 160GB 10,000 RPM SATA Western Digital Raptor hard drives in a RAID configuration
  • Liquid cooling for both the CPU and the two video cards

While those parts would not be considered chopped liver in most minds, they are not what I would call top of the line, aren't any better parts either. For $6,200 I would expect nothing but the best. For example, I would prefer to have dual nVidia 8800 Ultra video cards over the ATI X2900s in our review unit. (Note, it is an available option.) And 4GB of RAM is more the norm for a gaming PC of this caliber.

A comparison

For the sake of comparison, and to back up my statement that we should expect more for $6,200, I will compare the Blackbird 02 to my own CyberPowerPC gaming PC, which I purchased in October 2007. The major parts in my CyberPowerPC:

  • ASUS Striker Extreme motherboard (nForce 680i)
  • Intel Core2 Extreme Quad Core QX6850 operating at 3.0 GHz
  • 4GB Corsair PC-6400 XMS2 Extreme Memory RAM (DDR2-800)
  • Dual nVidia 8800 GTS EVGA video cards (320MB GDDR RAM)
  • Two 250GB 7200 RPM hard drives
  • Liquid cooling for the CPU
The case is a CoolMaster Stacker 830 Tower 420W, (Figure A) which is not as innovative as the Blackbird, but it is still well designed and very functional with good air flow and easy access to drive bays. I upped the power supply to 850 Watts to accommodate the dual video cards. The Blackbird, by contrast, has an 1100 Watt power supply.

Figure A

The CoolMaster Stacker 830

A few benchmarks

Now, before you jump in the inevitable discussion thread attached to this blog post to tell me how my benchmarks are not adequate and how I should have done this and that, let me just say, I somewhat agree with you. But this is just a simple benchmark test for the sake of comparison. TechRepublic is not the place to get your benchmark chart fix — you'll have to go somewhere else for that. The 3DMark06 graphic benchmarks are good enough for our purposes.

Figure B shows a summary of the first test I ran on each system. NOTE: There is no over-clocking or other tweaking involved and each system has the latest drivers.

Figure B

Test one
The results for my CyberPowerPC are shown in Figure C and are quite acceptable. Figure D shows the results of the same test run on the Blackbird 02.

Figure C

CyberPowerPC — Test 1

Figure D

Blackbird — Test 1
As you can see the Blackbird performed slightly better than the CyberPowerPC (Figure E) and consequently rates higher when compared to other system benchmarks (Figure F) submitted to Futuremark.

Figure E

CyberPowerPC comparison — Test 1

Figure F

Blackbird comparison — Test 1
For an additional test, I ran the same benchmarks but with 4X anti-aliasing turned on (Figure G). The overall performance for both systems dropped, but the separation between the CyberPowerPC (Figure H) and the Blackbird (Figure I) remained about the same.

Figure G

Test 2

Figure H

CyberPowerPC — Test 2 with 4X anti-aliasing

Figure I

Blackbird — Test 2 with 4X anti-aliasing
The comparison of the CyberPowerPC (Figure I) and of the Blackbird (Figure J) to other systems submitted to Futuremark shows a pretty wide difference and definitely shows that the Blackbird performs at a higher level.

Figure I

CyberPowerPC comparison — Test 2

Figure J

Blackbird comparison — Test 2

Bottom line

So what do all those numbers and graphs really mean. Well, for one thing, my CyberPowerPC is not as powerful as the HP Blackbird 02, but that was expected. However, it also shows that my CyberPowerPC, which cost a mere $3,200, is also a very powerful gaming rig. I expect it to have a product life cycle of close to three years — that is what I average, a new PC every three years.

On the other side of the coin, the Blackbird 02 is a very fast PC, but, in my opinion, you do not get enough performance to warrant the extra $3,000.

To put it into perspective, for an additional $800 I could have purchased two nVidia 8800 GT Ultras for the CyberPowerPC, which would have easily matched and likely beat the performance of the Blackbird 02. With the Blackbird, I think HP is charging way too much of a premium for what amount to style and luxury points.

For my $6,200 I would expect a PC that tests as the fastest PC available, because for that amount of money that is really what I am buying: the prestige of owning the fastest PC. For $6,200 I want to run 3DMark06 benchmarks and then proudly submit the highest performance score to Futuremark and then gloat about it in online forums. The Blackbird 02 is a really a vanity PC and it needs to perform that way and not just look like it performs that way.

So while the Blackbird is a fine, well-built, high-performing PC, is not the best PC around — it is just priced like it is. A more powerful, less expensive personal computer can be had for less money and for even less money a perfectly adequate game machine is also obtainable. Now, that is something to gloat about.

Geek Gift Score

  • Fun factor: *****
  • Geek factor: *****
  • Value: *
  • Overall: ***

A side note about CyberPowerPC

I generally liked the service and experience I received from the CyberPowerPC company, but the system they delivered was DOA and I had to send it back. I was a little disappointed on what I perceived to be a lack of urgency on their part to get me the PC I had ordered and already paid for, but I eventually did get it and the system has worked well ever since. I think the assemblage is better with the Voodoo and Alienware systems, but the CyberPowerPC saved me a few bucks so I can't complain too much.

About

Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.

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