Introduction

Whether it's cars, aircrafts, houses, motorcycles, or computers people always seem to like hearing about the most exotic products on the planet. HP's latest and greatest desktop computer offering bears the name of one of the most mystical aircrafts of all time, the SR-71 Blackbird. We can't say for sure whether the choice of name actually comes from the famous surveillance aircraft or not, but we would venture to say this is the case. See, besides the name, the two have quite a few other common attributes.

The SR-71 Blackbird was on the cutting edge of technology, pushing the boundaries of what was deemed achievable. It was the first aircraft that was designed to reduce its radar signature, and while it would fail in this respect it helped pave the way for future stealth aircraft. Perhaps more notably, the Blackbird was the fastest aircraft ever produced, officially reaching speeds of Mach 3.2 and unofficially reaching even higher. The actual top speed remains classified to this day. The extremely high speeds required some serious out of box thinking to achieve, so the Blackbird was built from flexible panels that actually fit loosely together at normal temperatures; only after the aircraft heated up from air friction would the panels fit snugly, and in fact the SR-71 would leak fuel while sitting on the runway before takeoff. After landing, the surface of the jet was so hot (above 300°C) that maintenance crews had to leave it alone for several hours to allow it to cool down.


So how does all of that relate to the HP Blackbird 002? In terms of components and design, the Blackbird is definitely on the cutting edge of design and technology, and it features several new "firsts" in computers. When we consider that the Blackbird comes from a large OEM that doesn't have a reputation for producing such designs, it makes some of these firsts even more remarkable. Talking about the temperatures that the SR-71 reached during flight was intentional, because the Blackbird 002 can put out a lot of heat. No, you won't need to let it cool down for several hours after running it, but the 1100W power supply is definitely put to good use. If electricity is the fuel of the 002, saying that it leaks fuel while sitting idle definitely wouldn't be an overstatement. And last but not least, the Blackbird 002 is fast - extremely fast - easily ranking among the best when it comes to prebuilt desktop computers.

Where did all of this come from? We are after all talking about HP, a company that has been in the computer business for decades, and during all that time they have never released anything quite like this. Flash back to about a year ago, when HP acquired VoodooPC, a boutique computer vendor known for producing extremely high-performance computers with exotic paint jobs and case designs - with an equally exotic price. The HP Blackbird 002 represents the first fruits of this merger, and while it may not be quite as exotic as the old VoodooPC offerings in all respects, it certainly blazes new trails in the world of OEM computers. There's clearly a passion for computer technology behind the design, and even if we might not personally be interested in purchasing such a computer, we can certainly appreciate all the effort that has gone into creating this latest "muscle car" - or pseudo-stealth aircraft, if you prefer.

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  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, September 12, 2007 - link

    You have to do a bit more accurate math on the cost. Yes, it's still expensive, but it's not at all a 2-3X mark up.

    Crazy ATX Case: I'd say this is easily a $500 case. Not that most people need it, but this is not some flimsy plastic thing.
    1100W PSU: It looks like this might be a TOPOWER 1100W PSU (it says "TOP-1100W DVT" on a sticker). The 1000W TOPOWER at Newegg costs $330 shipped, so call this on $350.
    QX6850: $1200, not overclocked
    ASUS Striker: $300
    2 x 1GB 2900 XT: $1000
    2x1GB Corsair Dominator 8500: $210
    160GB Raptor: $190 (technically 10GB more than the normal 150GB Raptors)
    750GB Seagate: $210
    Logitech G11: $55
    Logitech G5: $60
    Asetek cooling: $400 for this particular kit seems likely
    Blu-ray/HD drive: $880 (Yup, look up the GGW-H10NI - crazy!)
    DVDR slot load: $40

    Total for parts alone: $4200, and that's going by cheapest online prices.

    Still expensive, still a ~50% markup, but then the factory overclock with warranty is worth at least something, right? Anyway, I'm not saying it's a great deal, but if someone told me they wanted me to build them a system like this? Yeah, I'd probably charge at least $1000 to do it, just because I'd want to have some extra for the invariable support costs. "My OC'ed computer just crashed...."
    Reply
  • jonnyGURU - Friday, September 14, 2007 - link

    Actually, the Blackbird's 1100W is based on Topower's 1200W platform. Tweak and guideline requests (OCP settings, efficiency at different loads, etc.) from HP put the continuous output rating at 1100W. So that's another $50 we need to add for the PSU. FWIW, it's based on the same unit as the ABS/Tagan 1300W (looser standards than HP) which sells for $400. Reply
  • yyrkoon - Wednesday, September 12, 2007 - link

    OF al lthe OEM system manufactuers HP probably has one of the better warranties, or so I have been told. Since I do not personally OWN a HP machine, I have to go by word of mouth here. Anyhow, I would venture to say that the warranty on these blackbird system would probably have to be close to Dells Gold service plan.

    What does this mean ? It means you do not have to play the idiot on the phone for some E. India 'technitian' who probably has less of a clue what is wrong with your system than you do, but rather get to deal with stateside technitians who can actually be helpfull . . . It also means you do not have to wait for some lowly tech to wade through the 'chain of command' to get things replaced/fixed.
    Reply
  • Slaimus - Wednesday, September 12, 2007 - link

    Is it true that for this system HP somehow got CF to work on a SLI motherboard? If so, does it need special modded drivers like the ULi "GLI" motherboards? Reply
  • wolfman3k5 - Wednesday, September 12, 2007 - link

    I doubt that, I will do some research on that and post back. Raul Sood said that they didn't do it with NVidia's help, so if anything was moded, it must be special Catalyst drivers that are being made available only to HP. Sooner or later the "secret" will come out. But I don't imagine that it's something that difficult to do, since ATI uses two CF bridges, and they transfer all rendering data over those, hence, they don't have to rely on the chipset. Reply
  • RamarC - Wednesday, September 12, 2007 - link

    but the blackbird line is shipping with at least two motherboard options since there's an amd x2 based blackbird. so two additional mobos could be available for cf/sli. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, September 12, 2007 - link

    No need to do any research:

    "ATI CrossFire requires peer-to-peer writes in order to function, and ATI has always maintained that support for this feature is the only thing preventing CrossFire from working on other chipsets, like NVIDIA's SLI chipsets."

    If the BIOS is updates so that peer-to-peer PCI-E writes work, CrossFire should work. SLI of course is a given, and getting SLI on non-NVIDIA chipsets is what usually requires hacked drivers. I'll let you know if the stock 7.9 drivers work properly later today when I've had a chance to verify.
    Reply
  • n7 - Wednesday, September 12, 2007 - link

    I was excited to see this review, mainly because i wanted to see how well their cooling system worked.

    But there's not a word in this review about the cooling setup, what temps were, was it better than others for OCing etc...

    And as for the system itself, sure, it looks nice, & getting SLI or CF working is nice, but 2 GB of RAM?
    That's just a big joke when many of us already run 4 GB in our "lowly systems"...
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, September 12, 2007 - link

    For a 32-bit OS, there's not much need to go beyond 2GB of RAM. Users will almost certainly get the option to install 4GB in the online configurator - and they might even be able to select a 64-bit OS; I don't know yet because the system isn't officially on sale for a few more days.

    As for the water cooling setup, I haven't tested any other water cooling configs so I can't say whether the Asetek unit in the Blackbird is better or not. It appears to deal with a fully stressed Core 2 Quad @ 3.66 GHz, though I can't be 100% sure that the overclock didn't cause a crash or two. I can look into temperatures for the follow-up, but honestly I think stability is far more important. If a system can manage to run Folding@Home SMP without excessive failures and/or crashes, that's usually a pretty good indication that the overclock is "safe".
    Reply
  • wolfman3k5 - Wednesday, September 12, 2007 - link

    HP should have known better than installing a 32 bit OS on such a system, because the OS will never be able to address all the video memory. It's about the same as installing 4GB Ram on a 32 bit OS, except that in this situation with 2GB system RAM and 2GB Video Ram, the OS will be able to address closer to 4GB Ram. Other devices also take away some of the 4GB addressing space.
    As far as CrossFire is concerned, it's not so miraculous that it works on a Striker Motherboard. After all, native crossfire will transfer all data over the two bridges, so it can be chipset agnostic.
    It looks like the high performance PC market is pretty profitable, and HP and other companies are going after the boutique manufacturers to try and take away what business is left. But if I want this kind of computer, I'd rather buy from Falcon NW, Puget or build my own. Sorry, not my cup of tea.
    Reply

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