Case Studies

In terms of appearances and design, we can without a doubt say that we've never seen anything quite like the Blackbird 002. It comes in a large, wedge-shaped case that sits on top of a stand, lifting the main chassis several inches off the ground. That might sound and even look a little precarious, but once you've actually picked up the case and moved it around your fears will be assuaged. HP states that the foot is capable of supporting up to 600 pounds, and after sitting on top of the case (yes, all 190 pounds of me!) and even bobbing up and down a little bit, we're pretty sure they're not exaggerating. Exactly why you would want a case that can support 600 pounds, we don't know, but it certainly is sturdy!


In fact, our earlier comparison of this computer with the SR-71 Blackbird probably chose the wrong aircraft, names notwithstanding. This thing is built like a tank, and an A-10 warthog might have been a more apt comparison. Much of the case appears to be made of aluminum, but a lot of the metal is so thick that you might feel the case is made of cast iron instead. The total weight is around 70 pounds for the test configuration, so all of you LAN party attendees looking to put on a little more muscle can simply haul one of these things around and kill two birds with one stone!


The case isn't the only reason for the weight, however, as HP includes a complete "maintenance free" water cooling system (designed by Asetek). There are three models of the Blackbird 002 available, and as far as we can tell only the top to include water cooling, but since the systems aren't actually available for purchase yet we weren't able to get the precise options. The model we were shipped certainly appears to be the absolute top-end design, as water cooling is used for the CPU as well as the two graphics cards. The motherboard chipset isn't water cooled, but the ASUS Striker motherboard already has an extensive heat pipe arrangement to handle that aspect of cooling.


While we're on the subject of motherboards, the use of an ASUS Striker board also represents one of the better aspects of the Blackbird 002. This isn't a special locked down version of the ASUS Striker; you gain access to pretty much everything you would get with a regular ASUS board, which means that this is one of the best overclocking motherboards currently available. That approach doesn't end with the motherboard; besides the custom ATX case (yes, ATX) everything else uses standard off-the-shelf components. We don't necessarily advocate purchasing a computer with the intent of upgrading in the future, because new products and technologies are always coming out, but at least the Blackbird is as upgradeable as any DIY system.

Index Gearheads, Rejoice!
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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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