In preparation for its presence at SXSW Interactive, AMD enlisted the help of famed modder Benjamin Heckendorn to build a bunch of unique PCs. Traditionally, AMD would just show a bunch of notebook and PC designs available in the market but this year it wanted something a bit more exciting. None of the designs will be sold or available, they are just intended to build interest in the PC and modding communities.

Ben was instructed to hop on eBay, buy a handful of outrageous things and build computers out of them. Among the projects are an Android controlled MP3 player PC built into a gas pump, a Pimp Hat PC, a PC built into a fighter pilot helmet, and a PC built into a small model of the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo.

I had the opportunity of playing with one of the PCs that'll be on display at SXSWi this week: a mini-ITX based system capable of launching model rockets. AMD allegedly went to Ben and requested that he "build a computer that could launch rockets". And this is what he came up with:

The system is running Windows 7 and features an AMD A10-5700 on a MSI FM2-A75IA-E53. There's only a single Crucial 128GB m4 SSD inside as well as a small power supply. The mini-ITX internals leave tons of room for the two rocket silos.

The silo hatches are driven by two servos and can be opened independently. Controls on the opposite side of the PC allow you to open the hatches independently, as well as prep the rockets for launch. Select the rocket(s) you want to launch, hit the giant start button and watch the countdown go. It starts at 10 seconds, at 6 seconds the first bay opens up, at 5 seconds the second opens, and then at 0 the two launch with a quarter of a second delay between the two.

All of the switches have a solid, almost industrial, feel to them. The launch electronics all worked flawlessly with no bugs...thankfully.

Ben built a custom PCB to drive all of the launch control electronics. The timer as well as the launch control state machine are all driven by Ben's work, rather than by the PC itself. Rockets are ignited by a pair of MOSFETS pulling current from the main PSU's 12V rail. You simply attach alligator clips to the leads of your igniters and you're ready to go. Ben did a good explanation of what it took to build this system on his show a little while ago.

The chassis itself is built from high density PVC foam, with the exception of the base which is aluminum and engraving plastic on the front. The switches were purchased but all of the panels were laser etched by Ben himself. 

The system works as a PC, and although you wouldn't want to launch rockets indoors, it is functional in that capacity as well:

I'll apologize in advance for not having great footage of the rocket post launch. It's been a while since I launched a model rocket and I apparently had forgotten just how fast/high these things go. I needed a far more serious lens to follow the rocket than I had on hand. Needless to say, the system launched rockets just fine.

Admittedly I've never been one for serious case modding, but I do have to say that the end result is pretty impressive. You can argue about the functionality of being able to launch rockets from your PC, but the execution is neat. This was more of a novelty mod but some of the most interesting mods are those that enable new functionality or put PCs into areas/roles never thought possible. Ben's work on getting the Xbox 360 into a laptop is an example of such a thing. Given how powerful (and power efficient) PC hardware is these days, I'd like to see the reverse done - a mod to make a PC better approximate a gaming console

If you're going to be in Austin for SXSW this week want to come by and check out the Rocket PC (and others) for yourself head on over here to register for AMD's Technograffiti event. Registration is free, and the event takes place March 7th (this Thursday) at 7:30PM. 

Check out photos of the Rocket PC as well as some of the other Ben Heck mods in the gallery below.



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  • Flunk - Wednesday, March 06, 2013 - link

    The A10 and i5 are not remotely comparable performance wise. You can easily build an Intel system for the same price with better CPU performance and very close GPU performance.

    AMD's problem is that their value proposition needs to solidly beat Intel for them to actually sell systems. They need to be 20% or more below Intel's competitive offerings. For example the A10-5800 is competitive with a low-end i3 like the 3220 but if you check Newegg the price difference is 0%, they're both $129 (as I post this). AMD can only really win if they undercut Intel's prices, not match. If given a choice almost everyone picks Intel because they have a better track record for reliability and compatibility.
  • SilthDraeth - Wednesday, March 06, 2013 - link

    "If given a choice almost everyone picks Intel because they have a better track record for reliability and compatibility. "

    Your argument was fairly good, then you went and closed it out with an asinine statement.

    People pick Intel, because of brand recognition/loyalty,superior marketing, and superior performance.

    10 years ago, approximately, it took a superior performance AMD to even get enough market penetration to make an impact, and now they have brand recognition as well. But most people still know Intel, and Pentium more than AMD and Athlon, or Phenom, or any number of other names they have.
  • Sivar - Wednesday, March 06, 2013 - link

    I agree with his asinine statement.

    Intel has a better record for overall platform compatibility and reliability. This isn't something to be disagreed with because it is not an opinion.

    I used AMD from the original slot-based Athlon (my friend, Mark Sorensen, invented the first "GFD" Athlon overclocker, even; got an exclusive Anandtech article) to the Athlon 64.

    Then, their products were superior enough in price/performance to overcome resistance due to their reputation, which was far worse then (from K6 days) than now.

    Intel again has the better overall product, other than perhaps for embarrassingly threaded or multi-process (like Apache) software.
    Best tool for the job...
  • SlyNine - Friday, March 08, 2013 - link

    You start out with the argument "Intel has a better record for overall platform compatibility and reliability. This isn't something to be disagreed with because it is not an opinion."

    Then you provide NOTHING to back it up. Im challenging this notion that Intel is more reliable and compatible Intel had plenty of chipset/socket snafus.

    On top of it all you seem to employ a sorta appeal to authority by mentioning Mark Sorensen; does he support your OPINION? Why bring his name up?
  • gruffi - Thursday, March 07, 2013 - link

    "Low-end" i3 3220 is competitive with A10-5800? Sry, that's complete retard thinking and delusional. A10-5800K trounces i3 3220 in every single GPU based application, especially games. Maybe i3 is faster in outdated singlethreaded apps like Super Pi. But, who cares? Modern systems need multitasking and graphics performance. And A10 offers more for both. Again, AMD offers more value. It's much easier to build an AMD system with similar performance for less money or more performance for the same price than vice versa. Not to forget, A10-5800K is easy to overclock due to the unlocked multiplier. Reply
  • johnny_boy - Tuesday, March 12, 2013 - link

    The 5800K will give almost everyone enough CPU performance they'd want. The key differentiator is an integrated GPU capable of gaming, not something you can say about Intel's iGPUs. AMD also wraps a usable gaming platform in one *simple* and affordable package. The lack of need for an additional graphics card considerably simplifies things for some markets. Reply
  • Galidou - Tuesday, March 12, 2013 - link

    ''for some market'' is quite an understatement. I'd say 90%+ of computer users don't need much, mainly do facebook/twitter/youtube/online flash games/other games that doesn't require much cpu/gpu power. Reply
  • frozen ox - Wednesday, March 06, 2013 - link

    Yawn. Thank you captain obvious, that might have been news two years ago. Meanwhile in 2013, AMD has launched Vishera, which are great for the money and more than makeup for Bulldozer's gaming performance. The next generation of consoles will now feature 8 core AMD APUs, so developers will be working with AMD and god help us more/better multi-threaded games, and this is a run-on sentence. Reply
  • gruffi - Thursday, March 07, 2013 - link

    YOU should come back to reality. AMD made profits in the last years and decreased debts. The last 2 quarters are not everything. Bulldozer and Bobcat are great architectures. Better than the old and boring stuff the competition has to offer. Bulldozer just needs some improvements. Which isn't unnatural for an architecture from the ground up. Reply
  • johnsmith9875 - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    All AMD needed to do was shrink the 6-core Thuban die and slap 2 of them on a chip like the Q6600 was, and I would have bought it! Reply

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