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.



View All Comments

  • Belard - Wednesday, March 06, 2013 - link

    For some odd reason... I was expecting:

    A) A rocket that was a PC being launched (like a car, that is launched such as on TopGear) - which if so, it should have windows 8 on it.

    B) The Rocket Launching PC should be operational during a launch with the OS being used as the launch controller.
  • Flunk - Wednesday, March 06, 2013 - link

    I was expecting B as well. This is preitty much just a stunt, but I guess Ben didn't have that much time. Reply
  • Beenthere - Wednesday, March 06, 2013 - link

    ...of time and money. AMD should pay me to build "interesting things" with their products. I'd do it for 1/2 the price. Reply
  • elmicker - Wednesday, March 06, 2013 - link

    So what does the PC actually do? If the launch controls and displays are all running off custom PCBs? You could do this for 1/10 the price and power consumption on a RasPi and still have it be a full PC! Imagine a PC that sets off fireworks when you win your games. Superb. Reply
  • IanCutress - Thursday, March 07, 2013 - link

    It's still a full PC you have at your desk. Reply
  • SlyNine - Friday, March 08, 2013 - link

    Except for a rocket to the face in a game and the computer actually sends a rocket to your face. Reply
  • yougotkicked - Wednesday, March 06, 2013 - link

    Reminds me of when AMD hired Bill Owen to make a case for the phenom processor line launch. A solid marketing move IMO, draws more attention to their booth at shows and helps build a relationship between AMD and the enthusiast crowd. It may not make them more profitable, but it makes people as a bit less of an anonymous giant. Reply
  • egmccann - Tuesday, March 12, 2013 - link

    Bit of fun marketing. Not sure why people are so busy pissing on it. That said - niche use, and quite obviously a different design... if you've ever looked into amateur (MUCH more involved - and expensive - than model) rocketry, I could see taking ideas from this into an actual single unit - especially if you've got data coming down from the rocket itself. I'd have to agree that the custom PCB controlling the launch and such makes this less a "PC mod" than "A PC attached to something that can launch small rockets," though. Reply
  • johnsmith9875 - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    When I was a kid all you needed was a motorcycle battery, some wire, a 6v light bulb, and single pole keyswitch and a SPST momentary pushbutton switch, and you had a rocket launching system, and we LIKED it! Reply

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