HP set to unveil power-sipping PCs for gamers

Hewlett-Packard plans to release a pair of high-performance desktop PCs that, sporting a slim, green-friendly design, buck the conventional wisdom that brawn is best.

The Windows Vista -based Firebird with VoodooDNA 802 and 803 bookshelf systems come with state-of-the-art gaming specs — quad-core Intel Core 2 processors of up to 2.83 GHz, 4 GB of DDR2-800 memory, and dual Nvidia Geforce 9800S video cards with 1 GB of memory.

At the same time, the new systems use compact, power-sipping components usually found in notebook PCs, providing a reduced footprint and maximum energy usage — 350 watts, or one-fifth the energy used by an average high-performance desktop PC, said Rahul Sood, Chief Technology Officer for HP’s Global Gaming Business. Sood and the HP division he runs are still major proponents of SUV-like PCs such as the $3,000 Blackbird 002 PC, released last fall. Its configured weight is three times that of the Firebird.

“It’s like we took a gas-guzzling SUV of a PC, flipped it on its head and created the hybrid of high-performance PCs,” said Sood, founder of boutique PC maker VoodooPC, which HP acquired in 2006.

Most PCs aimed at gamers and enthusiasts tend to sport heavy, bulky cases, to make it easier for them to swap video cards, add hard drives and otherwise upgrade their systems.

Despite the Firebird’s compact footprint and use of energy-efficient components, Sood claimed they “don’t sacrifice anything” that gamers look for, citing its twin hard drive bays, 6 USB ports, an eSATA connector and dual-link DVI and HDMI display connectors.

By pulling the power supply out of the case, the Firebird systems can get away with “way quieter” fans than other high-performance PCs, he added.

“The high-performance PC space seems to have gone out of control when power supplies exceed 1.6 or 2 kilowatts, drawing more than the wall can handle, and people have 3-4 video cards and spend $5,000 to 6,000 on a machine just to play a videogame,” Sood said.

The Firebirds, by contrast, start at $1,799 (monitor is extra). They will be available via www.voodoopc.com starting January 9th, and at so-far undisclosed retail stores starting in February.

News of the HP Firebird was originally embargoed until January 6th by the vendor. But gadget blog Engadget first reported about the Firebird last week.

Richard Shim , an analyst with IDC Corp. , thinks Sood and HP may have a winner with the Firebird, noting that most high-performance PCs are built according to a “the uglier the better” rule. “If the Firebird can actually integrate a sleek style without giving up too much performance, I don’t think it will sacrifice credibility.”

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