Voodoo PC dubs its Omen system "the world's most insane PC," and with its unique chassis architecture, liquid-cooling system, two SLI graphics cards, and overclocked processor, it certainly is on the edge. Look inside the enormous, custom-painted pearl-white case, and the first thing you'll notice are neon-green cooling tubes snaking to and fro. The liquid-cooling system helps keep the overclocked AMD Athlon 64 FX-55 processor and both Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra graphics cards running smoothly. Thanks to Nvidia's new Nforce 4 SLI chipset, the Omen can accommodate not one but two graphics cards for increased graphics horsepower. There's no question that this Voodoo system is expertly built, but at $6,800 (without a monitor or speakers), it is also one of the more expensive systems we've seen. For that price you should get the best performance. Because of a memory mismatch, however, the Omen doesn't achieve its full potential as a highest-end system, making this configuration hard to recommend, considering its cost. One look at the Voodoo Omen tells you that the company put a lot of thought into making this unique PC. For starters, the monstrous chassis (23 by 10 by 18 inches, HWD) is unlike any we've seen, featuring polished chrome partitions that create separate chambers for the motherboard, the hard drives bays and the liquid-cooling core, and the power supply. The partition also creates a house-of-mirrors effect, making the already spacious interior appear even larger.
Borrowing a page from the BTX book of improved airflow, Voodoo engineers flipped the ATX motherboard upside down and mounted it on the left side of the chassis. As a result, you access interior components through the right side of the machine, but unlike BTX-based systems, the expansion slots are positioned at the top of the system with the power and the hard drive connectors toward the bottom. Two superquiet, 120mm fans mounted on the front grille are responsible for cooling the hard drive chamber and the mainboard area, while a third fan in the rear removes heat from the chassis. Since the power supply is segregated from other components, its own fan is more effective. The main heat sources--processor, chipset and video cards--are liquid-cooled. Thanks to the absence of fans on these components, the Omen is surprisingly quiet.
The Voodoo Omen is visually stunning inside and out; our system sports the Autobahn (Pearl White) finish, one of 10 color choices available for an additional $567. You can save money by ordering the standard BAM (Brushed, Anodized, Machined) finish. Etched into the lower-front bezel and illuminated by red LEDs is the familiar Voodoo tribal mask logo, which also adorns the windowed side panel, the top of the case, and the chrome partition. A glimpse through the window reveals a neatly organized cabling system and a network of cooling tubes running between the processor, the video cards, and the chipset, then back to the core element mounted on the front of the machine.
Normally, all those tubes would make it difficult to install and remove expansion cards, but the oversized chassis gives you more than enough room to work. The video cards and their cooling fittings, however, block access to the two x1 PCIe slots, leaving a single PCI slot available for expansion. There are two optical drive bays and two hard drive bays left vacant, as well as two memory slots. The four perpendicularly seated hard drive bays come with quick-release tabs for easy removal by pulling them straight out of the machine, but connecting the power and the Serial ATA connectors can be challenging as they attach to the obscured rear side of the drives. That seating, however, gives the machine remarkably clutter-free internals.
Slots for the included multicard-reader, FireWire, and dual USB 2.0 ports are precut into the front bezel, and there are four more USB connections around back, along with additional FireWire, dual Gigabit Ethernet, and integrated 7.1-channel audio ports.The Voodoo Omen is wrought with high-end components, starting with AMD's Athlon 64 FX-55 processor overclocked to 2.75GHz (up from the default 2.6GHz) and the Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe motherboard based on Nvidia's Nforce4 chipset with SLI (Scalable Link Interface) technology. SLI technology allows you to combine the graphics capabilities of two video cards to push 3D performance beyond that of a single graphics controller (in theory, you could get twice the performance). An SLI motherboard requires dual x16 PCI express slots as well as the use of an SLI bridge, which connects the two identical cards at the top and allows them to sync up and send a signal to a single display.
Voodoo outfitted our Omen test system with two SLI-certified GeForce 6800 Ultra graphics cards, each with 256MB of memory. Our system also shipped with 2GB of 500MHz Crucial Ballistix PC4000 DDR memory, which ultimately proves to be the undoing of this system. DDR500 memory does not play nice with AMD chips (see our for details); fortunately, you can configure this system with 400MHz PC3200 memory at the time of purchase. Two 7,200rpm 160GB Seagate Barracuda drives in a RAID 0 configuration provide you with ample storage space, and a Pioneer double-layer/dual-format recordable DVD drive gives you the flexibility you need for any kind of disc burning.
The liquid-cooling system is a sealed unit, which means it's maintenance free. Similar to an automobile cooling system, liquid is pumped through the tubes to the fittings on the hot components, where it absorbs heat, and continues on to the radiator, where the heat is dissipated and the liquid cooled back down. In addition to quieter operation, liquid cooling transfers heat more quickly than the standard fan/heat-sink mechanism. Liquid cooling is ideal for systems like the Omen that use overclocked parts to squeeze more performance out of components that tend to generate lots of heat even at their factory-standard settings.
Although the motherboard supports 7.1-channel integrated audio, our test system included a Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS sound card. It's an appropriate upgrade for such a high-end PC, and Voodoo offers a selection of speakers to match it (none were included in our Omen's $6,800 price). We liked the look and feel of the wireless, which includes a Bluetooth-enabled mouse and keyboard.
The Omen ships with Windows XP Professional but can be ordered with XP Home, if desired. There's not a whole lot of software bundled with this system, but you do get a one-year membership to Voodoo's GameDoctor service, a utility that searches your hard drive for all installed games and advises you when patches, drivers, and other updates are available. You can tell the GameDoctor to automatically download and install the latest software or you can do it manually. The Omen also ships with the Fuel software suite, which includes AVG's virus-scanning program, plus PowerDVD and Roxio's Easy Media Creator 7.0. Voodoo offers a coupon for a free download of Half-Life 2 Bronze Edition as a promotion for all of its AMD-based systems.Application performance
Although the Voodoo Omen performed well in our benchmarks, a couple of issues kept it from achieving its full potential as an elite PC. In this ultracompetitive tier, there's little room for error. That Voodoo commits a mistake that we've called out previously makes it all the more inexcusable.
Its AMD FX-55 processor came overclocked to 2.75GHz (from its 2.6GHz default setting), a relatively standard tweak that we've seen in other systems. Where Voodoo goes wrong, as we also found in our review of the, is by including 500MHz (PC4000) DDR SDRAM. In theory, using faster memory is a good idea, especially if you're planning to overclock the processor. Unfortunately, AMD doesn't certify SDRAM beyond PC3200 and cannot guarantee that a system running uncertified RAM will perform as expected. The chip maker won't say why it doesn't certify the higher-end PC4000 memory, but we suspect it has to do with the voltage.
With uncertified PC4000 memory, the Omen's application performance is not as strong as that of its competitors. Compared to the results from most everyday PCs, an overall SysMark 2004 score of 210 is by no means a poor showing. But everyday PCs don't have prices approaching that of a Korean-made car. The Omen will handle whatever application you throw at it, up to and including 3D rendering software and video-encoding applications. What's ultimately troubling is that among competing high-end systems, such as the, the Omen doesn't score as well. The ABS posted an identical score, and its CPU isn't overclocked at all--and it's also about half the cost.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating||SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating||SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating|
** Just graphics is overclocked.
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2004, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).
3D graphics and gaming performance
Using two 256MB Nvidia GeForce Ultra graphics cards in an SLI configuration, the Voodoo Omen performed well but not as great as we expected. To be fair, SLI is still a relatively new technology, and as such, it's both temperamental and in a state of flux; we expect a steady stream of driver updates over the next several months. We tested the Omen with the drivers it came with, in this case Nvidia's most recent public driver, Forceware 66.93. Other vendors' systems came to us with various incarnation of a nonpublic Forceware 71.xx.
The driver disparity is likely the reason why the Omen didn't perform as well as, for example, the ABS Ultimate M6 with its pair of Nvidia GeForce 6800 GT cards, which technically should be slower that the Voodoo's twin GeForce 6800 Ultras. The constantly changing graphics-driver landscape means that 3D test scores are always evolving. Obviously, the Omen is a fast upper-tier gaming PC, but we're used to seeing Voodoo PCs perform at or near the top of our 3D tests. Its frame rates on our Far Cry and Half-Life 2 test could increase (or potentially decrease) with a new driver. As long as you keep the 3D driver software current, however, you shouldn't have anything to worry about in terms of its graphics performance.