HP shrinks Firebird gaming PC with Voodoo

New HP Firebird gaming PC uses laptop hardware, Voodoo know-how for unique, supposedly more efficient design.

Rich Brown Former Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness
Rich was the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, Kentucky. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D printing to Z-Wave smart locks.
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Rich Brown
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News of HP's new Firebird gaming PC leaked a few weeks ago, but with the official announcement this morning, we're free from our embargo and can finally comment on the product. As has been rumored, HP's new system is officially named the HP Firebird with VoodooDNA. This means it was developed in conjunction with Rahul Sood, founder of boutique PC vendor Voodoo PC, and chief technology office of HP's Global Gaming Business since HP acquired his company back in 2006.

HP's new Firebird with VoodooDNA (monitor not included). HP

Unlike the first Voodoo HP product, the HP Blackbird 002, the Firebird is aimed primarily at mainstream PC gamers. You won't find the latest Intel Core i7 CPU inside a Firebird, nor 10 pounds and 600-watts worth of graphics cards. Instead, the idea behind the Firebird, alluded to in a stage-setting (some might say self-serving) blog post on Rahul's blog in December, is that in these economically-challenging times, PC gamers will be better served by less aggressive, more reliable, more affordable configurations.

The Firebird's specifications provide a more specific idea of what Rahul means. Two configurations will be available at launch on January 9, the Firebird 802 for $1,799 and the Firebird 803 for $2,099.

Firebird with VoodooDNA 802

  • $1,799
  • Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit
  • 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400 with 6MB L2 cache
  • Nvidia Nforce 760S chipset
  • 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM
  • (2) 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9800S graphics cards
  • (2) 250GB 5,400rpm hard drives
  • Dual-layer DVD burner
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • Integrated audio

Firebird with VoodooDNA 803

  • $2,099
  • Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit
  • 2.83GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400 with 12MB L2 cache
  • Nvidia Nforce 760S chipset
  • 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM
  • (2) 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9800S graphics cards
  • (2) 320GB 5,400rpm hard drives
  • Blu-ray drive
  • Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11 b/g/n wireless
  • Creative Labs X-Fi Mini PCI audio card

Each also comes with HDMI and DVI video outputs, liquid CPU and GPU cooling, as well as an external 350-watt power supply and a variety of other inputs and small-scale expansion slots. The case design also echoes the unique accordion-style Blackbird chassis, and by moving the power supply outside the system, both the inside and the outside of the Firebird appear remarkably clean and streamlined.

The clean-lined Firebird features HDMI, eSATA, and other ports on the back. HP

Based purely on the specifications listed above, we're confident that either Firebird configuration will play most current games smoothly at decent resolutions and image quality settings. We'd imagine you could plug in a 22-inch LCD and have no trouble gaming at its native 1,680x1,050-pixel resolution, if not also a 24-incher at 1,920x1,200-pixel resolution.

Our reservations come in with the graphics cards and the pricing. HP uses Nvidia's MXM laptop GPU in these systems, a standard Nvidia developed to enable laptop manufacturers to swap different graphics chips into their portables. Given laptops' thermal and power sensitivities, MXM has not caught on as a consumer-swappable standard, as with desktop graphics cards. By using MXM HP has improved the thermal, power, and noise issues typical of standard gaming PCs, but it has also essentially killed the Firebirds' upgrade path.

The MXM graphics cards modules limit user upgrades. HP

To put the Firebirds' price in perspective, consider this $2,499 Velocity Micro desktop from November. We expect this system would outperform either Firebird, and although it costs $400 more than the Firebird 803 (two months ago), it also offers upgradeability that HP's new system can't. You could also go the DIY route and build a competitive, if less elegant gaming PC for less yourself.

It would be hard to build a similar hard drive mechanism yourself. HP

This is not to say that we don't appreciate what HP and Voodoo are trying to do with this system. For too long, gamers and game developers have lamented the complexity of acquiring and maintaining a reliable gaming PC. By introducing a slick-looking, fast-enough system with no configuration variability, HP removes a good deal of the guesswork and gives gamers a system that simply works. As much as that might make the DIY and upgrade crowd cringe, that's all many people want.