HP Drops Plenty Of PC Product On CES

Is Rahul Sood going soft? The VoodooPC frontman has grown decidedly agnostic towards over-the-top, power-hogging gaming rigs, if his recent pitch for the new HP Firebird high-performance desktop PC is any indication.

Sood and Hewlett-Packard unveiled the HP Firebird with Voodoo DNA at this week's Consumer Electronics Show, where Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP turned up with a slew of new PC desktop and notebook products. More on those in a second.

The Firebird is the successor to the Blackbird 002, the result of HP's 2006 acquisition of Calgary, Canada-based enthusiast system builder VoodooPC. Unlike the Blackbird 002 and just about every other gaming system on the market, the Firebird is not simply a vehicle for the latest, greatest processors and graphics cards.

Sood, making that distinction clear in his recent chat with ChannelWeb, held up a typical boxy graphics card and called it "yesterday's news" while calling for a more economical and less garish "paradigm" for enthusiast systems.

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Instead of using such bulky cards, HP has populated its custom motherboard for the Firebird with a pair of Nvidia GeForce 9800S small form factor graphics cards that are cooled, along with the Intel Core 2 Quad CPU, via the new system's liquid-based thermal management system. The result: A unit that looks as elegant on the inside as it does on the outside and doesn't draw anywhere near the juice that traditional gaming PCs demand.

Nor was it lost on us that the video card Sood held up so dismissively was made by AMD's ATI graphics unit. Nvidia makes plenty of equally bulky, decadent units. But it probably wouldn't do to bash one of your current hardware partner's products while praising another.

The HP Firebird with Voodoo DNA won't rise to the level of the more extreme gaming systems out there, but it's not really made to do that. Instead, Sood said, HP decided to ditch the model of putting the most powerful possible components into a performance rig, regardless of how rarely their full capacity ever gets tapped.

Which all leads to the curious experience of listening to Sood give a lecture on the virtues of restraint in product development, but there you have it.

The HP Firebird retains the Blackbird's hot-swappable hard drive scheme, featuring a pair of 320GB units in the basic set-up. It has smoky glass side panels that let you see what's inside " not a power supply, which is external " and will be available starting at $1,799 on Friday at VoodooPC.com and on Feb. 1 in retail stores.

Next: More New Products From HP

HP's other major unveilings at CES include a pair of new Pavilion notebooks, a more customizable TouchSmart PC and the company's latest netbook entry, the HP Mini 2140. The new Pavilion dv2 and Pavilion dv3 magnesium-encased laptops -- HP calls them "Entertainment Notebook PCs" -- are built on custom-designed processor platforms from Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Advanced Micro Devices. HP and AMD think they're on to something big with these thin, light laptops, priced strategically in the $700-$800 "sweet spot" where there isn't a lot of competition from other notebook vendors, according to Bahr Mahoney, director of AMD's Mobile Business unit.

The 12.1-inch Pavilion dv2 features AMD's Athlon Neo platform with discrete graphics, weighs 3.8 pounds and has hard drive options up to 500GB. HP will make it available in April for $699. The 13.3-inch Pavilion dv2 is available now for $799 and is a bit more robust at 4.35 pounds while packing AMD's Turion Ultra X2 hardware. Both notebooks come with HP's MediaSmart software.

HP's touchscreen lineup also got an upgrade in time for CES, as did the company's Windows Home Server product, the HP MediaSmart Center -- which was actually unveiled at the earlier MacWorld Expo in San Francisco rather than in Las Vegas.

With its latest additions to its TouchSmart PC offerings, HP has boosted the configurability of the home version while adding a commercially-targeted version called the HP dx9000 TouchSmart Business PC to the lineup. It's pre-loaded with Microsoft Windows Vista Business 64 and the basic configuration features an Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 processor, 4GB of memory, a 320GB high-speed hard drive, a VLAN driver and, of course, a full touch-screen graphic interface on its 22-inch hi-def widescreen HP BrightView LCD display.

The dx9000 will be available next month starting at $1,399.

The last in HP's lineup of major CES system unveilings is the 10.1-inch HP Mini 2140 netbook, set for availability later in January. The 2140 has an Intel Atom processor inside, weighs 2.6 pounds and will be priced at $499 -- $200 less than the fashion-oriented Vivienne Tam Edition of the Mini 1000 released late last year.

HP is exhibiting at CES at Booth No. 31112 in the South Hall's upper level.