Review: HP Firebird 803 With Voodoo DNA

HP and its boutique/luxe division Voodoo deserve serious praise for what they’ve accomplished with the Firebird 803. Taking a mix of laptop and desktop guts, juicing it up with high-end components, cooling it with liquid goo instead of noisy fans, and encasing it inside a gorgeous, curvy shell that would make most industrial designers weep with envy, they’ve made the Firebird a testament to how the envelope can be pushed in the typically boring PC world.

It’s also a veritable bargain, priced at $2,100, fully loaded.

The Firebird features a hybrid design — using 2.5-inch hard drives (two 320GB models) and dual graphics cards originally designed for laptops — but powering it all with a desktop CPU and desktop-sized DIMMs. As with a laptop, wireless is built in, but the power supply is not: To save on wattage, HP breaks out the (enormous) power adapter instead of integrating it into the box.

Additional key specs are solid: 2.83GHz Core 2 Quad CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a slot-loading Blu-ray player–DVD burner. You’ll find no fans inside: The combination of low power consumption (just 230 watts at peak vs. over 1,000 watts on a similarly equipped desktop) and a sealed, liquid cooling system means the Firebird can burn all day without making a peep aside from the whirring hard drives. It’s uncannily quiet, even when running at full bore.

Performance is very good, but hardly earth-shattering. Still, even serious gamers should have no trouble playing processor-chomping titles at high quality and maximum resolution without experiencing choppy frame rates.

Connectivity is great … if you’ve got an external device: With six USB ports, a FireWire jack, two eSATA ports, and HDMI and DVI output, you won’t go hurting for connectors. Obsessive upgraders will however be a bit disappointed: There’s just one largely useless PCI-E mini slot available for internal expansion; all the other slots and drive bays are taken. If you need to get to any of these components, the Firebird’s screwless design gives you instant access to the motherboard through buttons and hinged panels, but you needn’t open up the system to see it at work: The side of the computer features a clear plastic panel and internal lighting so you can see the Firebird in action.

As cool as the Firebird is on the whole, it isn’t without some foibles. The inclusion of an ExpressCard slot is on the baffling/useless side, and the external power supply (it’s huge) is more annoying to deal with than it sounds. But my biggest gripe is that the Firebird’s streamlined shell means it includes no front-mounted ports at all, not even a single USB slot for your thumbdrive. Seriously HP, even the Mac Pro finds room for that.

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