capsule review

HP Firebird With VoodooDNA 803 Gaming PC

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At a Glance
  • HP Firebird 803 with Voodoo DNA

Models in Hewlett-Packard's new line of Firebird With VoodooDNA gaming systems use a slimmed-down version of the striking wedge-shaped case design that debuted on the company's high-end Blackbird systems. To make the compact design possible, the Firebird borrows a couple of tricks more commonly found on notebooks and all-in-one PCs: Mobile PCI Express Module graphics (via dual SLI nVidia GeForce 9800S cards), and an external (350-watt) power-supply brick. These features help the Firebird achieve amazing power efficiency and quiet--even under full load--but they also severely hamper expandability.

First, although Mobile PCI Express Module (MXM) graphics are technically upgradable, they never caught on in a big way, so you're effectively stuck with the Firebird's underperforming hybrid nVidia GeForce 9800S/on-board graphics setup--a notable drawback for a gaming PC.

Don't expect to be able to upgrade the Firebird's performance with aftermarket add-ons, either. There are no PCI slots and just one notebook-style ExpressCard-54 slot. The system's two RAM slots come prepopulated with 2GB of DDR2-800 memory apiece, so upgrading the RAM means investing in a full replacement. Swapping out the hard drives is a simple matter of pulling an old one out of the tray and sliding a new one in, but here again the two drive trays come prepopulated. Also at full capacity: There is no available room for additional 5.25-inch devices. For all intents and purposes, this system is locked down.

Still, to its credit, HP has wrapped a beautiful chassis around this upgrade-unfriendly machine. When you fire up the Firebird, a gorgeous purple glow emanates through the case's art-splashed side window. The Firebird's shiny gray curves and reflective black surfaces give the machine a modern elegance that's unlike the flash and crazy coloration of typical gaming PCs. The system is almost Apple-like in its pretty, plain exterior, though the price of this beauty is a lack of any kind of external front connectivity. A slot-loading Sony Optiarc Blu-Ray reader/SuperMulti DVD writer optical drive occupies a slot on the front of the chassis, and a four-in-one media card reader appears on the system's top.

Inside, HP configured the Firebird 803 with Intel's older 2.83-GHz Core 2 Quad Q9550 processor. But why did the company bother to include an extensive, integrated liquid cooling system and yet not tweak the frequencies? The preinstalled 64-bit Windows Vista Home Premium operating system does make full use of the system's 4GB of memory. But the Firebird's two 2.5-inch, 320GB hard drives are woefully inadequate for storage. Even if their capacities were combined in a RAID 1 array, the Firebird's storage would fall below the terabytes of space we see on most other gaming systems. And since HP separates the drives into a boot and a storage device, it leaves little room for data such as the operating system and your programs--unless you hack the Windows Registry and transplant your user accounts to the second drive.

All of these performance limitations conspired to land the Firebird in last place among recently tested gaming PCs on our WorldBench 6 benchmark test suite. The Firebird's score of 108 falls far short of the performance marks of similarly prices machines such as the $1840 AVADirect Core i7 SLI/CrossFireX DDR3 [[]] (which roared to a score of 153 in WorldBench 6) and the $2199 iBuy Power Gamer Paladin F860-a (which posted a mark of 134 on WorldBench 6). Graphics performance followed suit, as the Firebird mustered an unplayable average frame rate of 28 frames per second on our Enemy Territory: Quake Wars test (at 2560 by 2100 resolution and high quality). The system fared better on our Unreal Tournament 3 test, but its 62-fps average was once again a back-of-the-pack number.

The rear of the machine offers a healthy array of external connections, including two eSATA ports, six USB ports, one FireWire 400 port, an optical-out connector for 7.1-channel audio (thanks to a Creative Labs X-Fi Mini PCI Audio card), a gigabit ethernet port, and an external HDMI connection. This would have earned the Firebird high marks had the system displayed even a modicum of device connectivity elsewhere on the machine.

While the generic, glossy black mouse delivers nothing beyond two-button functionality, the keyboard is as stunning as the Firebird's chassis. Like the case, the keyboard doesn't offer much on the feature end. But when your system lights up, a dull, white glow bleeds through the letters and symbols on the gray keys themselves. The coloration matches the theme of the Firebird's case to the letter. It's a lovely touch that brings this system full-circle in the design department: You couldn't ask for a prettier PC.

Ultimately, the Firebird's awesome appearance draws attention away from a mediocre gaming PC. You're paying $2100 for extremely pretty looks--and not much else. The system underachieves on most measures of performance and expandability. It's slow for a gaming PC, offers relatively little storage space, and discourages upgrading. The Firebird would look great in a PC art gallery, but not necessarily under your desk.

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At a Glance
  • This medusa of gaming systems will charm you with its good lucks, but be warned: it could be a trap!


    • Best-looking PC we've seen. That's it.


    • Slow general performance
    • Severely lacks upgradability
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