Harrods: olde worlde purveyor of boutique toys or masters of the massive mark-up? Your answer to that question could well decide your thoughts on the Knightsbridge store’s latest exclusive: HP’s top-range gaming PC, the BlackBird 002.
Naturally, the BlackBird is a hulking behemoth of a machine, capable of dispensing double hernias to unwary delivery men. But it’s not short on subtlety either. The lack of garish lights and frivolous add-ons give it an industrial chic, and there are smooth touches like the pop-up card reader. It makes most other luxury PCs seem tacky by comparison.
From above, the case is an upright wedge, tapering towards the front. Constructed of thick aluminium to aid heat dispersion, most of the micro-finned external looks had, apparently, already been created before HP bought customised PC specialists VoodooPC. The real fruits of this acquisition are, we're told, mostly inside.
A water-cooling unit is strapped firmly to the top of the chassis, and pipes run neatly over the top of the motherboard to chill both the CPU and graphics cards. This liquid coolant gives the BlackBird incredibly good overclocking potential, although there's a fearsome shortage of tools or instructions supplied to get the most out of this heavyweight PC.
The most impressive part of the internal layout, though, is the compartmentalisation of each key component. The graphics cards, for example, are segregated from the power supply in an acoustically baffled chamber designed for maximum airflow and cooling. The same goes for the hard drives, vertically oriented optical drives and the CPU itself.
It's a bit of shame that all of these clever innards are set-up for pure performance. There's no obvious way to throttle the fans for silent running. Unless you're overclocking the hell out of a Core 2 processor, you simply don't need gale force blowers and the accompanying noise, especially as the machine is supplied running at stock speeds, which is a disappointment in itself.
The far bigger problem, though, is that while bagging the UK exclusive for such an exquisitely designed PC may seem like a coup for Harrods, the beauty on these shores is only skin deep. In the US, you can order a bespoke BlackBird system configured with your components of choice: the off-the-shelf model available here simply isn't very good. It'll run any game you throw at it, yes, but component-wise this is far from the best of best.
The choices of a mid-range CPU and bandwidth limited DDR2 RAM are particularly horrifying in a £3,000 system. A single hard drive and integrated sound card are decidedly average too. The supplied keyboard and mouse are nice, but Cyberpower will sell you a fully tailored, pre-overclocked PC that's far more capable and future proof for almost a third of the price.
As much as we love HP's unique chassis, there's just no way it's worth over £2,000. With these components inside, the BlackBird is boutique for the brainless.