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HP unveils high-end gaming PC

Hewlett-Packard Co on Wednesday launched a line of powerful new computers aimed squarely at gamers, in the company's latest step to court a small-but-influential audience.
/ Source: Reuters

Hewlett-Packard Co on Wednesday launched a line of powerful new computers aimed squarely at gamers, in the company's latest step to court a small-but-influential audience.

The HP Blackbird machine is the result of combining the company's legendary engineering expertise with the performance know-how of VoodooPC, a specialty gaming operation HP bought almost a year ago.

Named for its angular black aluminum case, the Blackbird carries the HP brand and fills a niche above its regular consumer-oriented products but below its ultra-high-end Voodoo line, which has been kept as a separate brand.

"We see the gaming market gaining significantly. We think there is significant opportunity in the market," said Philip McKinney, general manager of HP's gaming unit. "There are a lot of Ferrari fans, but not many people can afford a Ferrari."

HP on Wednesday also updated its iPaq handheld devices for corporate technology managers and unveiled new business and consumer computers and televisions ahead of the holiday season.

The lineup includes the Blackbird, wide-screen TVs, a home entertainment hub and new notebook and desktop computers.

Gaming PCs still account for only a small portion of HP's roughly $100 billion in annual revenue, but the company hopes Voodoo will help spice up its brand and image, stoking sales of its core products.

The Voodoo branding strategy echoes that of rival Dell Inc, which bought performance PC maker Alienware last year and also sells gaming computers under its own XPS label.

But HP's approach with the Blackbird indicates that it is doing more than Dell to integrate its recent gaming acquisition with its main operations and letting innovations from both groups flow back and forth.

"It seemed like HP was dropping the ball when it came to games. We had been kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop," said Billy Pidgeon, a gaming industry analyst for market research firm IDC.

For example, the Blackbird's case has fins that not only lend it a striking appearance but also help keep its innards cool, borrowing a page from HP's experience in designing server computers that run business networks.

"This directly comes right out of what they've done in blades," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst with Enderle Group, referring to a type of thin servers, which are usually stacked closely together and need to dissipate heat quickly.

The Blackbird can be tweaked easily. A latch gives quick access to the case, and parts can be removed or added without tools. Hard drives snap into a pull-out tray, saving the need to fuss with cables and screws.

"HP has typically designed to cost," McKinney said. "We are going with a different model: design to innovate."

The Blackbird also features a 1.1-kilowatt power supply and a liquid cooling system, and will cost from $2,500 to $7,100, depending on configuration. It will contain processors from Intel Corp and Advanced Micro Devices Inc and graphics chips from Nvidia Corp or AMD.

At an event in New York on Wednesday, HP introduced a 42-inch MediaSmart TV available for $2,099 and a 47-inch model for $2,499. The TVs, linked wirelessly to home PCs, can show digital photos and videos and play music stored on computers in addition to traditional TV programming.

"The TV will remain the center of the connected home," said Todd Bradley, head of HP's personal systems group, which includes consumer PCs, mobile devices and TVs.

Additional reporting by Philipp Gollner