Well, it’s been a little over two weeks since I’ve gotten comfortable with my HP Blackbird 002. And I must say, I am very pleased. However, it could still use some improvements. For one thing, it’snot particularly stealthy as one might expect from something entitled Blackbird.

The fan noise is not distracting, but I do notice it. There is a constant noise that is hard to describe. Maybe it sounds kind of like hearing water running through some pipes in some distant wall. It sounds almost like a metallic whir. Could be the water cooling. As for the fans, they will operate at maximum speed as you boot it up, but they will certainly spin down once Windows starts loading. I wish the system was quieter.

The lights make for a rather attractive if flashy and eye catching computer. I wish there was an option to turn them off: these lights are bright enough to dimly lit my bedroom. I also found myself wondering why they didn’t add some kind of light to illuminate the hydraulic (or spring-loaded, I’m not sure) front panel. I was fumbling around trying to jam my iPod’s USB cable into the front USB port like a teen virgin on prom night.The optical drive is definitely great. It’s a slot-loader. The novelty of still having no disc tray hasn’t worn off. It’s also particularly quiet.I’m still finding the case incredible. The door swings on hinges and opens with a latch. There’s some kind of padding lining the inside edge of the door too. Of course, opening the door necessitates a certain amount of room to maneuver. The case design is amazing, and I still find myself running my fingers across the fins, hearing the resonance of the metal ring out.

Overall, the system, unscientifically speaking, feels like it runs cooler than my old machine. There seems to be less hot air being expelled. I tested this by sticking my foot near the back of the case. I suppose that the lower temperature has to do with the liquid cooling. Oddly enough, there also seems to be less dust. And one more thing: there’s apparently an HDMI port, so if you’ve got a nice HDTV, you can hook up the Blackbird to it and watch all of your HD material. This computer should also be fast enough for me to use TVersity, so I’m going to give that a shot one of these days.

So how does it perform functionally?Iwas able to run Crysis on Very High most of the time, but when there was a lot of fog (I assume this is the volumetric effects), it slowed down to the point of being unplayable. However, on High, it was rather smooth. I enjoyed activating strength mode to leap into the air, landing atop the flimsy tin roof of a KPA shack. With two unsuspecting soldiers underneath me, I punched the roof and collapsed on top of them, killing them with great satisfaction. My personal SOP was to play it stealthy, picking off the soldiers in groups by throwing them into each other. And then when there was the last poor soul remaining, he was sure to have a grisly death: a strength mode enhanced toss into the air at the height of my jump ensured that he plummeted off a cliff from a maximum height.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl ran smooth as butter, save for some hiccups in loading. I doubt it was a system related performance issue, but I can’t be sure.

Assassin’s Creed runs like a dream: seeing these graphics in 900p (1440×900) somehow seemed to be a cut above my 1080i DLP rear projection TV set. The game is quick to load and plays smoothly.

I’m finally able to play ArmA (Armed Assault) with all the settings maxed out. I think it was my previous CPU that was limiting it. Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 is great, and I’m happy to report that I can perform pixel precise Mozambiques.

The Orange Box, graciously included with the purchase of the Blackbird 002 system, runs extremely fast, though I’m not surprised considering the performance on my old machine. I’m glad they included it though, since I normally wouldn’t have purchased those games and therefore wouldn’t have the opportunity to go around sapping sentries or erecting dispensers in the respective roles of spy and engineer in Team Fortress 2. I can’t help but feel that a more graphically advanced game should’ve been included though. It would be nice to have something to show off the graphical muscle of the Blackbird 002.

So, aside from gaming, iTunes flip through the CoverFlow view more responsively and much more quickly. Firefox is snappier, and Windows Vista with the Aero graphical interface is responsive, intuitive enough, and attractive to use. Adobe Photoshop CS3 is much quicker to load. Windows Vista itself loads veryquickly:I no longer have to wait around for startup items to finish loading. I can also watch HD content (x264) as smoothly as I can watch XviDs on an older rig.

I could very well be wrong, but I don’t think I can overclock my CPU as easily as I could with my old AMD AM2 system. In fact, I couldn’t see any BIOS options to overclock. They were greyed out. Considering that I have water cooling, I’d at least like the option of overclocking.

Which reminds me, I get a BSOD that immediately reboots when I try to use the nTune software. It only happens with anything related to the motherboard but is fine when I use the graphics card control panel.

In summary, the Blackbird 002 is a luxury machine. I’m confident you can build a machine with the same innards for cheaper. However, as I stated before, the excellent case and thermal design are more than worth the price of admission. The front panel bay is both fashionable and functional. If they could improve the lighting, it’d be just about perfect. The slide-in hard drive bay is extremely convenient. Considering that the Blackbird 002 uses all industry standard components, I wouldn’t be afraid to buy a gaming PC from a company. Previously, purchasing a computer from a company could mean getting proprietary components stuffed inside, forcing you to upgrade through the company, which in some cases could be damn nearly impossible. Then there’s the usual bloatware. I didn’t spend much time with the default factory Windows Vista Home Premium installation, but from my first impression of it there didn’t appear to be much, if any, bloatware floating around. The inside of the case is clean, accessible, and free of the jungle of cables that usually comes with most computers.

If you’re single, get this before finding a girlfriend because she’s bound to take your head off if she finds out you burned that kind of money on a computer. If your girlfriend doesn’t nag you to death about getting a Blackbird 002, marry her because she’s a keeper. If you’re married, start buying your wife gifts for “no reason, just because I love you”. I couldn’t ever say any material object is worth conflict with your better half, so gentleman, start buttering up your honey bunnies and your shmooky pookies: the Blackbird 002 is worth the trouble.