My HP Blackbird 002 arrived a little earlier than was expected (I got it a little over a week ago). It was a behemoth. The UPS fellow, a tall and strong fellow, had to lug the beast of a shipping boxoff the truck with a handtruck. I dragged it through the doors into the living room.

And there it was. The massive Blackbird 002. I couldn’t get over just how big it was (no homo). On a side note, I’m going to stop the no homo nonsense, it’s absurdly immature, however humorous it may be. I am blaming my brother for that one.

I unboxed it with my Leatherman Wave. The sturdy cardboard was actually putting up quite a fight for the very sharp steel blades, but soon enough I had carved away the stiff brown case away to reveal the stylishly pitch black box of the Blackbird.

About ten minutes later, the unboxing and removal of all the exterior shipping materials was complete. Left behind was the actual Blackbird itself. It felt rather silly to have such an enormous box, practically a crate, housing a noticeably smaller object. But all things considered, I wouldn’t complain. The premium price of the HP Blackbird 002 is certainly reflected in all parts of the product. The manuals, the box that it comes in, the accessories box, they all give the impression that you are getting a luxury product. And it is certainly an accurate impressions.I hoisted the Blackbird into my room, admittedly with a little bit of difficulty. The computer is heavy and bulky. In fact, somehow, despite the measurements (23.5″ x 9″ x 22″), I somehow underestimated its physical size. The damn thing just wouldn’t fit in my existing space. In conjunction with the boxy subwoofer of my new Logitech Z-5500s, I ended up having to remove the wooden shelf sat in front of my legs. It held my printer. Now it’s been moved to another part of the room, and the wooden shelf is in the basement. At least now I can stretch out my legs. In fact, the subwoofer makes a good footrest.I sat in my room with all the foam and cardboard lying around me, blanketed with various sheets of plastic wrap. I opened up the door to the Blackbird to install my GeForce 8800GTS 512MB video card. Removing the existing Radeon card that was in there was easy enough, but there is one thing to take into account: you cannot use this in another computer unless you find a way to remove the bracket mounted onto it. Sure there are screws, but it’s also secured with a hard plastic. It looks like it may be necessary to file, drill, or melt it off, but I’m no handy man: I haven’t the slightestideahow to get the bracket off.

With an emphasis on toolless design and easy upgrading, I actually found swapping the video cards to be a little unfamiliar: seating the card and locking it in with the tabs was not difficult, but it was a little less elegant than I first expected. I suppose it’s only a matter of practice, though I’m sure that not much is needed. One thing that surprised me when I looked under the hood of the Blackbird 002: it smelled like a new car.

After cleaning up and moving all unnecessary boxes and accessories to the basement, I shoved and grunted my way into getting the Blackbird in its place. With a heavy aluminum case and rubber feet, it made for quite a healthy adversary considering that I have to fight against carpet as well. It was time to install my hard drives. I went downstairs, thinking that I had to get the SATA cables out of the static bag in the accessory box. After searching the bag for a small bit, it dawned on me. I felt like a fool: I forgot that the Blackbird 002 has hot-swappable SATA drives that just slide right in. It was okay though, since I brought back The Orange Box and the system recovery disc that came with it. I went back upstairs.

With the solid metal door open, I went to work installing the hard drives. There was just one thing: there was a metal piece guarding the hard drive bays. Stenciled on it were the word, “REMOVE: For shipping purposes only”. For the longest time, I was at a loss at how to remove it: I was under the impression that I would never have to touch a tool. Well, it turns out that all you have to do is unscrew it. How simple. I took it off and shoved in my drives.

After plugging in all the necessary connections, I crossed my fingers and hoped that it would boot. Funny thing is that it took me ten second just to find the dang power button.

I pushed the slim button that was flush with the front metallic panel. And the Blackbird roared to life. The fans spun up at maximum speed. The front panel lighting was aglow, and the slot-loading optical drive eject button lit up. I turned on the monitor, and for the first time in my life I was happy to see the HP logo in gray on a black screen. Seeing it live and running was a relief and a joy.

There is one thing: the Blackbird 002 pictured on the HP site appears to have a bluish accent to the lighting and glowing. I don’t have this nicety. Rather, my Blackbird is a slightly cold white. There is no hint of blue anywhere to be seen, except for the one bright status LEDs inside the case.

SpeakingofLEDs, the white LED in the back really helps when you’re struggling to plug things into the right place. No more guess work or groping and fingering the back panel: with the wooden shelf out of the way, I was surprised at how easy it was to plug things in. I actually fit in the space under the desk too.

Anyway, the first thing I did was wipe the partition that held the default Windows Vista installation. HP will take up an 8GB partition for recovery, and since I have plenty of space, I left that alone. I installed Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit Edition and then proceeded to hunt down 64-bit drivers and other various 64-bit applications that I felt would be beneficial. It took me about a day to get it all up and running, and the work was all very worth it.

All in all, my Blackbird experience was good. I did have trouble with my hard drives being recognized, but I don’t know if that’s because I didn’t push the drives into the bay well enough. Eventually, after installing Vista 64, they worked just fine, so I’m not sure if it was a driver problem or something of that nature. I was disappointed to see that I couldn’t easily remove the bracket on the ATI Radeon card, and removing the shipping panel on the hard drive bay stumped me for a small bit. For a computer named after a stealth reconnaissance aircraft, it’s a little loud, but not distractingly so. I did get the free liquid cooling upgrade, and the case is cool.

So, would I recommend the Blackbird 002? If you have the money and want liquid cooling, go for the Blackbird. The slot loading optical drive is cool, and so is the pop-up front bay. The case is extremely solid and the tool-less design is extremely convenient. The hot-swappable SATA drive bays are also awfully nice. But if you’re on a budget and know what you’re doing, build your own rig, like I did the first time around. Just don’t get giddy and bend pins and short out motherboards.

And yes, this plays Crysis. On High.

Go to the next page for my specs.

HP Blackbird 002
Intel Core2Quad Q9450 (2.66 GHz)
2GB Corsair Dominator Memory (SLI-ready, MaxOC)
GeForce 8800GTS 512MB
Boot drive: 300GB Samsung SATA drive 7200RPM (factory)
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit Edition
250GB Samsung SATA SpinPoint 7200RPM Hard Drive
500GB Seagate SATA 7200RPM Hard Drive
750GB Samsung SpinPoint 7200RPM Hard Drive
500GB Western Digital MyBook External Hard Drive
Dell P991 21″ CRT Monitor
Samsung SyncMaster 906BW 19″ LCD Widescreen Monitor
Apple Keyboard (A1048)
Microsoft Sidewinder Gaming Mouse