HP buys Calgary’s VoodooPC while owner preps for Kentsfield

SAN FRANCISCO – Hewlett-Packard said it would purchase VoodooPC , a Calgary-based firm best known for its high-end gaming machines, the companies announced late Wednesday.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but HP said it will form a separate business unit within its Personal Systems Group focused on the gaming industry. VoodooPC co-owner Rahul Sood will become chief technologist for the unit and co-owner Ravi Sood will become the unit’s director of strategy. Both executives will report to Phil McKinney, who will become general manager of the gaming business unit while maintaining his current role as chief technology officer of HP’s Personal Systems Group.

The deal comes only a few months after rival PC maker Dell bought Alienware, which was also interpreted by analysts at a bid for the emerging high-end consumer segment.

Voodoo PC is one of 13 manufacturers that will launch along with Intel Corp. when the chipmaker makes its first-ever quad core processor to the market in about a month from now. Rahul Sood discussed the chipmaker’s Developer Forum announcements two days before the acquisition was announced.

VoodooPC will harness the power of Intel’s 130 watt, 2.66 GHz Kentsfield processor, which will be renamed as the Core 2 Extreme QX6700, in its next Omen system release this November. Intel is also set to release the Quad-Core Intel Xeon processor 5300 series for dual processor servers in that timeframe. Other vendors that will be launching with Intel include Dell and Gateway.

“Kentsfield is fast and efficient,” Sood told ITBusiness.ca. “It’s the best part I’ve seen from anybody.”

That includes Advanced Micro Devices, which has yet to release a quad core product. AMD is currently scheduled to release a quad core version of its Opteron processor by mid-2007, according to John Fruehe, worldwide business development manager for AMD Opteron.

Fruehe said Intel is too quick to release products to market and, as a result, the quality of its products suffers.

“(Intel’s) approach for quad core is to glue two Woodcrests together,” said Fruehe, referring to Intel Xeon processor for dual processor servers. “Intel is skimping on things to rush products to the market. Customers want us to get the quality right.”

VoodooPC’s current Omen machine runs on Intel’s Core 2 Duo processor, which launched two months ago. But Sood said the addition of two more cores will mean a richer experience, especially for gamers, which make up a large part of his company’s clientele.

“Quad core makes a difference,” he said. “The extra cache does a very good job of multitasking.”

With a quad core processor running the machine, a gamer can have two characters playing at once, for example, Sood said.

For other user groups in the market, Sood said quad core will become a reality later next year as more people move towards Microsoft’s next operating system, Windows Vista.

“Vista is more of an entertainment operating system,” he said. “Quad core can help that experience.”

VoodooPC also sells its systems into the video editing, digital audio and health-care markets. Sood said, with the exception of radiologists, that the user version of Voodoo PC’s Omen system will cater to these markets.

Intel’s quad core processor promises a 70 per cent performance improvement over today’s IntelCore 2 Extreme platform, according to Intel executives. To demonstrate its power, Intel’s senior vice-president and general manager of the digital enterprise group Pat Gelsinger benchmarked Intel’s Woodcrest dual core server chipset against AMD’s Opteron 285, 2.8 GHz Socket F processor at Wednesday’s keynote here at the Intel Developer Forum.

Both platforms were asked to complete a task in an application that does a matrix multiplication table such as those commonly used in the financial industry. The Intel machine finished the task in 40 seconds, peaking at 370 watts per kilowatt hour whereas the AMD machine ran a little over a minute, using up to 444 watts.

Intel then configured the machine to utilize its quad core processor, which had a 20 per cent performance increase over Woodcrest and a 50 per cent performance increase over AMD.

While Intel may be winning the feeds and speeds game for the moment, VoodooPC’s Sood said AMD has made significant strides in the marketplace and will be the one to watch out for in the future.

“Intel is out of the performance slump now, but AMD continues to gain share,” he said. “(AMD) is still strong in the mainstream and they cracked Dell.”

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