It's been on the cover of PC Magazine, and won the award for best new computer at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It's sleek, quiet, and powerful. And it's made in Calgary.
Voodoo Computers Inc.'s new Rage f:5 computer is the perfect machine for the hardcore computer gamer, especially, as one reviewer puts it, "if your father signs his checks Michael Jordan."
But, according to Voodoo president Rahul Sood, this machine also says a lot about how all of us will be computing in the future.
"We threw all the rules out the windows, and built a desktop Ferrari from scratch," says Sood. "It's like putting a twin turbo into a car. The Rage f:5 contains two video processors which double the frame rate of video from games and other sources."
|Larry MacDougal, Business Edge|
|Rahul Sood with the new water-cooled Rage f:5 computer.|
It also allows programs to work at the highest possible video resolution levels. "For example," Sood says, "in Tiger Woods Golf 2005 you can see the mist rising off the ground. Well over 90 per cent of all computers just can't show you that detail."
So if hardly anybody can see it, why do they put it in? Sood explains that the artists are told to put in a maximum level of detail, so that as people get better computers, the games will still look good.
It's a little bit like television stations having to re-do their news sets with the advent of high-definition TV, because the fake skylines look awful when seen at high resolution.
Sood notes that his machines also have enough power for "anti-aliasing," which means they can eliminate the "jaggies" that sometimes mar graphics images. They accomplish all this with extra hardware, carefully chosen by the techies at Voodoo, who are more like artisans than assembly-line workers.
There is a problem with cramming all this heat- producing gear into a computer chassis, and it's called fan noise. "The noise levels on some high-end systems are just unbearable," says Sood. "That's the main complaint from people who work with them."
Yes, work. It's not all fun and games. Sood says Voodoo's high-end machines are being bought by geologists, people doing computer-assisted design (CAD) work, and diagnostic imaging. He says he has a substantial order from a new chain of high-end radiology clinics whose doctors, as he puts it, "want to be able to read images from their cabins."
Voodoo Computers has come up with at least a partial solution to the noise problem - water cooling. It's not a new idea, since large mainframe computers have been cooled with chilled water for years. But it's an idea that's only now taking hold in the PC market. After all, most people figure that water and expensive electronic gear just don't mix.
California-based Kingwin sells its Arctic Liquid Cooler System kit for about $100 US. You can put this into a new or existing PC, dispense with some of the fans, and hear your music or game sound better.
Sood confirms that heat is becoming a serious problem with PCs, because some of the new chips, particularly from Intel, run very, very hot. Even video cards throw off a lot of heat, and this can lead to your computer shutting down to protect itself from damage.
Oh, and did I mention that Rage f:5 looks amazing? The chassis is a hybrid of the ATX and BTX "form factors," which means it's kind of futuristic looking and sexy. It has spiffy green cables and lots of flashing lights. You can peek at its shiny innards. For $4,500 US and up, you definitely deserve a machine that looks like it can mow down opponent's computers without even trying.
Style, and women customers, led to another Voodoo innovation. "A lot of women are getting into extreme computing," says Sood. "They're gamers and also business users. And they wanted a laptop that was light and attractive.”
The result is the 1.5-kilogram Envy mi50 notebook. Instead of being made of plastic or aluminum, the case is constructed of carbon fibre. It comes in colours such as Baby Blue and Powder Pink. You can even "add custom tattoos for men and women."
Sood says it's going to be featured in a future Popular Science magazine.
He reports that a famous U.S. artist ordered a Pink notebook with her logo tattooed on it.
Fashion is crossing over with technology. A free Voodoo Computers shirt is included in the package. But, with up to a 100-gigabyte hard drive, a Radeon 9600 graphics processing unit, and up to 756 megabytes of RAM memory, it's a very serious laptop. They've paid attention to details such as the the mousing surface and the hard drive, which spins faster than your average laptop's.
You can configure one of these babies online, but don't torture yourself unless you've got at least $2,000 to spend.
The respected website gamers-depot.com was effusive in its praise of Voodoo and its products. "Voodoo PC has set itself as one of the finest boutique system-builders around," they write. "They have garnered tons of awards in the likes of MaximumPC and PC Gamers magazines, and quite frankly, make some of the best computers we've seen to date - bar none."
If Voodoo is a boutique, it's a heck of a big one. Founded in 1991, they used to work from a house just south of the Calgary Tower. Now, they've just moved into a 12,000-sq.-ft. facility in southeast Calgary. Sood says they sell about 400 systems a month, all over the Internet, with an average invoice of $5,000.
"We decided early on that we weren't going to compete with Dell on price," says Sood, "so we compete on innovation."
His voice perks up when he talks about Voodoo's David-vs.-Goliath successes in the business world. But it's clear that he's still a techie at heart. He retains the title of Voodoo's chief technology officer, and gets excited over processor speeds and airflow.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg," he says, pointing to the Rage f:5. It's an apt image because Voodoo's products are about cool - physical, technological, and, yes, even fashion cool.
(Tom Keenan is a professor at the University of Calgary and an expert on technology and its social implications. He can be reached at email@example.com)