HP Blackbird 002 Build Guide: Video Production Workstation

In this build guide we revisit the venerable HP Blackbird 002 chassis and create a high-end video production workstation computer. We rebuilt this Blackbird for a client who purchased one of the last cases directly from HP. More on the Blackbird and its special features can be found on our original HP Blackbird review. The requirements for this build were a no maintenance, lightning fast and quiet workstation machine for online video production. The result checks all those boxes!

hp blackbird rebuild

Gutting & Rebuilding

Before we could install the new parts, most of the original, outdated components needed to be removed. The Blackbird case is very easy to work in so removing the old parts was a breeze. For those interested, the Blackbird originally shipped with:

  • CPU: Intel® Core™2 Quad Q9450
  • Motherboard: EVGA 780i SLI LGA 775
  • GPUs: 2x Nvidia 9800 GT in SLI
  • RAM: 4GB Corsair Dominator DDR2 1066 MHz
  • Hard Drive: 500GB Seagate BarraCuda 7200 RPM
  • PSU: Topower PowerBird 900W
  • Radiator Fans: 2x Delta 120mm

As with my Blackbird, I learned something new about the case when I started working on this one. After placing it on my work table, I noticed that the cast aluminum foot was slightly different. It had two additional supports (that resembled wings) in the back on the left and right, secured via screws from underneath. Comparing this to my own Blackbird I surmised that the additional supports were either optional parts or mine was simply missing them altogether. I have yet to see another Blackbird for sale on eBay that had the additional supports/wings.

We proceeded to remove nearly all the old system components except for the custom CPU only Asetek LCLC 240mm closed loop AIO liquid cooling system. I should mention that we also retained the slim-slot DVD-RW drive, however being an IDE drive it was not supported and therefore not useable with the new motherboard.

At the time of this build, Haswell was the latest generation of Intel desktop processor and we chose the fastest processor available at the time of building, the Intel Core i7-4771. Strangely, when purchasing parts, we noticed that for the same price, there was an i7-4770 model that was identical to the 4771 aside from being 100Mhz slower. For those wondering why not a 4790 or 4790K? They had yet to be released and this rebuild couldn’t be delayed.

The ASUS Z87-K motherboard was selected for its being a simple but effective board with enough fan headers for our radiator fans, AIO liquid cooling pump and hard drive bay fan, should one ever be used. We chose a Z series motherboard to make it very simple to upgrade processor to the 4790K down the road if the owner desired.

Speaking of radiator fans, the original fans sounded like a jet engine taking off (they really did!) and desperately needed to be replaced. Two Corsair SP120 quiet edition fans replaced the Delta’s and provided some much-needed silence. The SP120s were packaged with three plastic color rings (red, white & blue) that could be optionally installed. Red was selected to match the GPU shroud color.

16GB of Corsair Vengeance DDR3 RAM would provide enough headroom for the multitasking required in the video production and photo editing work environment. The 2x8GB kit we installed allowed for a second kit to be purchased in the future should the need arise to double the system memory to 32GB.

For a system heavily depended upon for its speed, the original 7200 RPM Seagate BarraCuda simply wouldn’t do. We tossed that for two 2.5” SSD’s, a 120GB Corsair Force GT and a 1TB Samsung 850 EVO. The Corsair Force GT housed the operating system and applications, while the 850 EVO contained data files. These were both mounted on WD Icepack frames, so they could fit in the Blackbird’s 3.5” hot swappable hard drive bay caddies.

An EVGA GTX 570 HD replaced the two 9800 GT’s. Quick fact: the HD version of the EVGA GTX 570 is slightly different from other models in that it is a shorter card without the vapor chamber cooler, cooled instead via a center placed fan. It also comes with Display-Port, an output option not available on the other GTX 570 models.

As mentioned, the included slim-slot DVD drive was not supported by the new motherboard, so we populated the front 5.25” drive bay with an ASUS DRW-24F1ST DVD-RW drive. One of the best features of the Blackbird is that most panels are hidden by default and the 5.25” is no exception. It is located to the left of the two slim-slot drive bays and is revealed by sliding its metal door to the left. A metal placeholder tray with plastic rails on both sides occupied the slot. To remove the tray, you must first unlock it by pulling on a small plastic piece located above the included tool on the inside of the case. The rails were removed from the tray and installed on the new drive, then we simply pushed it and locked it into place.

The original 900W Topower PowerBird was a bit long in the tooth and likely to be problematic in the future. We went ahead and replaced it with a much more efficient and appropriate Corsair RM750 Gold certified power supply. The RM750 was a very highly rated power supply unit with a superior warranty compared to its peers. We were able to re-use the existing (and neatly tied down) CPU and GPU power cables which made the upgrade even simpler.

Total Difference Maker

As expected, the SSDs made a world of difference in startup time for both Windows and the various Adobe Creative Cloud programs (After Effects, Audition, Lightroom, Premiere Pro & Photoshop). Between the new processor and having four times more system memory, rendering time for videos was substantially shorter.

Finally, the new fans made for a much quieter experience overall and we took a hammer to the old Deltas! In all seriousness, they were probably chosen for their low cost, no doubt HP got a great deal on a bulk order, but on a $5,000 to $10,000 PC they really should have included higher quality, quieter fans as low noise is a key reason many people are drawn to liquid cooling…

Conclusion

Having previously built in a Blackbird before, this upgrade took very little time yet was still a lot of fun and of course yielded a massive difference in performance for our customer. The Blackbird case still holds up to this day and maintains a feature set that makes it a special and unique case choice for those who can afford it. If you can snatch one online for a good price, it’s certainly worth upgrading and keeping or selling.

Build Gallery

Full Parts List: (Purchase On Amazon)