Listen. Do you hear that yowling?No. That’s not your neighbor’s cat in heat. It’s mainstream computer makers taking a gander at the latest margin figures on PCs.
With the average price of a computer hovering around US$675 and the probability that $250 “system specials” will be needed to boost holiday sales, manufacturers are wringing their hands and covering eroding margins by increasing sales volumes.
But there’s one group of computer makers — computer artists really — who remain insulated from the turmoil in the commodity PC market. While the names of companies like Voodoo PC, Falcon NW, Hypersonic PC and Alienware may sound like European soccer clubs to many computer users, among the digirati their reputations are as true blue as IBM.
Psychographics? What’s That?
The enterprises are commonly connected to gamers, a demanding lot who hunger for not only raw computing power but technological flair. But according to Voodoo President and CTO Rahul Sood, the appeal of the luxury desktops and notebooks goes beyond Doom players.
“The high-end market, for us, is not just about gaming,” Sood told me. “There’s a select clientele that wants the ability to buy a personal computer that has more of a personalized experience to it.”
“We’re not dealing with a specific demographic,” he said. “We’re dealing with a psychographic. We’re dealing with 15-year-olds who want the greatest system and save every last penny to buy it, or the 50-year-old lawyer, doctor, who just wants the best technology that they can possible get.”
Bavaria Blue Candy
Although neither lawyer nor doctor, I suppose I fit into that latter category. And after taking one of the Canadian firm’s latest high-performance laptops for a test drive, it’s easy to understand why top-shelf buyers shop at boutiques like Voodoo.
My review unit was the Envy 538, a middleweight notebook weighing in at about six pounds and, in the configuration sent me, sells for $2832.
At first sight, it was obvious this was no ordinary computer. Its case was blue — Bavaria blue candy, to be exact, a kind of sparkling metallic sapphire, the kind of color that once seen, isn’t forgotten. Color gives machines in this market a special elan. Among the other colors offered by Voodoo are talladega black, monaco yellow, imola pearl orange and monza olive.
In addition to distinctive colors, Voodoo will personalize a customer’s laptop with a “tattoo.” “There’s a famous baseball player that plays for the Red Sox, and he buys a lot of his PCs from us,” Sood noted. “He recently bought a notebook for his son and had his son’s name put on it in a tattoo.”
Sizzle With Meat
Needless to say, the Envy’s cosmetics make it sizzle, but its good looks are complemented by plenty of meat.
The unit is built around the AMD Turion mobile processor. My review model had the ML-40 version of the chip. It runs at 2.19 gigahertz and speedily dispatched any mundane office tasks that I sent its way.
Some luxury laptop makers beef up the performance of their hardware by using desktop chips in their notebooks. There are obvious disadvantages to that. Desktop chips suck up juice so battery life is paltry. The chips also need larger boxes to accommodate their cooling demands.
Those disadvantages can be addressed by mobile processors like the Turion and Intel’s Pentium M, but in the past, those CPUs didn’t have the muscle of their desktop kin. That’s not the case anymore, asserts Sood.
“We’ve done tests on mobile processors versus desktop processors, and the performance is pretty much identical,” he said. “The mobile processors have just gotten better and better.”
Because the Envy has a cooler running mobile processor, Voodoo designers could crank up the unit’s graphics. It has an ATI Mobility Radeon x700 card with 128 megabytes of video memory.
Accompanying its brawny graphics is a gorgeous wide-format display. It measures 15.4 inches diagonally and has an eye-popping native resolution of 1900-by-1200 pixels.
Without a doubt, this middleweight notebook is a heavyweight in the performance department.
Bring On Dell
The cozy niche that Voodoo and its kind have carved for themselves in the market hasn’t gone unnoticed by at least one major computer maker. Dell recently launched its XPS line of desktops and notebooks, which have more sass and brass than a typical commodity offering.
“There’s no question that Dell is being real aggressive about it,” Sood observed. “But what Dell cannot compete in is in the level of personalization and the customer experience that we offer.”
In other words, none of Voodoo’s customer service reps live in India.
John Mello is a freelance business and technology writer who can be reached at [email protected].
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