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Hot Soup: Tube rock

By SoupIsGood Food, (soup@macedition.com), June 14, 2002

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AOpen has created a thing of sheer, lunatic beauty with its AX4B-533 Tube motherboard. It’s a Pentium 4 motherboard with, I kid you not, a vacuum tube socketed onto it. Yes, a vacuum tube, like the ones ENIAC was made out of. It’s apparently part of the onboard audio system.

Whether or not the virtues of the vacuum tube in high-end audiophile equipment are imaginary or not, it is a Really Nifty Thing, and so will sell by the bucketload to technofetishists everywhere. This will be quadruply true to the “case mod” scene, where the inclusion of glass and things that glow is par for the course. If Asus can squeeze an extra coupl’a bucks from these guys with a Limited Edition Black Pearl motherboard, its primary virtue being a circuit board dyed black instead of the more traditional brown or green, then the same crowd will go berserk for the chance to show off a vacuum tube.

People can see it through the custom Plexiglas window cut into the side of the case. Its warm orange glow will illuminate the graphics card and the solid-state cryogenic cooler fixed to the processor. The heat it throws off as it reaches optimal operating temperature will have to be countered by a jaw-dropping array of blowhole cut-outs, high-powered silent fans and custom grills. Since this is an audiophile system, the case will need sound deadening, silent power supplies, round IDE cables and rubber bushings aplenty. In short, this is the ultimate must-have for every DIY hardware geek, whether they be silent-system freaks or fans-and-neon nerds. It means all of their hard work means something, that it’s not just tinkering for a dubious aesthetic effect! Sure.

Tubes rock! If you want to make a mint, round up some startup capital and engineer a PCI soundcard with an onboard tube pre-amp. This means the modders can use it with their Limited Edition Black Pearl motherboard and a viciously overclocked Athlon instead of the pedestrian Pentium 4, and without subjecting themselves to AOpen’s dubious reputation for quality. You can also sell them to Mac users who are tube-aholics, though Mac modders are not as prevalent and have different sensibilities than their PeeCee brethren.

Mac users have long had the case-mod bug, ages before the PeeCee hoi polloi dared to violate the high-tech sanctity of the beige box. There were painting services for the original “Mac-in-a-Box” Macintosh models, and all through the ’80s and ’90s, people were stuffing their Mac innards into interesting objects and taking spray paint to their PowerBooks. Then along came the iMac and the Power Mac G3, with jaw-dropping blue and white translucent plastics, and we just didn’t see the point of radical case-modding anymore. These days, we content ourselves with the extremely cool Mac Skinz and the occasional light show. On the other hand, the TiBook screams for someone to strip the paint from it and to give it a good anodizatio n, and the Xserve is in dire and desperate need for a giant window lit with blue neon to show off those four drives and two G4s. Be the first on your block – warranties are for wimps!

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