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Former HP CEO Mark Hurd might have been known for his ruthless cost-cutting, but he had an eye for clever acquisitions. So much so that he approved buying VoodooPC, a niche high-end PC manufacturer, in 2006 to bring the cool factor back to HP’s computer design.

But now that Hurd has left for greener pastures, VoodooPC founder Rahul Sood is taking his leave from HP as its CTO of global gaming to get back to doing what he loves — developing and manufacturing gaming computers.

“I can’t wait to be directly involved in a product pipeline again,” Sood said in a blog post announcing his departure. “Nothing motivates me more than when I’m empowered to make big bets and help to create awesome products just as we did throughout most of my career.”

HP had lagged behind Apple in designing sleek and aesthetically appealing computers. The company has since invested heavily in industrial design. Before HP bought Voodoo in 2006, the small Canadian PC maker specialized in custom-designed computers with hand-painted cases. Big-spending gamers happily bought about 100 of the machines each month for as much as $5,000.

VoodooPC took over the design direction of HP’s computers. But as the recession took hold, Hurd set a plan to slash 7.5 percent of the company’s workforce over three years and cut costs significantly, and HP stopped making the $5,000 gaming computers that Voodoo was known for and folded Voodoo PC’s design philosophy into its other computers. The Envy laptop computer launched last year was a Voodoo-designed response to Apple’s lightweight MacBook Air. Now the Envy brand name has been extended to the HP laptop product line. HP also launched the Blackbird desktop computer, also marketed toward gamers.

With Sood’s departure, HP loses a good bit of gaming street cred. The next question is whether will HP hold onto the industrial design and gaming philosophy that VoodooPC and Sood brought to the company’s computer manufacturing process. Hurd left a legacy of ruthless cost-cutting — and a successful track record to go with it. He managed to grow HP from $80 billion in revenue to $115 billion in revenue, enabled it to surpass IBM as the top tech company and he doubled its number of employees.

Without Hurd’s penchant for gaming and amiable relationship with Sood, HP might abandon that altogether. That would mean the company would return to producing its bland, cheaper laptops and computers and cede the “cool” laptop design space to Apple. Of course, HP has plenty of talented industrial designers. But the risk of losing people like Sood is clear.


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