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Interview with Darwin Machines founder Matthew Kim

Every now and then you find a product that stops you in the tracks and turns your head. Something that breaks the mould. Immediately, you know that it will split the audience.If you want to generate fierce love and passion – you also risk alienating people and attracting haters.

KitGuru decided to get up close and personal with mould-breaker Matthew Kim and his evolutionary visions.

Given the history between the two nations 800 years ago, Matthew has an unusual heritage – being of Korean heritage but born in Japan.

Like many young boys, he spent hours drawing cars. The difference being that Matthew took this passion for design through to adulthood. Initially training as an architect, working for several large companies, he kept working on designs for cars – even starting up a small company to create improved suspension systems for racing cars. He holds a patent on a system that allows the front wheels of a sports car to turn in like a motorcycle. Interesting stuff.

Having a solid design engineering background has helped Matthew Kim

His first PC was far from being a pure-sports-OC-monster rig, it was actually a Goupil Club. Nope. We’ve never heard of it either!  However, KitGuru is a master researcher and we quickly discovered that it was a re-badged Kaypro 2000.

This was state of the art. Apparently.

As a designer, we’d expect Matthew to be drawn to the dark side (Apples and such), and we were not disappointed. His first mod saw a Mac Quicksilver [Power Mac G4 methinks – Ed] being eviscerated – and then resealed with PC components inside. In keeping with the horror of what he’d done, he dubbed this new monster, Zombie. To be honest, we now wish we'd asked what the ‘red missile control switch' actually does.

Re-built from the insides out. Zombie Nation.

Then came a moment of revelation – DARWINmachine. We can only imagine how happy Matthew must have been when he went running to his browser to check if the domain was available as a .com – and it was.

In a nutshell, evoluton is all about “natural selection to create a non-reproducing pattern”, where each generation of a design improves on the previous one – creating something new and slightly different in the process. Each stage may not be a winner, but with skill and hard work – you can end up with something stunning that would not have been possible ‘in a single leap’. That's the text book definition.

Anyone who's seen Alien Resurrection will agree that Sigourney looked better by ‘version 8'.

We'd definitely step over versions 1 to 7, for number 8

OK, so that brings us to the reason we asked Matthew to interview for KitGuru, the DARWINmachine Hammerhead.

DARWINmachine Hammerhead HMR989? We love it. Simply love it.

Love it or hate it, believe that it’s revolutionary or a simple dust magnet, it’s certainly original – and that’s something to be applauded in a world of generic systems produced by faceless corporations.

So where did the inspiration come from?  “From racing cars, like Formula 1”, replies Kim. “On an open wheel race car, everything is accessible and adjustable – making quick tuning adjustments a snap”.

“DARWINmachine continues to evolve”, he explained. “Every iteration has minor improvements and, every now and then, there is a mutation into a new model”.

From white paper to full production. Impressive stuff Matthew Kim.

So how many people are working on these at the moment?  “I actually work alone, but when things get overwhelming I outsource”, said Kim.

Outside the US of A, DARWINmachine's chassis are purchased by customers as far away as Japan, France and the United Arab Emirates – like Dubai and Abu Dhabi. His designs are already being used by State-side companies like Pure PC (more on them later), so considering how small Kim’s cost base is – we’d like to assume that the company is doing well and we can look forward to more designs. We put this to Kim.

“I’ve been working on a new chassis called the Evolver”, said Kim. “Compared to the hammerhead, it’s smaller and lighter – but without its flexibility”.

“The DARWINmachine Evolver is more suited to people who prefer very simple builds – for example systems you can take to LAN parties”, explained Kim.

So when does it launch? “It’s just been released!”

Anyone can have a 'one hit wonder' - but KitGuru thinks that hitting 2 amazing designs in a row is a sign of true genius. For us, the DARWINmachine Evolver VLR797 is a proper design.

Without wishing him to give away trade secrets, we pushed him for a little more of the ‘Kim Roadmap’ and he obliged.

“Further down the line, I am working on something called the Mantaray”, said Kim. “So stay tuned”.

Tuned. Racing pun. Nice.

Going back to the DARWINmachine Hammerhead, we were interested in heat/dust issues. Kim gave us a quick tour of the system, his choices in terms of design and materials – and an idea of how they impact real world performance.

“I actually think water cooling is really cool, but I haven't had a need to use it so far”, said Kim. “The Hammerhead's aircraft aluminium backbone acts as a giant heat sink.  Even without additional case fans, the CPU runs between 20~40C.  It's also quiet at 30db”.

“Regarding dust, accumulation on the Hammerhead is not as big problem as one might think.  First, since all the components are easily accessible, they are very easy to clean. Second, all of the components are mounted vertically to reduce horizontal surfaces that can accumulate dust. “Ever notice how dust gathers on bookshelves but not so much on books?” Kim pointed out.

“Third, the open chassis design keeps air flowing smoothly with minimal turbulence.  In contrast, a closed PC case has lots of turbulence inside.  The inside of a rectangular box is not the most aerodynamic space.  Case fans pushing air inside cause eddies and stagnant areas where dust will accumulate”, said Kim.

To be honest, if you had something as cool-looking as a Hammerhead, why would you even want to worry about dust settling on it anyway? You just KNOW that you’re going to be cleaning it – often and with pleasure.

Kim made a point of telling us that his ‘ideal system’ had yet to be created – but that it IS on the cards. No mention of time scale yet.

DARWINmachine mock up. We suspect that Matthew has, indeed, seen Star Wars.

Like many KitGuru readers, Kim indicated that he’s been Intel-only for a while, but will consider the 8-core Bulldozer parts when they arrive shortly. In terms of graphics, he moves back and forth between Radeon and GeForce – according to who has the best performance at the time. Again, a very popular choice with KitGuru readers.

OK, so Kim creates his race-inspired slick-machine, what does he play on it?   Well, he confessed to KitGuru that his favourite game is Eve Online – but his second favourite is StarCraft II (how could a Korean guy possibly resist!).

When he’s smashing up the universe, he occasionally plugs in a R.A.T 5 mouse for added accuracy. Games need to be played with full sensory input, so sweaty headphones are given a miss and big speakers favoured instead.

Just a little look into the character of the chap who created the Hammerhead, we asked about his own cars, food and music interests – and we can integrate his replies into a single thought…

Kim loves the idea of a fresh seafood dinner, then tanking along a fast road in a Honda S2000 with mellow jazz flowing from the speakers.

KitGuru says: As well as being friendly and talented, Matthew Kim is working hard to innovate in a largely flat market. This is something that we respect and applaud. More power to the intelligent independents like DARWINmachine !

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