Welcome to our first review of a Digital Storm PC. Today in the lab we have the Digital Storm Bolt, a powerful small form-factor desktop designed and built just outside of Silicon Valley, California.
Normally when downsizing hardware, one would have to give up performance. With the Bolt, this isn't the case. While limited in expansion options, the Mini-ITX motherboard is fully capable of running a quad-core CPU and powerful video card.
Another fear when going to a small form-factor system is that components will be custom and proprietary. If this is the case, upgrading a system can prove difficult in the future. Luckily for us, the Digital Storm Bolt makes use of standard PC hardware.
We're also announcing a slight change to our desktop testing methodology. We have added Crysis 3 because there is no other game that can challenge a system as well as it can. Without further ado, let's check out just how well the Bolt performs.
Specifications, Configurations, Pricing
The Digital Storm Bolt we are reviewing today comes equipped with the Intel Core i7-3770K. This quad-core part features HyperThreading technology and comes clocked at 3.5GHz, though this speed can be easily increased by overclocking.
The 3770K processor is slotted into a GIGABYTE GA-Z77N-WIFI. This Mini-ITX motherboard features the Z77 chipset and onboard WiFi, allowing users to connect up to their home network from wherever they set up the Bolt.
RAM is provided by Corsair, with the system being equipped with 8GB of DDR3 1600MHz Vengeance RAM. Storage comes in the form of a 120GB Corsair Neutron GTX and a 500GB 7,200 RPM hard disk for mass storage.
Graphics are provided by an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 Ti 2GB video card. While not the most powerful NVIDIA card available, it will certainly manage to play most games without too much issue. The system is powered by a standard 500W 1U rack mount server power supply. Digital Storm is working on higher power PSUs that will be available as future upgrade options.
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit is the operating system pre-installed on our system. Windows 8 is also available for installation during the ordering process.
The cost for a system like this is $1,599, give or take a few dollars for sales and other discounts.
Configuration is somewhat limited due to the Bolt's small size. During purchase, users can pick from several different CPUs, storage options, and operating systems. Additionally, the Bolt can be equipped with nearly any NVIDIA GPU, including the newly released GEFORCE GTX Titan.
Packaging, Bundle, and System Pictures
The Digital Storm Bolt was shipped inside a plastic bag to help protect it from scratches and moisture. The wrapped PC was then suspended between foam blocks and placed inside a sturdy cardboard box.
Due to the fact the system is so small, most of the components are already tightly packed and did not need any special packaging. The box features a handle on top for easy carrying and the overall box is quite small.
The following pictures are of the system:
Left side of the system
Right side of the system
Front panel connectors
Tightly packed system components
Backside of the motherboard
Benchmarks and Testing Methodology
- CPU Tests
Cinebench R11.5 starts off our tests. The multi-threaded rendering test is ran and the score reported. wPrime is ran for both the 32M calculation and 1024M calculation with the number of threads available on the system.
- Storage Tests
CrystalDiskMark is run to put a number on how well the system hard disk drive / SSD runs. It measures five different metrics, of which higher is better for all. The higher the numbers, the snappier the operating system will feel, especially if the "4K" number is high, as most operating system files are small files.
HD Tune is run on any storage drives installed in the system. Maximum, minimum and average read and write speeds are reported in the charts.
- System Tests
PCMark 7 is run to get an overall idea of how the system performs as a whole. It tests all aspects of the PC and puts a score on how well it performs overall. In this test, a low scoring area can affect the overall score, so it's important to read the analysis. A higher score is better.
- Gaming Tests
3DMark Vantage is ran on the Extreme preset to get a feel for how the computer would manage gaming. The CPU, GPU and combined scores are reported. A higher overall score is the best and a high GPU or CPU score shows particular prowess with tasks that use that part of the computer.
3DMark 11 is run on the Extreme preset and the Physics, GPU and combined scores are reported. This test is only run if the system supports DirectX 11. A higher overall score is the target, though a high individual result shows prowess in a particular area.
3DMark- Fire Strike Extreme Test is run on the system to measure DirectX 11 performance and CPU performance. 3DMark is the latest version of Futuremark's widely used gaming benchmarking software. The combined, GPU, and Physics scores are all reported in the charts.
Battlefield 3 is run at 1920 x 1080 resolution with the graphics preset set to "Ultra." The test is ran three times due to higher variability than the other benchmarks. FRAPS is used to record 60 seconds worth of FPS data and recording starts when the character first picks up the gun at the start of the campaign and usually finishes shortly after the train explosion. The game is played in a similar manner each time.
Crysis 3 is run at 1920 x 1080 resolution with the graphics specifications set to "Very High." No anti-aliasing is used. See picture on actual test page to see full details. The test is run three times due to higher variability than the other benchmarks. FRAPS is used to record 60 seconds worth of FPS data and recording starts at the start of the campaign and finishes most of the way up the tower. The game is played in a similar manner each time.
- Heat, Noise, and Power Consumption
The system is fully loaded using Furmark and Prime 95. Component temperatures are recorded using CoreTemp and Furmark. Noise is recorded in front of the system, midway up, six inches from the machine using a decibel reader.
Idle power consumption is system consumption while sitting at the desktop, as recorded by a Kill-a-watt style meter. Loaded consumption is recorded during the load of Prime 95 and Furmark using the same meter.
Version and / or Patch Used: R11.5 build CB25720DEMO
Developer Homepage: http://www.maxon.net
Product Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/products/cinebench/overview.html
CINEBENCH is a real-world cross platform test suite that evaluates your computer's performance capabilities. CINEBENCH is based on MAXON's award-winning animation software CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more.
Since both systems in the chart above feature the same Intel Core i7-3770K, performance is pretty close to identical. The Bolt performs just slightly worse than the iBUYPOWER Chimera 4SE.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.09
Developer Homepage: http://www.wprime.net/
Product Homepage: http://www.wprime.net/
wPrime is a leading multithreaded benchmark for x86 processors that tests your processor performance by calculating square roots with a recursive call of Newton's method for estimating functions, with f(x)=x2-k, where k is the number we're sqrting, until Sgn(f(x)/f'(x)) does not equal that of the previous iteration, starting with an estimation of k/2. It then uses an iterative calling of the estimation method a set amount of times to increase the accuracy of the results. It then confirms that n(k)2=k to ensure the calculation was correct. It repeats this for all numbers from 1 to the requested maximum.
Again, the two systems perform pretty similarly due to the use of the same CPU. The Bolt again performs just slightly worse, producing a 32M time of 6.536 seconds and a 1024M time of 202.521 seconds.
Version and / or Patch Used: 3.0 Technical Preview
Developer Homepage: http://www.crystalmark.info
Product Homepage: http://crystalmark.info/software/CrystalDiskMark/index-e.html
Download here: http://crystaldew.info/category/software/crystaldiskmark
CrystalDiskMark is a disk benchmark software that allows us to benchmark 4K and 4K queue depths with accuracy.
* Sequential reads/writes
* Random 4KB/512KB reads/writes
* Text copy
* Change dialog design
* internationalization (i18n)
Note: Crystal Disk Mark 3.0 Technical Preview was used for these tests since it offers the ability to measure native command queuing at 4 and 32.
The Digital Storm Bolt's Corsair SSD proves to be quite speedy, easily beating out the iBUYPOWER Chimera in read speed. The Bolt posts an impressive 497.7 MB/s sequential read speed.
Write speed is equally impressive, with the Bolt again beating out the iBUYPOWER Chimera. The Corsair SSD puts up sequential read speeds of 319.3 MB/s, double that of the Chimera's SSD.
Version and / or Patch Used: 5.00
Developer Homepage: http://www.efdsoftware.com
Product Homepage: http://www.hdtune.com
HD Tune is a Hard Disk utility which has the following functions:
Benchmark: measures the performance
Info: shows detailed information
Health: checks the health status by using SMART
Error Scan: scans the surface for errors
HD Tune Pro gives us accurate read, write and access time results and for the last couple of years has been gaining popularity amongst reviewers. It is now considered a must have application for storage device testing.
While the Bolt's SSD may be speedy, the mechanical drive equipped for mass storage proves to be not as quick. It manages to produce an average read speed of 113.4MB/s, which is beat by the Chimera's 155.4MB/s.
Just like the read test above, the write speeds prove to be slower on the Bolt's mechanical drive.
Version and / or Patch Used: 22.214.171.124
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.pcmark.com/benchmarks/
PCMark 7 is a great utility for testing a PC's all-around capabilities. It tests all aspects of the computer, from graphics performance to hard disk performance and attempts to put a score on it, which is not an easy task.
A respectable score of 5952 is garnered in the PCMark 7 test. It falls in line just behind the iBUYPOWER Chimera, whose score of 6237 was likely helped by the dual GTX 680's in SLI.
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.3dmark.com/3dmarkvantage
3DMark Vantage tests both processor and graphics performance and is a good indication of how systems compare. The results are generally more repeatable and consistent than other forms of benchmarking. Vantage uses DirectX 10 and can handle multi-core CPUs.
The Bolt is easily outclassed by the more expensive and larger iBUYPOWER Chimera. Diving into the individual results, you can see that the two systems score nearly identical CPU scores, which is to be expected. The 660 Ti never stood a chance against dual 680s.
Version and / or Patch Used: 126.96.36.199
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.3dmark.com/3dmark11
3DMark 11 is the latest version of the world's most popular benchmark. Designed to measure your PC's gaming performance 3DMark 11 makes extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to consistently and reliably test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.
Same thing as the Vantage test above occurs. The CPU scores of the two systems are nearly identical, while the Bolt gets outclassed and outmuscled by dual 680s.
3DMark - Fire Strike Extreme
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/3dmark
Fire Strike is a new test that is designed for powerful gaming desktops. We have checked the "Extreme" test option to make it that much more torturing on the system. Overall, CPU, and GPU scores are reported.
Here again, the CPU performs like a top-notch competitor. It is one of the best CPUs on the market and the tests continue to show it's a great choice for a gaming PC. This test also shows that the 660 Ti isn't the most powerful GPU in town. However, it also shows it's no slouch.
Developer Homepage: http://www.dice.se/
Product Homepage: http://www.battlefield.com/battlefield3
Battlefield 3 is one of the most requested benchmarks, so we have finally added it. Frame rates are recorded for 60 seconds starting in the first part of campaign when the character picks up the gun and is played through until just after the train explodes. The game is played three times in that manner with the results being averaged together and reported.
Settings are 1920x1080 for the resolution with the "Graphics Quality" set to Ultra.
It's not a completely fair fight to compare these two systems directly. However, the Bolt shows that it is capable of playing Battlefield 3 at high quality settings and resolution without any issues. The minimum observed frame rate was 49, which is enough to maintain the illusion of motion.
Developer Homepage: http://crytek.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.crysis.com/us/crysis-3
Crysis 3 is run at 1920 x 1080 resolution with the graphics specifications set to "Very High." No anti-aliasing is used. See picture above for full details. The test is run three times due to higher variability than the other benchmarks. FRAPS is used to record 60 seconds worth of FPS data and recording starts at the start of the campaign and finishes most of the way up the tower. The game is played in a similar manner each time.
Since this is our first system to be tested with Crysis, we don't have anything to offer up in comparison quite yet. The most important takeaway from this benchmark is that Bolt proves it is up to the task when it comes to Crysis 3. Considering that the Bolt is capable of being equipped with an even more powerful GPU, players shouldn't worry about being able to take on the latest games.
Temperatures, Noise and Power Consumption
Temperatures, Cooling, Noise
The system is fully loaded using Furmark and Prime 95, similar to our laptop testing. The sound recordings are made in front of the machine, about six inches from the center of the tower. Temperatures are reported as recorded by CoreTemp and Furmark.
Even though the Digital Storm Bolt is quite a bit smaller than the iBUYPOWER Chimera 4SE, it manages to keep the exact same CPU quite a bit cooler. In our testing, the Bolt's CPU achieved a maximum temperature of 79 degree Celsius.
The Bolt put out a maximum of 49 decibels during this test. During normal use, the system would have trouble reaching this sort of sound output because it will rarely be as loaded as it is for our test.
Power consumption is measured while the system is loaded for the temperature test and while sitting idle at the desktop. Measurement is taken at the wall, so it includes everything running in the system, not including the monitor.
At idle, the machine draws 62 watts. This means it's about the same as leaving one incandescent light bulb running. During a full load, system energy draw spikes to 286 watts. This means the system has plenty of headroom for a future GPU upgrade.
Let's take a look at what we've just seen in the benchmarks. The Digital Storm Bolt is just slightly larger than your everyday gaming console, yet its performance is many times higher. This system would be a great option for a HTPC and could easily replace your PlayStation 3 if configured with the optional Blu-ray drive.
While this system does offer fewer configuration options than others available, it does offer some unique advantages over those others. For one, the Bolt's case is a completely custom designed by Digital Storm.
While we're on the topic of a completely custom case, let's note that it doesn't have all of the fit and finish of the mass produced cases on the market. Don't get me wrong, it looks great and feels solid. However, I did run into some slight clearance issues when trying to open and close the case. It's not a massive problem as most people won't be going in and out of their case daily. It is worth noting that some slight tweaking of the side panel was required to get it to slide off. Other than that, the custom case is awesome.
Users who place their system on their desk will also benefit from the small footprint presented by this pint-sized machine. They will not have to sacrifice performance in order to reclaim their desk space. As the owner of a PC in a giant CoolerMaster HAF 932, I know this fact all too well. It will also be easy to move around, which is especially good if you are someone who enjoys LAN parties.
Our review system came with an NVIDIA 660 Ti, which isn't the fastest video card around. However, the system can be customized with an NVIDIA 680, GTX Titan or upgraded at a later time as money and needs dictate.
But now we need to bring the price into the discussion. Coming in at $1,599, I would have liked to see the system come with a slightly better video card. Toss in a GTX 670 into this machine and Digital Storm has themselves a real winner on their hands. With the current 660 Ti, I'm not as sure I could justify $1,600.
If we add in the customer support, cable management, and incredible form factor that Digital Storm has achieved, the price starts to become a bit easier to swallow. All-in-all, the Digital Storm Bolt feels like a solid, quality machine. It managed to survive our benchmarks, which isn't an easy task.
Next time you're in the market for a new small form-factor desktop, the Bolt should definitely be on your list of systems to take a look at. Ultimately you'll need to see if the somewhat limited configuration options allow you the flexibility you require.