|Introduction & Specifications|
How do you make the experience of buying from a boutique system builder easier than it already is? If you're Digital Storm, you answer that question by offering a line of pre-configured machines that are fully loaded to meet your budget and ready to ship in 72 hours. Not only do you save the time and energy required to build your own system from scratch, you also skip the exercise in picking out each individual component and then crossing your fingers hoping you've made solid selections. Owning a high performance gaming system doesn't get any easier, and though it's true you rob yourself of the fun and geek XP points that comes from building your own box, not everyone is down with getting knee deep in a pile of parts and putting them together. Buying from a boutique builder is easy enough, but even then, if you don't have the requisite knowledge (or patience) to research the proper parts for your budget, you can still end up with a sub par rig even though it was professionally built.
Digital Storm's ODE line provides an alternative while simultaneously catering to impatient gamers of any budget, provided the budget begins at $1,515, which is the cost of a 'Level 1' (dubbed 'Good') system, and ends at $3,479, which is how much a Level 4 (Ultimate) system commands. In between are Level 2 (Better, $1,999) and Level 3 (Best, $2,399) configurations, all of which are pre-assembled with hand-picked components to get you fragging opponents as quickly as possible. Other than adding accessories such as a monitor or keyboard, there's nothing to configure. It's all been done for you, by Digital Storm, and each Level is supposed to represent the ideal combination at each respective price point.
Being the performance junkies that we are, Digital Storm opted to send us their top-of-the-line Level 4 configuration outfitted with an overclocked Intel Core i7 3930K processor cooled by a Corsair H100 liquid CPU cooler, 16GB of Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1600 memory, a 120GB Corsair Force GT solid state drive (flanked by a 1TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 drive for storage chores), two AMD Radeon HD 7970 graphics cards sitting pretty in Crossfire, a Blu-ray reader, and other odds and ends wrapped in an attractive Corsair Graphite Series 600T white mid-tower chassis with LED lighting.
As a Seth Rogan lookalike narrates in the video above, Digital Storm's claim to excellence is that it "doesn't charge massive premiums for boutique quality or cut corners" in order to sell comparatively value priced systems based on what other boutique builders charge. But is it a fair claim? You better believe it. Sure, the average Joe isn't going to drop $3,479 on a system, but there are a number of gamers who would, and Digital Storm isn't taking advantage of the ones who do. We selected the same parts from a reliable online vendor and it tipped the scales at around $3,100. So in other words, you're only paying a premium of around $379 for a silly fast system that's been pre-assembled, overclocked, burned-in for 72 hours, and tidied up on the inside, plus is backed by a 3-year warranty and lifetime U.S.-based technical support.
Of course, all of those warm fuzzies quickly disappear if Digital Storm does a poor job at picking out parts and putting them together, but rather than drop the ball, they hit it out of the park with the system they sent us. Let's break it down.
|Overall Design & Layout|
|All four pre-configured ODE systems ship in a Corsair Graphite Series 600T mid-tower computer case dressed in white with black trim. It's elegant and clean cut, and just aggressive enough to appeal to gamers without scaring away more conservative customers with gaudy looks. Our only real complaint about the aesthetic is the odd combination of LED lights. The front of the chassis sports a large blue LED fan while the main side panel glows red from a pair of light strips nestled inside. These two colors don't naturally complement each other, unless they appear in your rear-view mirror as you're speeding down the highway.
The 600T makes liberal use of plastic mesh on the front, side, and top to facilitate airflow. Each main piece is easily removable without any tools -- simply press and eject the mesh from each section should you need to clear out any dust bunnies. There are also plenty of cooling fans to keep the components from getting too hot under the collar. Two front 200mm fans blow air over the storage and optical drives, four 120mm fans arranged in a square matrix on the side panel keep a steady flow of wind over the main parts, and a rear 120mm exhaust fan expels hot air from the system.
An LG Blu-ray reader/DVD writer comes pre-installed in the ODE Level 4 system, and adding more optical drives is a tool-less endeavor. Back in the day, we would liked to have seen dual optical drives for making disc-to-disc backups, but in today's streaming landscape where Steam and iTunes rule the world, this is no longer much of an issue.
It's worth mentioning that the 600T is a non-glossy computer case. The tradeoff is that it isn't as flashy, and in exchange, it doesn't pick up fingerprints like high-gloss finishes do.
On top is a circular fan-speed dial to control all those fans we just talked about, though don't be fooled into thinking you can run quiet with a twist of the wrist. Even when we set the dial as low as it would go, the fans on the dual Radeon HD 7970 graphics cards made their presence constantly known, like two obnoxious bachelors crashing a wedding party. The noise level is fine for gaming, and even general purpose computing if you don't mind a minor windstorm, but it's definitely not suited for HTPC chores (nor was it designed to be) or other quiet computing environments.
Also on top are four USB 2.0 ports, a single USB 3.0 port, and both headphone and microphone jacks, plus the power and reset buttons.
Turning our attention to the backside, which is something our wandering eyes like to do, we can see the many ports that the Asus P9X79 Deluxe motherboard packs. If you don't want to take stock of them all on your own, then take our word that it includes four USB 2.0 ports, half a dozen USB 3.0 ports, a pair of powered eSATA ports, optical S/PDIF, six audio jacks, two GbE LAN ports, a Bluetooth module, Wi-Fi antenna port, and a USB BIOS Flashback button in case you muck things up in the BIOS.
You'll also find connectivity ports on both graphics cards and two rubberized water cooling in/outlets. Below them all is a Corsair 1050HX power supply that, like the videocards, blows hot air directly out the back of the chassis.
Tearing away either side panel is a cinch -- just press down on the two quick-release buttons and pull the panel away. It's the same for both the left and right side, and it's a good idea to do this from time to time in order to clean out any dust that might have accumulated, especially with the amount of air blowing through this system.
Popping off the main side panel reveals Digital Storm's pristine case wiring job. Cables are bundled together and tucked neatly out of sight, most of which have been routed to the other side of the case behind the motherboard. If you happen to be new to PCs, the reason this is important is because cable clutter can impede airflow, leading to hotter running components and, in extreme cases, part failures. Cluttered cables can also cause turbulence within a system, which will increase noise levels somewhat.
Peeking at the inside also gives us a glimpse of the Corsair H100 liquid CPU cooler that's installed. This consists of a low-profile CPU cooler that whisks heat away from the processor to a 240mm radiator equipped with two 120mm fans on the top of the chassis. Digital Storm overclocks its ODE systems up to 4.4GHz, a nice boost that's made possible because of the H100 liquid cooler.
|PCMark & 3DMark Tests|
To kick things off, we fired up Futuremark's system performance benchmark, PCMark Vantage. This synthetic benchmark suite simulates a range of real-world scenarios and workloads, stressing various system subsets in the process. Everything you'd want to do with your PC -- watching HD movies, music compression, image editing, gaming, and so forth -- is represented here, and most of the tests are multi-threaded, making this a good indicator of all-around performance.
We expected Digital Storm's system to come out of the gate fast and furious, but for whatever reason, it stumbled a bit at the start line. By itself the score isn't bad, but there's really no reason why it should trail the iBuyPower Erebus GT system with a similar solid state drive, less powerful CPU, and just a single videocard. We ran the benchmark multiple times to rule out any user-side hiccups, and it posted similar scores each time. As you'll discover as we walk through the remaining benchmarks, our PCMark Vantage run is an anomaly and not an indicator of things to come.
Here we see things start to stabilize. The Digital Storm system posted a score that's less than 1,000 points lower than Maingear's monster rig with three videocards, a faster clocked processor, and two solid state drives in a RAID 0 configuration. That system also costs more than twice as much as the ODE Level 4.
The latest version of Futuremark's synthetic 3D gaming benchmark, 3DMark11, is specifically bound to Windows Vista and 7-based systems because it uses the advanced visual technologies that are only available with DirectX 11, which isn't available on previous versions of Windows. 3DMark11 isn't simply a port of 3DMark Vantage to DirectX 11, though. With this latest version of the benchmark, Futuremark has incorporated four new graphics tests, a physics tests, and a new combined test. We tested the graphics cards here with 3DMark11's Performance preset option, as well as ran the system through a 3DMark Vantage run, which focuses on DirectX 10.
Here's the first glimpse of what will become a recurring theme. At $3,479, Digital Storm's ODE Level 4 puts up numbers within range of Maingear's $7,750 system, illustrating what's known as the point of diminishing returns. You can certainly spend far more on a system if you want to -- and Digital Storm will happily oblige, if that's your goal, with a Level 4 Aventum rig starting at $7,856 -- but in terms of bang-for-buck, the ODE Level 4 is at or near the end of the road where spending any more won't deliver the same leap in performance as upgrading from a lower-end configuration.
This is a faster score than most gamers are likely to see in 3DMark Vantage's Extreme preset for a long, long time. That's because the majority of gamers aren't running dual high-end graphics cards.
Here's a better demonstration of our point about diminishing returns. As configured, the iBuyPower Erebus GT we recently reviewed carried a $2,499 MSRP. Digital Storm's ODE Level 4 is $980 more expensive, or just shy of 40 percent, but offers a 100 percent performance gain in 3DMark 11, which is designed to measure gaming performance.
Now compare the Level 4 to Maingear's system. Digital Storm's setup costs half as much, yet is less than 33 percent slower in this benchmark.
3DMark 11's Extreme preset is pretty hard on systems, but the combination of an overclocked CPU, two graphics cards, and a fast SSD help the ODE Level 4 cruise right through the benchmark with a score of 5,384.
|SiSoft Sandra & Cinebench|
|We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, Physical Disks).
Digital Storm didn't quite post record-setting performance figures in SiSoft Sandra's processor tests, but it wasn't far from it. Our system shipped with a factory overclock to 4.4GHz, giving the Core i7 3930K additional processing oomph. We should also point out that we never ran into any stability issues or quirky behavior, which is a testament to Digital Storm's 72-hour burn-in period to root out any faulty components or unstable overclocks.
Bandwidth is about where we would expect for 16GB of DDR3-1600MHz memory, which is very good. So is the disk score. Corsair's Force Series GT SSD is a screamer, as evidenced by our Sandra benchmark run and subjective analysis of overall performance and system snappiness.
Maxon's Cinebench R11.5 benchmark is based on Maxon's Cinema 4D software used for 3D content creation chores and tests both the CPU and GPU in separate benchmark runs. On the CPU side, Cinebench renders a photorealistic 3D scene by tapping into up to 64 processing threads (CPU) to process more than 300,000 total polygons, while the GPU benchmark measures graphics performance by manipulating nearly 1 million polygons and huge amounts of textures.
Digital Storm's ODE Level 4 is only the second system we've played with to turn the tables on the notoriously brutal Cinebench benchmark. The dual high-performance Radeon HD 7970 graphics cards wield an awful lot of pixel processing power, and though the color accuracy isn't as tight as professional/workstation-grade graphics cards, you could certainly get away with doing design work and other intensive chores typically reserved for workstations.
|Gaming: Far Cry 2, Just Cause 2, L4D2, and Lost Planet 2|
The ODE Level 4 should ship with a white glove to slap yourself with if you decide to play primarily older DirectX 10 titles like Far Cry 2. All that horsepower underneath is laid to waste if you're not playing more modern and demanding titles, but when you do take a trip down memory lane (or replay classics in anticipation of a new release, like the upcoming Far Cry 3 title), you can expect blistering fast performance.
Just Cause 2 is a little more demanding than Far Cry 2, but not by much. Here again we see the ODE Level 4 cruise through the benchmark run.
Yet another mild benchmark, the only time the ODE Level 4 dipped below 300fps in Left 4 Dead 2 was at a 2560x1600 screen resolution with all the eye candy turned up. That doesn't mean you won't still turn into a zombie snack, but if you do get killed by the undead, you won't be able to blame it on dropped frames.
Lost Planet 2 is a DirectX 11 benchmark that makes lesser systems sweat, but even at 2560x1600 with all of the visual quality settings cranked to the max, Digital Storm's ODE Level 4 manages silky smooth framerates with plenty of room to spare. It's also interesting to note that there's not much of a performance hit from dialing down antialiasing from 8x to 4x.
|Gaming: Metro 2033, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., and Batman Arkham City|
This is another great example of the point of diminishing returns we talked about earlier. When we tested Maingear's $7,570 system, it pulled 60.67fps in Metro 2033 at 2560x1600 with the settings maxed out. For less than half the price, Digital Storm's ODE Level 4 managed 54.33fps. You can certainly configure a higher end system, through Digital Storm or elsewhere on the Web, but in this case we're talking about a 6fps difference.
Even at $3,479, the ODE Level 4 might be out of your price range. But if you can swing it, this is the type of performance gain you can expect over less expensive gaming systems.
One of the few games that seems to hold a grudge against systems with multiple AMD graphics cards in a Crossfire configuration is Batman: Arkham City. Performance just doesn't scale the way it should, or really much at all. There have been updated drivers since we last ran this benchmark in a prior review, but they didn't make a difference. Nevertheless, there's still enough under the hood here to run the game at a high resolution with all the settings turned up and still get better-than-playable framerates.
|Power Consumption & Noise|
|As a pre-configured system that's ready to ship right after a 72-hour burn-in period, you can't customize Digital Storm's ODE line and upgrade to a bigger power supply. However, the Level 4 systems ships with a Corsair HX1050 PSU, a modular unit with lots of wattage and 80 Plus Silver certification.
This is a beefy PSU with a single +12V rail delivering up to 87.5 amps. It sports a low-noise design and is generally considered one of the better power supplies on the market.
We used SeaSonic's Power Angel Power Meter to measure the amount of power our test system pulled from the wall. You'll find three figures below: power supply's maximum rated wattage, peak power consumption under a full CPU/GPU load, and how much the system pulled from the wall when idle, following a fresh system boot.
We measured the ODE Level 4 after it had been running idle for about half-an-hour and our Power Angel showed it was staying steady at 208W. That's not bad for a rig of this caliber. We then forced the system on an all-out sprint with a potentially lethal combination of Prime95 (stresses the CPU) and FurMark (stresses the GPUs) that you shouldn't try at home (we're not joking -- running these programs in tandem for an extend period of time can kill your components if you're not careful).
The result is that we recorded a peak power output of 1,019W, while the load held fairly steady at around 1,007W. That doesn't leave much room to spare, but it's also an absolute worst case scenario that no sane person should ever have to worry about.
As for noise, as we previously stated, this isn't a quiet system. The case fans aren't the culprit and can be dialed down (or up) using the built-in fan dial, but the fans on the videocards certainly make their presence known. It won't be distracting while playing games, especially not if you're wearing headphones, however it's a not system you'll want to use as an HTPC.
|Performance Summary & Conclusion|
Performance Summary: What can you say about a gaming system that, more often than not, posts triple-digit framerates in our gamut of benchmarks? Traditionally, you could say, "Holy hell, that's one expensive machine!," but we're talking about a $3,479 computer that dances on the edge of diminishing returns without hopping over to the other side. Yes, it's still pricey for the average Joe, but for the performance junkie with a five-star appetite on Red Lobster budget, Digital Storm's ODE Level 4 serves up big performance numbers in everything you throw at. In fact, there wasn't a single benchmark that exposed a kink in this system's armor.To an extent, performance is relative, and so is price. What might be expensive to one person is affordable to another. Whether or not you consider a $3,479 system affordable is something only you and your accountant (or significant other) can answer. What we can tell you is that you're getting a large amount of value for your money with Digital Storm's ODE Level 4. If you were to piece together this system on your own, you'd only end up saving a few hundred bucks, a feat that's nearly unheard of when you start venturing into the realm of higher performing boutique system builds. Those extra funds aren't wasted, either. After all, you're getting a system that's professionally built, wired with care, overclocked and burned in for 72 hours for stability, and a 3-year guarantee that it's not going to give up the ghost. On top of that, Digital Storm touts lifetime U.S.-based tech support, so there's no language barrier to deal with (provided you speak English relatively well) or someone on the other end of the line reading through a manual. There's value in all those things.
This is a well built system from a boutique builder that simply 'gets it.' Digital Storm is clearly one of the good guys; they're not out to rob you, they just build high performing PCs at a reasonable markup, and they do a great job, as evidenced by the system we received. And if you can't afford a $3,479 PC, there are three other tiers to choose from in Digital Storm's ODE line starting with the Level 1 system priced at $1,515. There's no guesswork involved with the part selection, you simply decide what you can afford and Digital Storm will ship out a pre-configured rig with performance to match your budget. Ordering a system has never been so easy with so few compromises.