|Introduction and Specifications|
|The Intel Haswell-based gaming rigs keep coming. Digital Storm sent us a mid tower gaming machine dubbed the Digital Storm VIRTUE Level 3, which boasts some hot, next-gen components wrapped inside a stoic, unadorned chassis--rather like the CyberPowerPC Xtreme Gamer 5200 we just looked at.
Digital Storm says that the VIRTUE was an effort to create a mid tower-sized option that evinced the same care and attention typically devoted to the bigger, showier gaming rigs we’re used to seeing. The VIRTUE is certainly well-made, and there’s surely a market for mid tower rigs, but like the aforementioned Xtreme Gamer 5200 the VIRTUE Level 3 is devoid of some of those fun bells and whistles we often see in and on larger gaming chassis. (Digital Storm Bolt, where are you?)
The Digital Storm VIRTUE is powered by a factory-overclocked Intel Core i7-4770K processor and is paired to an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 (3GB) GPU. There’s also 16GB of DDR3-1600MHz memory in the system, plus a 120GB Corsair Neutron GTX SSD and a 1TB WD Caviar Black (7200 RPM) storage drive, along with an ASUS Blu-ray player/DVD writer.
Digital Storm went with the ASUS Gryphon Z87 motherboard, which is designed for maximum durability and cooling thanks to its TUF armor and Thermal Radar features, and there’s a Corsair H100i liquid cooler with a 240mm top-mounted radiator keeping the CPU cool.
In addition to the factory CPU overclock, Digital Storm says that each system undergoes 72 hours of stress testing and benchmarking before it ships. Customers get a 3-year limited warranty, as well as lifetime tech support.
The Level 3 version of the Digital Storm VIRTUE that we tested is priced at $2,563.
|Design and Layout|
|Without dwelling too long or hard on the issue, the DS VIRTUE's Obsidian Series 350D is a solid but understated chassis. For what is essentially plain a black rectangle, the metal and plastic case does have a couple of nice features, most notably the huge, clear side panel window and brushed metal finish front panel. And it is built very well. There’s no fancy lighting of any kind though, and the only things that glow are the “Corsair” and “GeForce GTX” logos on the CPU cooler and GPU, respectively.
It’s rather like having a powerful sports car with a non-descript body; you miss out on that fun part of owning something with superb components and performance where people do double-takes when they see it. With that said, Corsair makes some of the best cases in the business. It's just uncommon for a boutique builder to put together such a powerful gaming system and not adorn it with some snazzy, eye-catching features.
That said, perhaps Digital Storm is going for that cool, dark, assassin look, because the interior looks the part. The ASUS board is covered with black “armor”, and the whole of the cooling system--including the cooler itself, the tubes, the radiator, and the fans--are all black. The front and rear case fans are black, too. Even the DIMM heatsinks and PSU are black.
The front panel houses the optical drive, as well as a pair of USB 3.0 ports, headphone and mic jacks, and power and reset buttons. Around back, the graphics card offers two DVI ports, HDMI, and DisplayPort, and the rear I/O adds another DVI port and HDMI port. The rest of the (neatly labelled) ports include four USB 2.0, four USB 3.0, SPDIF out, LAN, and six audio jacks.
There’s clearly not much to see on the Digital Storm VIRTUE’s desktop either, which is good; the company went with a simple black theme. They tweaked the stock Start screen to match by rolling with a simple black background with no embellishments.
And now, we’ll see how the system performs when the rubber meets the road...
|PCMark and 3DMark Tests|
|Futuremark is a familiar name in the computer hardware industry, thanks to its popular PCMark and 3DMark benchmarking suites. We put Digital Storm's VIRTUE through these tests and compared the scores to results from similar systems we’ve recently reviewed.
Futuremark's PCMark 7 is the latest version of the PCMark whole-system benchmarking suite. It has updated application performance measurements targeted for a Windows 7 environment and uses newer metrics to gauge relative performance, versus the older PCMark Vantage.
Below is what Futuremark says is incorporated in the base PCMark suite and the Entertainment, Creativity, and Productivity suites, the four modules we have benchmark scores for you here.
The PCMark test is a collection of workloads that measure system performance during typical desktop usage. This is the most important test since it returns the official PCMark score for the system
In the first test out of the gate, the Digital Storm VIRTUE beats out the field, which includes the obscenely tricked-out Maingear SHIFT SS X79, which rocked three Radeon HD 7970s. The Intel Core i7-4770K, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780, fast RAM and Corsair SSD appear to be a potent combination.
3DMark11 is specifically targeted at Windows 7-based systems due to its DirectX 11 requirement. 3DMark11 isn't simply a port of 3DMark Vantage to DirectX 11, though. With this 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, which uses a resolution of 1280x720 with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering.
In PCMark 7, the VIRTUE stepped out as a big performer, but 3DMark 11 seems to favor AMD Radeons. Here, the VIRTUE posted a comparatively middling score.
The VIRTUE had the best Physics score in 3DMark Firestrike, thanks to its factory-overclocked CPU / GTX 780 combo, and aside from that the scores fall along graphics card lines. The CyberPowerPC’s single-card dual-GPU was strongest, followed by the AVADirect system and its GTX Titan, and then the VIRTUE and its GTX 780.
|Unigine Heaven and Valley Tests|
|Based on the Unigine game engine, the Unigine benchmarks offer dramatic 3D tours of exotic environments, complete with dynamic skies, tessellation, and SSAO (screen-space ambient occlusion).
Unigine Heaven provides heavy tessellation use and a dynamic sky to stress modern graphics cards. The Valley benchmark, on the other hand, is loaded with vegetation. The benchmark tours a forest thick with flowers, boulders, and rivers. We ran the test at 1920 x 1080, on Ultra Quality and with the Extreme Tessellation option.
The Radeon HD 7990 GPU continues to tear up the turf in the Unigine tests, outstripping the VIRTUE’s GTX 780 GPU, which again scored lower than the AVADirect system with its Titan.
|SiSoft SANDRA and 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).
The VIRTUE came in third behind two other systems, but it should be said that those two systems are loaded with more powerful components. Compared to the others, the Haswell-packing VIRTUE and CyberPowerPC systems were a cut above the rest, particularly in the multimedia test.
There’s a great deal of parity here among the systems in regard to memory and storage, although the VIRTUE is certainly one of the best performers, by the smallest of margins.
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.
The Cinebench scores are nothing to get too excited about, as the performance deltas between most of the systems running a Core i7-3770K and Core i7-4770K is rather small.
|Gaming Benchmarks: Far Cry 2 and Lost Planet 2|
|And now begins the round of gaming benchmarks. First up is Far Cry 2 and Lost Planet 2.
Like the original, FarCry 2 was one of the more visually impressive games to be released on the PC when it launched a couple of years ago. Courtesy of the Dunia game engine developed by Ubisoft, FarCry 2's game-play is enhanced by advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, high resolution textures, complex shaders, realistic dynamic lighting, and motion-captured animations. We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article with a fully patched version of FarCry 2, using one of the built-in demo runs recorded in the Ranch Map.
The Digital Storm VIRTUE posted impressive Far Cry 2 scores, coming in a relatively close second to the AVADirect system and handily besting the third-place CyberPowerPC system.
A follow-up to Capcom’s Lost Planet : Extreme Condition, Lost Planet 2 is a third person shooter that takes place again on E.D.N. III ten years after the story line of the first title. We ran the game’s DX11 mode which makes heavy use of DX11 Tessellation and Displacement mapping and soft shadows. There are also areas of the game that make use of DX11 DirectCompute for things like wave simulation in areas with water. This is one game engine that looks significantly different in DX11 mode when you compare certain environmental elements and character rendering in its DX9 mode versus DX11. We used the Test B option built into the benchmark tool and with all graphics options set to their High Quality values.
The multi-way Radeons won the day in Lost Planet 2, which isn’t terribly surprising. It should be noted, however, that the VIRTUE did beat out the GTX Titan-packing AVADirect system.
|Gaming Benchmarks: Metro 2033 and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.|
|Next, we took on some post-apocalyptic shooters. Metro 2033 is new and tough on even modern systems. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. also provides a challenge.
Metro 2033 is your basic post-apocalyptic first person shooter game with a few rather unconventional twists. Unlike most FPS titles, there is no health meter to measure your level of ailment, but rather you’re left to deal with life, or lack thereof more akin to the real world with blood spatter on your visor and your heart rate and respiration level as indicators. The game is loosely based on a novel by Russian Author Dmitry Glukhovsky. Metro 2003 boasts some of the best 3D visuals on the PC platform currently including a DX11 rendering mode that makes use of advanced depth of field effects and character model tessellation for increased realism.
We set the charts so that the best-performing system at the highest resolution is on top, which is why the CyberPowerPC Gamer Xtreme is listed first; however, both the DS VIRTUE and AVADirect systems posted strong scores at every resolution, a good bit better than the rest of the field.
Call of Pripyat is the third game in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series and throws in DX11 to the mix. This benchmark is based on one of the locations found within the latest game. Testing includes four stages and utilizes various weather conditions, as well as different time of day settings. It offers a number of presets and options, including multiple versions of DirectX, resolutions, antialiasing, etc. SunShafts represents the most graphically challenging stage available. We conducted our testing with DX11 enabled, multiple resolutions, and Ultra settings.
The VIRTUE didn’t fare quite as well in S.T.A.L.K.E.R., but the gaps separating the scores are relatively small, so it was within reasonable range of all but the first-place finisher at 1920x1080 and 1280x1024; at 1024x768, it was actually the high scorer.
|Gaming Benchmarks: Batman: Arkham City and Hitman: Absolution|
|Batman: Arkham City follows the well-received Batman: Arkham Asylum and brings with it some new challenges for Batman and better graphics for us. Hitman Absolution is one of the newest games in our benchmark pool and is murder on most gaming PCs. Both games offer DX11 code paths and advanced graphics technologies, including tessellation.
Batman: Arkham City is a sequel to 2009’s Game of the Year winning Batman: Arkham Asylum. This recently released sequel, however, lives up to and even surpasses the original. The story takes place 18 months after the original game. Quincy Sharp, the onetime administrator of Arkham Asylum, has become mayor and convinced Gotham to create "Arkham City" by walling off the worst, most crime-ridden areas of the city and turning the area into a giant open-air prison. The game has DirectX 9 and 11 rendering paths, with support for tessellation, multi-view soft shadows, and ambient occlusion. We tested in DX11 mode with all in-game graphical options set to their maximum values, at various resolutions, and we even turned on NVIDIA PhysX in the game engine to ramp up the visuals and work the little alien speedster a bit harder.
Batman seems to like Radeon setups, and in particular that 7990 single-card dual-GPU job. Still, the VIRTUE delivered very impressive scores.
Our final game benchmark of the review is of Hitman, the blockbuster game that follows an assassin as he finds himself become a target. Here we have no other systems to compare it to compare it to as yet.
The VIRTUE delivered solid but not knockout performance in Hitman, putting it right next to the AVADirect system but a good step or two behind the CyberPowerPC rig.
|Power Consumption and Noise|
|Before bringing this article to a close, we'll take a look at power consumption of the Digital Storm VIRTUE versus the other systems we tested. We let each system boot and sit idle before measuring idle power and then loaded down each system with both an instance of Prime95 (to load down the CPU) and Furmark (to load the GPU) before taking our full load power consumption measurements. Our goal was to give you an idea as to how much power each configuration used while idling on the desktop and while under a heavy workload. Keep in mind that this is total system power consumption being measured at the outlet.
Although the Digital Storm VIRTUE fell to some slightly higher-spec’d systems in benchmarks, you can’t argue with its power efficiency, especially at load. The system pulled just 59W of juice at idle and 275W under load. Perhaps DS went a little overkill on the PSU, which has a ceiling of 1050W but you almost can never have too much good clean power headroom.
The VIRTUE, with its liquid cooler, was a relatively quiet machine, although there was a slight whine at all times that grew more noticeable under load. All told, though, the noise level is less than you might expect for such a powerful system.
|Performance Summary and Conclusion|
|Performance Summary: We saw solid scores across the board from the Digital Storm VIRTUE, and although it didn’t top the charts, it performed well against some very stiff competition. In any case, this system handled all of our benchmarks with aplomb, hardly breaking a sweat.
The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 at the heart of this rig wasn’t quite enough to push the VIRTUE over the top against more robust multi-GPU graphics options of the GTX TITAN, though, which is saying something, because the GTX 780 is a beast in its own right. The factory-overclocked (and liquid-cooled) CPU gave the VIRTUE a nice boost here and there, and we were pleased with the low noise level.
The understated chassis doesn’t get the juices flowing as much as a more flamboyant case might, although at least the all-black-everything look extends to the interior and almost all of the components. This system's price tag is steep at $2,563, and one could argue that the $2,614.84 AVADirect Mini Gaming PC and $2,199 CyberPowerPC Gamer Xtreme 5200 are better deals for the performance they offer. That said, configuration options and build-out tweaks at Digital Storm's site could net you a better value depending on your specific needs.
Still, the Digital Storm VIRTUE is an excellent, well-made machine--it’s not like it can’t handle anything you’d throw at it and then some--but for the money, you may be able to configure a rig with similar performance and hotter looks in Digital Storm’s own product line.