Hardware Review: Digital Storm Bolt

Options and Configuration

Like other gaming desktops in the Spec Ops family of Digital Storm PCs, the Bolt has “limited customization.” This means some components (CPU, GPU) can be swapped out for other options, but certain parts of the build, like the motherboard and power supply, are static. “Static” does not mean proprietary, as the motherboard in the Bolt is a Mini ITX part from Gigabyte (you can buy the same board on Newegg for $120), and the power supply, while “custom built for Digital Storm” is a 1U model usually reserved for servers. All the cooling systems on the Bolt are custom-made, so you can’t sub in your favorite Noctua cooler, I’m afraid.

Digital Storm has four different pre-built levels, starting with Level 1 at $999. A grand buys a Core i3 CPU and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 650 Ti. Going up to Level 4 ($2,499) boosts the CPU to a Core i7-3770K, and you get an Nvidia GeForce TITAN GPU. Our review unit is based on the $1,599 Level 3 part list:

  • CPU: Intel Core i7-3770K

  • Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z77N-WIFI Mini ITX

  • GPU: eVGA GeForce GTX 660 Ti 2 GB

  • Power: 500W

  • RAM: 8 GB Corsair DDR3-1600

  • OS Drive: 120 GB Corsair Neutron GTX

  • Storage Drive: 500 GB Seagate  7,200rpm

  • OS: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit

The Gigabyte motherboard supports wireless, but our review unit came sans-antennae, so I  wasn’t able to test the onboard WiFi (if you buy a Bolt, your system comes with the antennae, as well as all the discs and documentation you’d expect). Also, our unit has a 500 GB storage drive, while the normal Level 3 setup has a 1 TB drive instead. Finally, Windows 8 is an option on the Digital Storm site, but our unit (and all units) come with Windows 7 as the primary choice for the operating system — a wise choice, I think, since this isn’t a touchscreen machine.

Design

The Bolt’s case is 100-percent custom, meaning you won’t find it for sale on Newegg or any other site. Instead of a door on either side, the Bolt uses the old school housing method (think back to your older HP desktops), and both sides and the top come off as one solid piece of aluminum. The housing is attached to the chassis via four thumbscrews on the back, and the housing comes off with a small dose of elbow grease (and mind the wires in the front when you’re taking it apart).

Once the housing is off, you’ll see just how much TLC Digital Storm has put into the Bolt. Everything is tightly packed into the case, while leaving access open to anyone who’s worked inside a PC before — so beginners might want to tread with caution. Everything uses Phillips-head screws, so if you have a screwdriver, you can go to town inside the Bolt.

 

The GPU is mounted above and behind the motherboard, using a special adapter to connect to the PCI express slot. I was able to unseat the video card, but after a few minutes of tinkering, I wasn’t able to get it out of the case. Others might have better luck, but it seems like you’ll have to unscrew and shift the position of the power supply to get the GPU out.

GPU aside, the hard drives are in a more upgrade-friendly position to the left of the motherboard. Our unit came with two hard drives — one solid-state drive for the operating system, and one storage drive — but you can have up to three drives in the Bolt (two SSD, one platter).

Ports are plenty on the Bolt, too, with four USB (two 2.0, two 3.0) and audio and mic in the front, and another four USB in the back (two 2.0, two 3.0). Other ports include the usual audio suite (digital optical out included), two Ethernet ports, two WiFi antenna connectors, and DVI and HDMI on the motherboard. The latter would be used with the integrated video on the Intel CPU, and the Nvidia card up top has its own suite of connectors, per usual.

A quick note about the audio inputs: They are very soft out of the box. Make sure you go into the Recording Devices options menu and crank the levels and boost before you hop in Ventrilo or Teamspeak.

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7 Comments on Hardware Review: Digital Storm Bolt

Evernessince

On May 3, 2013 at 6:57 pm

I’m sorry but this seems more like an advertising piece instead of a review. One of my main concerns would be how this machine handles temperature. 1/5th the space has to have an impact on temperatures and they must of compensated in some way, like high noise fans.

This system also does not have the upgradeability of a regular desktop either. Any graphics card bigger than titan won’t fit and there’s no space for additional storage.

Realistically I would only recommend this system to my friends who are too lazy to make their own. Otherwise it isn’t really appealing. If I wanted a lan-party rig I would just grab an itx board with a amd a10 and an ssd.

Jay

On May 3, 2013 at 8:37 pm

Yeah, I have to agree. This is nothing but a basic advertisement of what the Bolt is and some half-hazard gaming “benchmarks” thrown in.

Devin Connors

On May 4, 2013 at 12:34 am

Sorry to hear you guys feel that way,” says Devin as he quietly stuffs all that Digital Storm money in his pockets.

As for benchmarks, I might add more bench games in the future. That said, keep in mind that this isn’t Tom’s Hardware, so we can’t do 20 pages of analysis and benchmarking on PCs. I chose those three games because they cover a pretty wide engine spectrum…Source is used by dozens of developers, as is CryEngine. Frostbite is a good barometer of where engine tech is today, while Source is older and CryEngine 3 is more cutting-edge.

Regarding…
Temps: CPU and GPU idle temps were in the 40s and 50s, respectively (tracked by CPUID Hardware Monitor). The CPU and GPU fans have their own vents (see the photos), so the smaller space is countered by the vent design. Heat is not an issue, as far as I can tell.

Upgrading: You could squeeze an 11-inch card into this case, although some wires would have to be moved a bit. You might not be able to use certain models with bigger non-reference coolers, but I’m confident a “vanilla” 7970 would fit.

Storage: It’s not the same as a mid- or full-tower ATX case, obviously, but room for one 3.5″ storage drive and two SSD’s is nothing to scoff at.

Thanks for the comments, guys.
-Devin Connors

Jay

On May 4, 2013 at 2:30 am

@Devin Conners

I knew it!…

Tongue & cheek aside… This really does feel more like a hardware “Spot-lite” than it does a actual hardware “Review”… There’s no score in place (subjective or not to the validity of a “review”, it’s still a part of hardware reviews today on popular sites), there isn’t as much detail as I’d like, and there doesn’t seem to be that much actual testing on the product itself. Quick gaming FPS averages isn’t really thorough for a $1,600 piece of kit. I do appreciate the the Newegg price comparison though.

The target audience for something like this is those who either don’t want to mess with building yourself and/or are short on space… Though the lack of total modularity to the system doesn’t appeal to me. The 3-year warranty isn’t to bad though.

P.S. I do find your idle temps to be rather high… My i7 930 @ 4.0 Ghz idles at 38c & my GTX Titan idles at 30c. Ambient air temp of about 20c (68F). I know Sandy Bridge runs hotter than the older generations but still.

Devin Connors

On May 4, 2013 at 2:48 am

Thanks for the feedback, Jay.

The hardware review process is evolving, for sure. Scores are a possibility, but scoring hardware isn’t the norm, like scoring games (some hardware-focused sites use scores, some don’t).

We’re taking everything into consideration, though…and we will try and strike a balance somewhere between the long-form of Tom’s and Anand and the shorter, blog-style posts you see elsewhere.
-Devin

JawaEsteban

On May 4, 2013 at 8:55 pm

They’ve managed to cram just about everything but the kitchen sink into that little case. If it gets any smaller it’ll be a console. Just with much better performance.

I’d be concerned about heat too, the venting and fans appear to be well-designed and placed from the images, but that’s still a lot of components in a really small space, and I agree with Jay that the idle temps are a bit high. For comparison purposes my current rig is actually the level 3 digital storm marauder, running at 39c/32c (CPU/GPU) right now with ambient of 78f. And it’s friggin’ humid.

If I’m going to spend the extra money for a pre-built, I’d prefer the thing not start falling apart a few years later from constant overheating.

Evernessince

On May 9, 2013 at 12:53 am

Thanks for the clarification Devin. It’s not that you didn’t cover enough, we don’t need tom’s hardware like articles. It’s that you just skipped over some of the important bits. It’s pretty nice what they are able to fit within the system and seems like it would be great for lans or a console substitute.

I would just like to say that you don’t even need those benchmarks really. Most of us know how that card would perform. We are already taking your word for the rest of the article, you could just state the gaming performance you experienced. I guess what I’m saying is that you should try to mold your reviews more toward the intended buyer. As you said this is not tom’s hardware, try something unique.