Posted on October 22, 2014, Ron Whitaker Digital Storm Bolt II Review: Good Things in a Small Package
The Digital Storm Bolt II aims to combine phenomenal computing power with an itty-bitty living space, and hits its mark with ease.
While Valve’s promised Steam Machines are looking to storm the living room, the company’s SteamOS isn’t ready yet. Rather than hold their machines back, manufacturers are launching them with Windows instead. Thus was born the Digital Storm Bolt II.
The Bolt II looks amazing right out of the box. It’s a sleek, black shell with a small side window that allows you to catch a glimpse of the ridiculous amount of hardware that’s been stuffed inside. LED lights shine brightly through that window as well, which can be something of an annoyance in a darkened room. The white LEDs are so bright that they’re distracting at times, until you position the case in a way that minimizes their effect.
For a PC, the Bolt II is small — almost tiny. It’s about 16.5 inches tall, 14.25 inches deep, and only 4.5 inches wide. While that is bigger than either the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, it’s not substantially so. The custom-designed case also features rubber feet on standoffs on the left side, allowing you lay the case horizontally, or place it vertically against the side of your entertainment system without having to worry about obstructing airflow. It’s smaller than my surround sound receiver, making it a good fit in the living room.
Into that small space, Digital Storm has packed in a veritable cornucopia of high-end PC gear. The model I got to test featured a liquid-cooled Intel i7 4790K Devil’s Canyon, and Digital Storm had thoughtfully overclocked the chip to 4.7GHz. In fact that’s one of the reasons that people pay for Digital Storm’s machines. They consistently deliver high-end overclocks on their chips — the same sort of result you could spend hours trying to achieve yourself and never reach due to an underperforming chip or heat problems.
That CPU was paired up with an ASUS Z97I-PLUS motherboard and 16GB of Corsair Vengeance Pro DDR3 RAM running at 1833MHz. A 500GB Samsung solid state drive and 2TB Western Digital data drive provide storage. All of that is nice, but the big piece for any gamer is the video card, and the Bolt II doesn’t disappoint, packing in a GeForce GTX Titan 6GB. Other configurations allow you to scale back the video card to save a few bucks, but let’s face it, no PC gamer is rational about video card decisions.
All of that hardware was powering Steam’s Big Picture mode, facilitated by Digital Storm’s optional “Steam Big Picture Gaming Package,” which basically means that they pack a wireless 360 controller for Windows in the box. The resulting performance would make any console gamer question their choice of platform. There were no worries about resolution or lag, as the Bolt II made short work of every game thrown at it from Grid II to a heavily modded The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Back in 2007, this was the sort of machine we thought we’d need to run Crysis maxed out. In short, it’s got power to spare.
Having that much power is great right now, but how about down the road when you want to upgrade? Removing the side panel gives easy access to replace the RAM, but to change out any other components, you’re going to be removing bays. There’s also no room for a second video card anywhere in this case, so if you’re into SLI builds, the Bolt II is not for you. In fact, space is so tight that anything you want to upgrade will mean you’re replacing something, and not adding to it. Still, the Bolt II does give you the ability to switch out those components if something breaks or is superseded by even better tech.
In fact, it’s the engineering that gets all this hardware into such a small case that you’re really paying for. The last time I tested a Digital Storm machine, I was struck by how close the price was to what it would cost to build it yourself. This time around, that’s not the case. Perusing NewEgg puts the price of buying all of these components around $2,700 (It’s important to note that you can’t buy this case anywhere except from Digital Storm). The Bolt II’s price tag? $3,864.
Like all Digital Storm machines, the price of the Bolt II also includes lifetime labor-free upgrades for component upgrades, assuming you purchase the hardware you’re upgrading from Digital Storm. You also get a three-year labor warranty and a one year part replacement warranty, along with lifetime tech support.
One other knock against the Bolt II is the positioning of the front panel ports. Whether to keep the front panel sleek, or just because of how things ended up fitting in the case, all the USB, headphone, and other ports are on the right side of the front bezel (or on top, if you lay it horizontally). That means that you can see plugs and cords sticking up out of the machine while it’s on your entertainment center — not the most attractive look.
Despite a few shortcomings, the Bolt II delivers exactly what it sets out to: a ton of power in a form factor that can easily slip into almost any living room setup. It’s small, attractive, and can even be upgraded if you’re willing to do a little work. The price tag will be a turn-off for some, but if you’re looking for a small, powerful PC that will run anything you throw at it, the Bolt II is exactly what you want.
The Digital Storm Bolt II was reviewed using a sample provided by Digital Storm.