Digital Storm Bolt review

The Digital Storm Bolt represents the best and worst of the trend toward smaller gaming desktops.
Photo of Digital Storm Bolt

The latest trend in gaming PCs isn’t overclocked behemoths or limitless upgradeability. Instead, the move is toward smaller systems, packing high-grade PC gaming components into slim, small-form-factor (SFF) designs. Some of this shift is an attempt to appeal to gamers that cut their teeth on consoles, but it also serves the purpose of moving the gaming PC into the living-room, giving you a PC that can fit on the shelf next to your TV or sound system. The Digital Storm Bolt fits into this same trend, but manages to be an example of both the best and worst of these compact designs.

Design and Features
The Bolt is pretty sweet looking, with a sleek looking asymmetric design, and a compact case that measures 13.3 by 3.6 by 13.4 inches (HWD), sitting atop a stylized base. It’s similar in many respects to the Falcon Northwest Tiki, but the base isn’t a slab of marble. The narrow chassis is one of many in the SFF category, where designs range from the console-like Alienware X51 to the stovepipe-looks of the Editors’ Choice Maingear Potenza Super Stock. Digital Storm also offers the choice of colors—either gunmetal black or pearl white. Our review unit came in white, but the “pearl” aspect is non-existent. It’s just white.

Inside the white sheet metal enclosure are the components of a much larger system—a full-length Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 Ti graphics card (with 2GB of VRAM), and an Intel Core i7-3770K processor, and not one but two drives (a 120GB solid-state drive and a 500GB hard drive). The case is festooned with vents, but in order to manage the heat, you’ll still get a loud burst of fan noise—it’s loudest when booting up, but the fan noise won’t go away completely.

The Bolt certainly has a cool looking design, but it’s a clear example of form over function. The compact design leaves little to no room for upgrades, and opening the case is a nerve-wracking experience. Four thumb screws in back offer tool-free access, but sliding off the case housing is problematic, snagging loose cables and jutting screw heads. It’s even worse putting the case back on, as the sides have to be carefully positioned in order to seat properly when closed, but doing so again catches on every wire and screw along the way.

Digital Storm brags that “Every component inside is upgradable,” from the power supply to the GPU, but aside from perhaps bumping up the RAM, you’ll quickly run into problems just fitting everything into the cramped confines of the 3.6-inch-wide chassis. Thanks to a graphics card that worked its way loose during shipping—it wasn’t screwed into place—we had to spend a bit more time inside the case than normal, and it’s safe to say that this system isn’t built with upgrades in mind.

Despite its small stature, the Bolt is outfitted with a pretty good selection of ports and outputs. Most reside on the back of the machine, where you’ll find two Gigabit Ethernet ports, four USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, a PS/2 port for joysticks and older mice, and coax antenna connectors. You’ll also find multiple video outputs (HDMI, DVI, and DisplayPort), and inputs for video and audio (DVI, HDMI, audio line in, S/PDIF). The front of the compact tower features a slot-loading DVD multi-drive, while on the right are connections for headphones or speakers, a mic input, two USB 2.0 ports and two USB 3.0 ports.

As I’ve mentioned, the Bolt is equipped with two drives: a 120GB SSD for zippy performance, and a 500GB 7,200rpm drive for storage. Like most custom-built systems, the drive is unencumbered by any sort of bloatware. Only Windows 7 Home Premium is preinstalled, bundled with Windows Recovery Toolkit. Digital Storm covers the Bolt with a three-year limited warranty and lifetime tech support and customer care.

Performance

With the same 3.5GHz quad-core Intel i7-3770K processor found in the Editors’ Choice Maingear Potenza Super Stock and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 Ti graphics processor, the Digital Storm Bolt has the chops for both work and play. In PCMark 7, the Bolt scored 5,937 points, beating out the Maingear Potenza (5,356 points), and blowing past the Core i5-equipped Alienware X51 (3,055 points), but behind the similarly equipped AVADirect Mini Gaming PC Core i5 Z77 (6,259 points). It also landed toward the back of the pack in Cinebench processor speed benchmark tests, most egregiously trounced by the Maingear Potenza (9.57 points).

Regardless of the comparisons, these scores still indicate very good performance—the Bolt may not claim top honors among competing game systems, but it still has plenty of muscle for a small desktop. Multimedia tests confirm this: The Bolt finished Handbrake in a zippy 28 seconds, and cranked through our Photoshop CS6 test in 2 minutes 51 seconds.

Processing power is all well and good, but graphics processing is key for any gaming machine. Again, the Bolt has adequate performance for gaming, but it falls behind competing systems, scoring 11,997 points (Entry) and 2,636 points (Extreme). While it may not top the category, the Bolt is still more than capable as a gaming machine, with excellent frame rates even at 1080p resolution with high detail settings, producing 45 frames per second (fps) in Alien vs. Predator, and 73fps in Heaven.

All things considered, the Digital Storm Bolt proves itself to be a fairly good gaming system for the gamer who wants to enjoy the latest games, but doesn’t want to mess with upgrades. System tweakers will be frustrated by the difficult-to-open case and cramped confines that discourage upgrading. Performance fanatics likely won’t be looking too closely at SFF desktops to begin with, but if they do, they’ll find better performance from competitors, like our Editors’ Choice Maingear Potenza Super Stock.

Specifications
Touchscreen No
Primary Optical Drive DVD+/-RW (Plus Minus)
Processor Family Intel Core i7
Graphics Card Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 Ti
Operating System Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium
Monitor Type None
RAM 8 GB
Type Gaming
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 120GB SSD + 500 GB HDD GB

Verdict
The Digital Storm Bolt represents the best and worst of the trend toward smaller gaming desktops. It looks great, and offers plenty of gaming prowess out of the box, but it's not a great choice for gamers who want to tweak their systems or that demand top performance.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc