Digital Storm Bolt II Introduction

With the desktop PC market showing signs of faded interest over the past several years, Digital Storm is here to help spark interest to those who are gamers at heart. While at CES 2014, Digital Storm showed us their latest custom PC creation, the Bolt II. This hand crafted beauty is designed and built in the United States, which is a rare thing to find in manufacturing these days. Digital Storm Bolt 2-16 The Bolt II was designed to be a Steam Machine or HTPC, but you absolutely aren't forced to use it as such. Digital Storm meant for this small form factor PC to be extremely powerful, should you choose to pick out all of the high end goodness. The basic Level 1 system comes with an i5 4590, 8GB of RAM, and a GTX 760, whereas the Level 4 starts off with a 4790k, 16GB of RAM, and a GTX 780 Ti. With that said, you have a ton of customization below, in-between, and even above these specs. Digital Storm Bolt 2 Website The basic price point of the Level 1 Bolt II system is $1,725, whereas the Level 4 runs $2,857. The system that we're going to look at today packs more heat than what the Level 4 baseline has to offer, so this system will run you $3,489. Keep in mind that with that price, you get a 3 year warranty with Digital Storm, should you have any troubles with your system. Digital Storm's idea behind this system was to keep it slim and very powerful. The Bolt II's chassis was designed by their own engineers with emphasis on thermal design. No one wants a SFF machine to overheat, so they've kept this all in mind when designing it. Inside our unit, we've got a 240mm radiator to cool that beastly Intel i7 4790k. Our 4790k is overclocked to 4.6GHz from Digital Storm, so water cooling is very important here. Digital Storm kept it smart and didn't mount the radiator to the side panel, but rather it's mounted right on the chassis, helping you with your upgrade needs. On the note of overclocking, Digital Storm does overclock for you on two levels. The first level can go from 4.0 to 4.4GHz and the second level is 4.5 to 4.8GHz. Obviously with the 4790k, our base frequency is already 4.0GHz and the turbo is 4.4GHz, which is why the 4.5 to 4.8GHz option was chosen. Every chip is different and will overclock differently, so you won't know exactly what you're getting until you get your system. Digital Storm Bolt 2 CPU-z Years down the road you say to yourself, "Everything in my Bolt II can handle gaming just fine, but my video card is choking." Well, thankfully upgrading the video card in this system will be made easy thanks to Digital Storm's great engineering. Other components such as the RAM and hard drives (or SSDs), can be easily upgraded as well. To keep this system at a proper operating temperature and to ensure that it stays as quiet as possible, the Bolt II features a HydroLux thermal control board. This board has five temperature probes placed throughout the system, which can adjust the fan speed automatically based on your system needs. There is also software for Windows to allow you to control a few features and monitor the temperatures the probes are detecting. Bolt II Specifications: The above specs are simply beefy and this system should be able to handle virtually anything we throw at it! It's still stunning that there is so much hardware in a tight little package. The exact configuration for this system, if you want to purchase your own like system, can be found by clicking here. Taking a quick look at the packaging for the Bolt II, you will notice that it is quite plain. Basically what you see in the below shot is all there is on the package. You already know what you ordered, so that isn't really an issue! Digital Storm Bolt 2 Packaging Popping open the top of the box, we can see how much care was put in with ensuring the Bolt II didn't suffer any of the shipping horrors that you've undoubtedly seen videos of in the recent years. Inside the box Digital Storm included an Xbox 360 controller, since this was designed to work as a Steam Machine / HTPC after all.  The Bolt II was surrounded by two very thick foam blocks and itself was packaged in a thick plastic bag. Digital Storm Bolt 2 Packaging Now that we've got the specifications down and took a quick glance at the packaging, let's move on and see what this beauty looks like looks like inside and out.

Digital Storm Bolt II External & Internal Features

Digital Storm's Bolt II is one slick looking chassis and the build quality is absolutely fantastic. The whole design is very simplistic and easy on the eyes. It's honestly hard to believe that there is so much power packed into this slim chassis. The color of the Bolt II that we received for review is called Copperhead, which is a matte finish. Digital Storm Bolt 2 Should this color not be your cup of tea, Digital Storm does offer five other colors that should go right along with your home theatre setup. Digital Storm Bolt 2 Chassis Colors Starting with the face of the Bolt II you don't have a whole lot to see with exception to a slot load ROM drive (BD-ROM in our case) and a nice looking Digital Storm cutout logo, which does not light up. Digital Storm Bolt 2 Face Turning to the left side is where you will find four feet for laying the chassis horizontal and some ventilation for the video card. You'll notice that Digital Storm put ventilation throughout to ensure this system stays cool. The feet are removable should you want to get rid of them for vertical positioning. I'll be hooking this system up to my TV, so the feet will stay put and be a very nice way to provide extra ventilation to the video card when horizontal. Digital Storm Bolt 2 Left Side The rear end we find all of your typical inputs and outputs. You can't help but notice that the power supply is very slim from this angle, and you'll see a better shot of it after the side panels are taken off. On the line of side panels, they are both secured by dual thumb screws which won't get lost when you remove them, as they will stay secured to the panel itself - nice touch! Digital Storm Bolt 2 Rear End The right side is where you can catch a glimpse of the goodies inside. There is a large section for ventilation for the 240mm radiator hiding behind. Also, if you didn't catch it from the left side shot, there is a large gap on the bottom. This is for more ventilation, specifically for the PSU. Digital Storm Bolt 2 Right Side From the above picture, on the left side are some front panel I/O connectors. Working bottom to the top, there are two USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports, headset and microphone jacks, and a card reader for all different types of digital media cards with one additional USB 2.0 port. The top (or left side if you lay it horizontally) you'll find the power and reset buttons along with lots more ventilation! Digital Storm Bolt 2 Top On the bottom is nothing more than four rubber feet and a Digital Storm sticker with your serial number. Digital Storm Bolt 2 Bottom Before we jump inside, I'd like to show you how big the Bolt II really is, by setting an Xbox 360 controller and a 12 fl oz can of soda next to it.  With this comparison, you will really grasp how tightly packed this system really is. Digital Storm Bolt 2 Soda Comparison Digital Storm Bolt II Interior: I bet you're anxious to see what the interior looks like? Taking off the side panel was easy thanks to the two thumb screws on the rear. The panel simply slides off and you're in! The interior certainly looks tight, but Digital Storm did their best to make sure everything was serviceable inside and the wiring is pretty neat. There are two panels that are clearly marked "removable" so you can get at components. The left removable panel is obvious, as it is for removing the radiator and fans. The top right panel is to get to your hard drives. Inside our system, there is a 500GB Samsung 840 EVO and a 2TB Western Digital Black drive. This should be enough storage for now, but unfortunately with this size chassis, you're limited to just two 3.5" or 2.5" drives, so choose your storage wisely! Digital Storm Bolt 2 Interior Our system also packs an ASUS Z97I‐PLUS motherboard, 16GB of Corsair Vengeance Pro 1866MHz DDR3 RAM, and a brand new Devil's Canyon 4790k. The 4790k is tucked underneath a Digital Storm branded water cooler, which turns out to actually be a re-branded Corsair H100i, so we already know heat dissipation shouldn't be an issue. Flipping to the other side is where we can catch a whole lot of interesting. On the top left we are packing an Nvidia GTX 780 Ti, which should be able to handle whatever we throw at it with ease. Digital Storm offers a Titan Black or Titan Z if your wallet is fat enough, but you will only be able to have a single video card inside this chassis. Digital Storm Bolt 2 Back Cover Removed On the bottom is where you can catch how big the PSU actually is in this system. Ours came loaded up with the 500w version, but for the more power hungry graphics cards, you can get a 700w instead. Digital Storm Bolt 2 Power Supply Placed inside the system are a series of five thermal probes to monitor temperature. Digital Storm Bolt 2 Thermal Probe Powering all of these probes and controlling the fans is the HydroLux thermal control board. Digital Storm Bolt 2 HydroLux Control Board While back here I noticed one slight issue, albeit minor, but one of the hoses on the water cooler was slightly kinked up against a panel in the chassis. I felt it necessary to point this out, but I do not believe this will cause you grief. Digital Storm Bolt 2 Water Tube Kink Let's move on and see how the system looks powered up and what software was installed by Digital Storm.

Digital Storm Bolt II First Start & Software

Firing up the Bolt II and this is what you'll see. The LED strip can change to just about any color that you wish, be it green, blue, white, purple, it can do just about all accurately. The Digital Storm Control Center software can also change the color of the LEDs based on temperature, which is a neat feature. Digital Storm Bolt 2 Power On One thing that I would have liked to see in the software utility, is the ability to change the intensity of the LEDs. They're awfully bright, and if this thing is sitting under your TV as an HTPC, you will get blinded - as I sure did. Digital Storm Control Center The initial hum from the Bolt II is quite low and not annoying to the ears. Since Digital Storm is hoping that many will hook this machine up to their TV, this is a very good thing. I know we all love playing Battlefield 4 or some other shooter at high volumes, but there are times that you'll find yourself with the volumes low and you will not want to listen to loud fan noise, which you definitely will hear when gaming at low volumes. The desktop on our system was extremely clean. The only items on our test system were the Digital Storm Control Center, Steam, and Grid 2. Steam was actually set to run in Big Picture Mode, so you know they're aiming for the HTPC setup. Digital Storm Bolt 2 First Boot - Desktop We had 403GB free on the 500GB Samsung 840 EVO drive and the full capacity on the 2TB Western Digital Black drive. You should have plenty of space with this configuration. Digital Storm Bolt 2 Computer Everything on the system was up-to-date when we received it, but a new Nvidia driver did come out shortly thereafter, so that got updated to the 340.52 WHQL drivers before any testing was performed.

Bolt II Performance Benchmarking

In this section, we'll take a look at various synthetic benchmarks to see how well the Bolt II performs - Expectations are obviously nothing short of great. As a reminder of the hardware inside, we're packing: 3DMark 2013 Digital Storm Bolt 2 3DMark Test Starting with 3DMark, running Firestrike - the most strenuous of the 3DMark tests, we scored in at 9702, which is fantastic. The graphics portion of the test scored 10860, while the Physix test pegged 12904.   PCMark 8 Digital Storm Bolt 2 PCMark 8 - Smaller In PCMark 8, we came home with a score of 5216. The other score that's important to us is the casual gaming score, which pulled in a whopping 148.1fps. It's no doubt that the GTX 780 Ti has some serious horsepower behind it!   SiSoftware Sandra 2013 Processor Cryptography: Digital Storm Bolt 2 Sandra Cryptography The 4790k's cryptographic bandwidth came in at 6.88GB/s.   Processor Arithmetic: Digital Storm Bolt 2 Sandra Processor Arithmetic The processor arithmetic test pulled in an aggregate native performance of 137.56GOPS.   Processor Multi-Media: Digital Storm Bolt 2 Sandra Processor Multi-Media Sandra's multimedia test came in with aggregate multi-media native performance of 306.26MPix/s.   Memory Bandwidth: Digital Storm Bolt 2 Sandra Memory Bandwidth Packed inside the Bolt II, we've got 16GB (2x 8GB) of Corsair Vengeance Pro 1866MHz memory, with 9-10-9-27 T2 timings. We found that we could get 23.86GB/s on the aggregate memory performance, which is spot on.   Cinebench R15 Digital Storm Bolt 2 Cinebench All Cinebench gave us some really great numbers, as expected. The OpenGL test pulled in at nearly 160fps, while the CPU tests scored 933cb for the multi-core test and 184cb on the single core test.   x264 Digital Storm Bolt 2 x264 x264 is the first video encoding benchmark that I wanted to run, strictly because you can easily reproduce the results across systems, and it definitely impressed me. Pass 1 averaged at 97.17fps while Pass 2 averaged at 20.2fps.   Handbrake Digital Storm Bolt 2 Handbrake To run my Handbrake test, I had a 1080p video file that was approximately 2GB in size (1.97GB to be exact) and re-encoded it with Handbrake. I came back with an encode time of 16 minutes and 2 seconds. It averaged 121.3fps as well, which I was quite happy with.

Bolt II Gaming Performance

Battlefield 4 battlefield-4-ultra-settings Battlefield 4 being a fairly modern game with a rather large player base was a great benchmark. It can still dominate many video cards today, but for the 780 Ti, this proved to be a game it could handle well. With the settings on Ultra and benchmarking the opening scene to Shanghai (campaign), we got an average frame rate of 84.576fps from the fraps readout!   Metro: Last Light Digital Storm Bolt 2 Metro LL Settings Metro Last Light is still a fairly new game, released May 2013, that has the ability to punish just about whatever comes its way. In this test we maxed out the settings, but left SSAA off. We came in with an average of 70.67fps. Digital Storm Bolt 2 Metro Last Light Sleeping Dogs Digital Storm Bolt 2 Sleeping Dogs Settings Sleeping Dogs is about 2 years old now, but its benchmark can be challenging for many video cards. You can even get a high resolution texture pack if you want to challenge it more, but for this test we stuck with the stock textures, setting the graphics level to Extreme. We came in with an average frame rate of 56.3fps. Digital Storm Bolt 2 Sleeping Dogs Benchmark Results Tomb Raider Digital Storm Bolt 2 Tomb Raider Settings Tomb Raider is a little bit older game but is still graphically pleasing, in which we were able to get an average of 88.5fps with the settings set to Ultimate. Digital Storm Bolt 2 Tomb Raider Benchmark

Temperature Testing, Power Consumption, and Boot Times

In the temperature testing, we'll boot up the system, let it sit idle for 15 minutes, and measure for another 15 minutes using Core Temp, and averaging the four cores. Load testing is done using AIDA64 for 15 minutes and averaging all four cores as well, plus we'll throw in x264 to see what it was seeing for temperatures. Normally we would run Prime95, but Prime95 is extremely stressful on these processors, plus Digital Storm recommended against it and said they personally use AIDA64. Fan settings are on auto in the Digital Storm Control Center. Ambient room temperature was 74*F at time of testing. Digital Storm Bolt 2 Temperature Testing It's not really surprising that we got great numbers on the idle temperature with the Corsair H100i in place. The load temperatures are not much of a surprise on x264 either, considering we're overclocked to 4.6GHz with a 1.270 v-core. Corsair's H100i has a great reputation amongst enthusiasts, so Digital Storm made a great choice using it in this system. Along the lines of temperature you will find a problem regarding the probes that are on placed throughout the system and fan speed.  The probes can only measure the temperature of what they're placed next to and the results aren't always very accurate.  You will see in the below screenshot that the CPU temperature that the Digital Storm Control Center is reading is only 115*F - or approx. 46*C - and Core Temp is reading each core at 70*C or higher. (Hint:  Click the image for the fully readable size) Digital Storm Bolt 2 Temperature Probe Difference Power Consumption Measuring at the wall with a Kill-a-Watt meter, we measured both idle and load numbers again. 3DMark numbers will be pulled from the Firestrike test. Digital Storm Bolt 2 Power Usage The results for idle were pretty good, considering the discrete video card and the 4790k in this system. 3DMark load numbers showed that we're pretty hitting pretty high numbers for our PSU, at 406 watts, but the 500w PSU still does have a good amount of headroom before it becomes a limiting factor in our system.   Boot Times Digital Storm Bolt 2 Boot Racer History To measure boot times, we used BootRacer 4.6 to find out how quick it brings up the OS and then how quick everything is loaded. We were happy to see the system booted up to Windows 8.1in 5-6 seconds and was fully loaded at an average of 24.5 seconds in! It's always incredible to have a system ready to use so quickly.

Digital Storm Bolt II Final Thoughts and Conclusion

Digital Storm's Bolt II is absolutely a work of art. They managed to engineer a beautiful and yet simplistic chassis, all while packing a ton of high-end hardware inside. You can choose to pimp out your Bolt II with the absolute top end hardware, or you can choose to keep it simple for a basic HTPC that can run some games. Digital Storm Bolt 2 Soda Comparison In the system that we reviewed today, we have a lot of high-end hardware, including a Core i7 4790k @ 4.6GHz, an Nvidia GTX 780 Ti, 16GB Corsair Vengeance Pro RAM @ 1866MHz, and a Corsair H100i to keep that overclocked processor's temperatures tame. This bundle will run you $3,489 as configured and will get you a 3 year warranty if you have any problems with your system. I have to say the performance that this beast packs in such a tight package was impressive. The gaming benchmarks were very pleasing to the eyes because the numbers were so high, and even the majority of the general performance benchmarks were great. Digital Storm Bolt 2 Interior Now we have to take note on the word "majority" from that last sentence. Initially I had major issues running x264 and Handbrake, in that each benchmark would blue screen the system. Prime95 was running fully "stable," but they system was throttling the CPU just to handle our demand because we were pegging 100*C. Stability testing should have been done by Digital Storm prior to shipment, as our system was requested to be overclocked somewhere in the 4.5 to 4.8GHz range - ours came in at 4.6GHz from the factory. I tried tweaking the overclock and got things to run a bit more stable, but there was just too much voltage being added, thus too much stress on the CPU. Fortunately Digital Storm's technical support is there to assist you with correcting this issue, but we still couldn't find out why video encoding didn't want to work on this system. We ended up shipping the Bolt II back to Digital Storm for further testing by their technicians, in which they informed us that they swapped out everything inside the chassis, including motherboard, processor, RAM, and water cooler. When we received the system back, everything ran just fine, with exception to Prime95. Prime95 was blue screening the system again, so we chose to run AIDA64's stress test benchmark in its place, also per Digital Storm's recommendation. It is a very similar synthetic stress test, so we felt it to be a good recommendation. Digital Storm Bolt 2 Temperature Testing Touching back at the price, I know many of you might say that approx. $3,500 is a lot of coin to drop on one gaming machine, and indeed it is! Let's take a moment to see how much a system similar to this could cost you to build on your own. Since the case on the Bolt II is priceless - meaning a unique item to Digital Storm - we'll toss in $200 to be on the extreme high end. Our own system with the same or similar hardware comes out to a total of $2300.35. This means that the Digital Storm tacks on another $1188.65 for the R&D, labor and warranty.  At the time of writing, Digital Storm was offering a $100 discount and an additional year of warranty at no cost, bringing that total to a $1088.65 difference.  If you're a very knowledgeable system builder, you will probably end up shying away from this added cost and instead invest into even better hardware yet. On the flip side, for those who may not be very tech savvy and aren't too concerned on the cost, the overhead may not bother you, especially knowing that you get a full 3 year warranty (or 4 year if under their current promotion) and US based technical support from Digital Storm. Buying the components on your own, they'll all have varying warranties and you will have to contact each respective company for support. Do note that Digital Storm only currently charges sales tax for California residents and shipping to Wisconsin was running a minimum of $65 for ground shipping.  Amazon offers free shipping on all items and charges sales tax in many states, so there is a slight variance in cost, but you get the gist with the above details. Digital Storm Bolt 2 Face So we told you all about the good, the bad, and the ugly with the Bolt II, and fortunately the vast majority is good! We were quite pleased with the performance and build quality of the system, but you're now left with the decision of purchasing the Bolt II and being worry free about where you're going to find technical support, or building your own, if you have the knowledge, and saving a good chunk of change. LR Innovation Award Legit Bottom Line: While the Bolt II is a very pricey system, it sure looks and performs great and has a fantastic warranty, but we do certainly hope the QA testing on the overclock is more thorough on your system.