Digital Storm Bolt Mini-ITX Gaming PC Review
A small, custom chassis
Right before the holiday weekend we got an email from Digital Storm detailing some changes to the Bolt system based on ours, and other reviewers, feedback. Design changes include:
- "Quieter operation" after moving from a Bronze level 500 watt 1U power supply to a Gold level unit. I have put that part in quotes because I am hesitant to believe that much has changes on the sound levels of the system; we are still talking about a 1U unit here with two tiny fans. Until DS publishes some sound level metrics, we'll consider this a modest change.
- Digital Storm has also given the Bolt "a less glossy and improved external finish" to help prevent fingerprints and dust from reflecting in light.
In addition, there have been some hardware changes in the Level 3 unit that we were sent that are fairly significant:
- Upgrade from a 60GB cache SSD to a 120GB SSD dedicated to the OS installation.
- Storage drive lowered from a 1TB to a 500GB
- Upgrade from a Core i5-3570K to a Core i7-3770K CPU
That is a pretty hefty change in hardware specs, in particular the move from the Core i5-3570K to the i7-3770K. That increases the CPU performance of the Bolt pretty handily and they were able to do that without raising the price.
This definitely gives us a better opinion overall for the entire Digital Storm Bolt configuration as tested and makes it a much better option when compared to the other recent systems we have reviewed.
END UPDATE 11/22/2012
A couple of months ago Digital Storm contacted us about a new design they were working on that they claimed would easily become the highest performance, smallest custom PC on the market. The result of that talk was the new Digital Storm Bolt, a system designed in-house by DS to target PC gamers that want a powerful PC without the bulk of traditional desktop designs.
Digital Storm claims that the Bolt is the "thinnest, most powerful gaming PC ever designed" and we tend to agree. This is not chassis that you can buy off the shelf but instead was custom designed for this system and actually requires some very specific hardware for it to function completely. Items like a 1U power supply, 90 degree PCI Express riser extensions and slim-line optical drives aren't found in your standard gaming PCs.
Available in several starting "levels" of configuration, the Digital Storm Bolt can include processors from the Core i3-2100 all the way up to the Core i7-3770K and graphics cards starting at the GTX 650 Ti 2GB and increasing to the GTX 680 2GB. Our system came with the following hardware:
- Intel Core i5-3570K @ 4.2 GHz
- Low Profile CPU Heatsink
- 8GB DDR3 1600 MHz memory
- GeForce GTX 660 Ti 2GB
- 60GB cache SSD + 1TB 7200 RPM HDD
- Gigabyte GA-Z77N-WiFi motherboard
- 1U 500 watt power supply
- Windows 7 Home Premium x64
- Custom DS Bolt Chassis
Starting cost for this configuration is $1,599.
Check out our quick video review!
The box the Bolt ships in is pretty timid compared to some of the crates that have hit our office recently but that's just fine by me. Due to the small size of the case though I have actually had some laptop boxes (the Alienware M18x comes to mind) that were bigger!
There she is, the Digital Storm Bolt, a combination of custom steel case design and fingerprint-loving piano black paint. Measuring just 14-in tall and 3.6-in wide the case is going to be able to fit and blend in places other desktops simply could not.
Digital Storm has laser etched its logo in the front with a slick red background.
Probably the lone issue I have with the look of the design is the optical drive bay - even though it is a slot (laptop) style bay it stands out like a sore thumb on the Bolt. I would personally have rather had the option of NO optical drive for a sleeker design and maybe an included USB based optical drive.
Here we see the side panel with the air intake for the CPU cooler as well as the external connections courtesy of the Gigabyte Z77N-WIFI motherboard. The only thing that seems out of place is only having two rear panel USB 3.0 ports but having dual Gigabit Ethernet connections.
A bit higher up on the system we find the EVGA GTX 660 Ti 2GB graphics card and the 1U 500 watt power supply that provides it all with the juice to run.
Back on the front panel you'll see that Digital Storm has included a pair of standard USB ports, two USB 3.0 ports and audio ports for easy access.
Removing the cover on the Bolt only requires taking out four screws despite the copious amounts of screw heads on the design of the chassis. Both sides and the top slide off towards the rear of the case and lift up, much like those old Dell/Compaq cases we remember.
This side of the bolt shows the motherboard (well at least the little bit that is still showing), the low profiles CPU cooler and the storage (both SSD cache drive and 1TB standard hard drive).
The 1U power supply is a pretty standard Sparkle unit, one I happened to have used several times in builds over the years. Unfortunately, that little fan on the right side of this photo is the cause of a lot of noise for Digital Storm.
Despite its look, the CPU cooler is actually pretty quiet and allows for decent overclocking of the Core i5-3570K to 4.2 GHz.
Between the top of the CPU cooler and the power supply we can sneak a peek at the riser cards that allow the the graphics card to be mounted above the motherboard at a parallel angle. There are in fact two risers here, but they didn't cause any issues that we found but the chance increases by a factor of 3x that something could be knocked loose during shipping.
The back of the case still has a cut out for the CPU cooler installation if you happen to want to change it in the future for any reason; I would recommend against it though as working in a case tightly packed liks this is a pain!
The GTX 660 Ti from EVGA is at the very top of the case and is your standard, full-size add-in card. Top end SKUs of the Bolt will ship with the GTX 680!
Power connections for the GTX 660 Ti are quite a pain to get to (we tried swapping the card earlier) and actually bend over slightly with the installation of the top panel / sides.
I don't envy the installer for each of these machines as doing simple things like running cables in the chassis becomes quite a chore with a smaller and densely packed design like the Bolt.
My overall impression with the design of the Bolt by Digital Storm is pretty high with only a couple of things that didn't seem optimal. First, the noise of the power supply fan is going to be an issue we talk about a bit later. Also, some noise dampening measures for rattles that can sometime develop in steel cases like this would have been nice to see - even basic things like rubber pads where the cover panel meets the front panel, etc.