There's something awfully familiar about the Digital Storm x17. If you're having trouble putting your finger on it, take a closer look at the big, bulky, metal and plastic chassis. This is the same generic laptop body used by Origin and other boutique PC makers for high-end gaming laptops.
Why the off-the-shelf look? It's because smaller PC makers can't design and fabricate their own custom laptop shells from scratch as Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and others do. Instead, companies such as Digital Storm take an off-the-shelf body (in this case from Clevo, a Taiwanese manufacturer of generic laptops) and customize it, adding value by hand-assembling and testing the systems, overclocking parts, and making minor cosmetic changes.
That means that a gaming laptop such as this is really measured by its components, customer service, and price. While highly configurable, this default $1,999 build of the x17 includes an Intel Core i7-3610QM CPU, 16GB of RAM, and an AMD Radeon 7970 GPU. According to the Digital Storm Web site, $1,999 includes both a 120GB solid-state drive (SSD) and a 750GB HDD, but note that in our physical review unit we didn't have the SSD. This build has Windows 7 as the operating system, but starting at the end of October, Windows 8 should be available at no extra cost.
A 17-inch laptop from Origin or Maingear configured as similarly as possible (the latter didn't offer the same AMD GPU) would cost a few hundred dollars more, with a more significantly modified version of the same chassis from Origin, and a true custom body from Maingear.
However, Digital Storm includes a three-year warranty in its $1,999 price. Adding the same warranty term brings the similar Origin and Maingear systems I specced out up to about $2,500 each. Note that the exact prices for any particular configuration can change quickly, but for now, this Digital Storm x17 is significantly less expensive than the competition.
|Price as reviewed||$1,999|
|Processor||2.3GHz Intel Core i7-3610QM|
|Memory||16GB, 1,600MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||750GB, 7,200rpm|
|Graphics||Intel HD 4000|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||16.2x10.9 inches|
|Height||1.7 - 1.8 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||17.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||8.4 pounds / 11 pounds|
Design, features, and display
This is not a looker of a laptop, just to get that out of the way. For $2,000 and up, you're wouldn't be wrong in asking for a sharper, more modern design. The Digital Storm x17 is thick and heavy, made of a mix of black brushed metal and plastic. Nothing from the tiny touch pad to the thick bezel around the inset screen looks or feels premium.
The only visual customizations here are a Digital Storm logo printed in white on the wrist rest and a second logo on the back of the lid. The wrist rest logo is especially jarring and large. Origin takes the same body and adds a new panel to the back of the lid, called an A-panel, which adds some Alienware-like fins. Honestly, that's not much of an improvement, either.
If you're a serious gamer looking for maximum power at a reasonable price, you may be willing to overlook some of these aesthetic issues.
Inside the clamshell, you'll find a nearly featureless interior. The keyboard is of an older style not seen often any more. The individual keys touch at the base, but have an inset raised top that looks more like a regular island-style keyboard. You could call it semi-island-style. There is a separate number pad, but some keys, such as the right Shift key and some of the Windows keys, are either too small or shifted around from their default positions.
The keyboard is backlit, with three different colored zones available and a variety of lighting styles, from flashing colors to blinking patterns. Honestly, other than choosing your favorite backlight color, you'll never use it, and the options are not nearly as detailed as what Alienware offers.
For a gaming and multimedia laptop, the use of Fn+F-key combos for things as basic as volume control is annoying. It's built into the basic Clevo design, but gamers want to able to easily adjust volume on the fly.
The very basic touch pad isn't going to get used much for gaming, when a mouse or gamepad usually takes over. That said, rather than a newer button-free clickpad, the x17 has a more dated-looking small pad above separate left and right mouse buttons, with a fingerprint reader nestled in between. For casual Web surfing or other tasks, it's below average, with jumpy multitouch gestures.
The 17.3-inch display has a native resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels, as any halfway-serious desktop replacement requires. The screen, which appears to be the same as the ones on other Clevo laptops we've reviewed, is crisp and bright, and displayed games and movies well. Audio was above average, thanks to THX support and Onkyo speakers, but you'll still want headphones or external speakers for serious gaming or movie watching.
|Digital Storm X17||Average for category [desktop replacement]|
|Video||HDMI, DVI, DisplayPort||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||5.1 speakers with subwoofer, headphone, mic, line-out, optical line-out||Stereo speakers with subwoofer, headphone/microphone jacks.|
|Data||2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, 1 eSATA, SD card reader, Mini FireWire||2 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner or Blu-ray player|
Connectivity and performance
The dated chassis works in your favor if you need a lot of ports and connections, as it includes a few that rarely turn up on newer laptop bodies, such as DVI, eSATA, and Mini FireWire. You also get DisplayPort, HDMI, and USB 3.0, although note that the power connection and the video outputs are on the rear panel, so that may affect how you position the system and its cables on your desk.
Like every boutique PC maker, Digital Storm offers endless customization options for the x17's components. Our Intel Core i7-3610QM CPU is actually the entry point. You can upgrade that to a faster quad-core Core i7 for $170 to $370, or go all the way up to the rarely seen Core i7-3940XM Extreme Edition for $900 more. The same goes for hard drives and GPUs, which include both AMD and Nvidia parts.
It's almost an afterthought to talk about application performance in a system such as this. The CPU is from Intel's most high-end line, so it's incredibly fast, although many other current laptops are in the same category. Even for processor-intensive tasks, it's more power than most users will need, although gamers will appreciate the overhead.