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Digital Storm Special Ops 690 II Advanced Level 3: Best review:

Digital Storm Special Ops 690 II Advanced Level 3: Best - Core i7 950 3.06GHz

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Among the other upgrade options, Digital Storm also offers a hot-swap hard-drive bay for $39 to let you access the drives through the front of the case. That would be a welcome feature, but we'd settle for a properly assembled internal hard-drive cabling system. As received, the system had inward-facing hard-drive bays, with inward-facing ports, as well. The result is a clean appearance, but adding or replacing drives is a hassle. Digital Storm didn't mount the drive power and data cables behind either the empty bays or the existing hard drives, instead leaving the cables free-floating and basically impossible to adjust without taking off both side panels. That's not an overly complicated workaround, but the free-floating cables are an inconvenience, and we've seen other boutique vendors give this design element more thought.

Aside from the hard drives and graphics card options, you get room inside this Digital Storm PC for three more memory sticks and a 1x PCI Express card. A sound card, TV tuner, or wireless networking card are easy add-ons to consider for the open card slot, and Digital Storm offers all three options, among others.

We expect most people will be satisfied with the Digital Storm's external connectivity options. USB 2.0 jacks are in abundance on the front and back of the case. The motherboard also supplies a pair of USB 3.0 jacks, as well as an eSATA port. FireWire is the only current data standard missing. We can live without it, but if you have an older digital video camera or other FireWire-based device, you can always opt for a FireWire expansion card.

For audio outs on the Digital Storm you get a pair of 7.1 jacks on the back panel. We wish it had a dedicated digital audio output as well, but you can always send the audio out over the HDMI jack on the video card. With two video cards, you end up with two HDMI outputs, as well as two VGA and two DVI outs.

Juice box
Digital Storm Special Ops 690 II Advanced Level 3 Average watts per hour
Off (watts) 1.7
Sleep (watts) 133.55
Idle (watts) 190.34
Load (watts) 480.83
Raw (annual kWh) 988.1061
Energy Star compliant No
Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh) $112.15

The Digital Storm's power efficiency offers few surprises given its performance configuration. That extra $112 or so per year in power bills is no small figure, but we'll assume that most of those shopping seriously for a PC in the $2,000-plus price range can also absorb the accompanying power costs.

The last time we reviewed a Digital Storm system we noted that the company did not seem to offer as many configuration options as other custom builders, and thus gave us more confidence in its support capabilities. We can't say we've kept a running tally of Digital Storm's inventory since then, and though it still offers comparatively fewer options than some other vendors, its current selection seems larger than it was before. That's not a guarantee of inadequate support, but the simple math of configuration options dictates that the more options you offer, the more difficult it will be to master all of them.

Aside from those concerns, Digital Storm's service and support policies compare well with other small vendors'. You get a three-year warranty by default with each Digital Storm PC, as well as lifetime phone support via Digital Storm's in-house, U.S.-based support staff. Phone support hours are limited, with the toll-free number staffed only on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, inconveniently bracketing standard working hours. Instead, you can refer to Digital Storm's support hub, which is essentially an online discussion forum.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:
Digital Storm Special Ops
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.07GHz Intel Core i7 950; 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2)1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 graphics cards; 80GB Corsair Drive Force solid-state hard drive; 1TB 7,200rpm Western Digital Caviar Black hard drive

Acer Aspire Predator AG5900-U3092
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 2.93GHz Intel Core i7 870; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5850 graphics card; 1.5TB, 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive

Gateway FX6840-15e
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 2.93GHz Intel Core i7 870; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5750 graphics card; 1TB, 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive

Maingear F131
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit; 3.87GHz (overclocked) Intel Core i7 960; 6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5870 graphics cards; 80GB Intel X25-M solid-state hard drive; 1.5TB 5,400rpm Western Digital hard drive

Velocity Micro Vector Holiday Edition
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.62GHz Intel Core i5 760; 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 768GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 graphics card; 1TB, 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive

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