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Digital Storm 950Si (Intel Core i7) review: Digital Storm 950Si (Intel Core i7)

Digital Storm 950Si (Intel Core i7)

Rich Brown Former Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness
Rich was the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, Kentucky. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D printing to Z-Wave smart locks.
Expertise Smart home, Windows PCs, cooking (sometimes), woodworking tools (getting there...)
Rich Brown
9 min read

The $3,636 950Si is the first PC we've reviewed from Digital Storm, and for the most part we've come away impressed. The system itself came with an overclocked, but more importantly stable Intel CPU, and but for a minor design flaw it seems competently built. Digital Storm could have pushed harder on both the performance and the value offering of this system, as AVADirect's Editors' Choice winner from a few months back gives it a tough time on both fronts. If you're willing to wade through Digital Storm's cumbersome Web site to configure a system, you'll likely find an instant rebate offer or two to help minimize the cost. We'd also like to see Digital Storm refine both its online shopping experience and its system building technique. Given its competition from AVADirect, it's hard for us to recommend this exact 950Si configuration at this price, but we'd like to see more from Digital Storm, as it seems to be a competent system builder.


Digital Storm 950Si (Intel Core i7)

The Good

Stable overclocked CPU; well-thought-out component offerings online

The Bad

More expensive than faster, better-equipped competition; no Blu-Ray drive; some might consider power supply too close for comfort to add second dual-chip graphics card.

The Bottom Line

Digital Storm's 950Si has all the makings of a quality performance gaming system, but its value proposition comes up just a bit short. The stable-yet-aggressively overclocked CPU tells us that Digital Storm knows what it's doing, and with a more competitive price it would earn a more enthusiastic recommendation.

We've seen the 950Si's case in several other systems, perhaps most recently with Maingear's Ephex earlier in the year. Its size clearly suggests "powerful gaming computer," and it offers physical space inside to accommodate all the extra graphics cards, beefy power supplies, and liquid cooling tubes a hard-core PC gamer or performance enthusiast could want.

Digital Storm left our review unit's case glossy black, but its Web site offers a number of case customization options, including different paint jobs on the inside and outside, as well as on the screws, hose clamps, vents, and grills. Our one gripe with the design has to do with the always annoying side-panel fan and cathode lights, which require you to disconnect their respective power cables before you can remove the side panel itself. We realize the cooling benefits of the side fan, but either some kind of quick connect cable or a contact-based power connection would be much preferable to the wires currently in place.

  Digital Storm 950Si AVADirect Custom Gaming PC
Price $3,636 $2,900
Motherboard chipset Intel X58 Intel X58
CPU 3.79Ghz Intel Core i7 920 (overclocked) 3.88GHz Intel Core i7-920 (overclocked)
Memory 6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM 6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 1,792MB Nvidia Geforce GTX 295 1,792MB Nvidia GeForce GTX 295 (overclocked)
Hard drives 1TB Western Digital 7,200 rpm hard drive; 300GB Western Digital 10,000 rpm hard drive 1.5TB 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drive, 300GB 15,000 rpm Fujitsu hard drive
Optical drive DVD drive; dual-layer DVD burner Blu-ray drive, dual-layer DVD burner
Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit

The price-to-feature comparison between the Digital Storm system and its competition from AVADirect has some points of concern, although as we mentioned, an instant rebate offer on Digital Storm's Web site helps offset the damage somewhat. The two things that bother us chiefly are the fact that AVADirect achieved a higher overclocked setting with its Core i7 920 chip, and that Digital Storm included a dual-layer DVD burner and standard DVD drive, but no Blu-Ray drive. You can add a Blu-Ray reader for an extra $170, but AVADirect makes Digital Storm look cheap for not including one at this price.

We mentioned the overclocked CPUs, and, as promised, we've added an extra round of CPU stability testing to ensure that the overclocked systems we receive are stable enough to ship to a customer. Like the AVADirect system, the Digital Storm passed an overnight run of the Prime95 stress test. It also passed the LinX test, which was recommended to us by several readers. According to the two most common measures we know of, Digital Storm's overclocking is as stable as we can hope for.

Digital Storm advertises that it can clock the Core i7 920 chip to between 3.3GHz and 3.9GHz for $49, and to 4.0GHz or higher for $199. AVADirect promises free overclocking in the 10- to 20-percent range, and up to 50-percent gains for $100. That would only get the 2.66GHz Core i7 920 chip up to 4.0GHz at best from AVADirect, at the risk of paying twice as much for a lower boost from Digital Storm. Paying for overclocking is always a gamble, but Digital Storm offers both a better deal than AVADirect for a midrange overclock, and it's also willing to at least try for even more aggressive settings if you're willing to gamble $199.

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Digital Storm 950Si

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs  
Rendering Single CPU  
Digital Storm 950Si
Maingear X-Cube
Shuttle XPC H7 5800

We also realize that not all CPUs are equal, but it would have been nice, given its larger price tag, if Digital Storm had at least been able to match the AVADirect system on our performance benchmarks. Instead, as you might expect given its clock speed disadvantage, the Digital Storm system came in behind the AVADirect on every test. We're not talking about a major difference between the two, and it's only a matter of a few seconds on our media encoding benchmarks. But the fact is that the Digital Storm system was outperformed by a competitor that cost $700 less.

Crysis (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600 x 1,200 (high, 4x aa)  
1,280 x 1,024 (medium, 4x aa)  
Digital Storm 950Si
Maingear X-Cube

Far Cry 2 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920x1,200 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  
1,440 x 900 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  
Digital Storm 950Si
Maingear X-Cube

You'll see the same story on our gaming benchmarks, and we suspect AVADirect's overclocked GeForce GTX 295 is partly responsible. Both vendors charge $50 to overclock a dual-chip card like this one. On our tests Digital Storm comes close enough to the 60 frames-per-second hallowed ground on our most demanding Crysis 1,600 x 1,200 benchmark, so we'd have no hesitation connecting it to a 24-inch LCD. And again, it's not that far behind the AVADirect system, but it's disappointing that the Digital Storm system isn't faster given its higher price.

We found few surprises around the rest of the systems, but Digital Storm also ticked off all of the boxes we expect. The system comes with an HDMI video output by virtue of the graphics card, and you'll find an eSATA port for fast external storage among the other ports on the rear panel. There's no wireless networking, which we don't expect to find in a large gaming tower, but you get more USB 2.0 ports than you could want, along with optical and coaxial digital audio, FireWire, and 7.1 analog audio output. A media card reader on the front of the case accommodates removable storage from your portable devices, and if you rummage through the packaging you'll see that Digital Storm included all of the additional cables that came with the motherboard and the modular power supply.

Technically speaking, the system has room for two extra graphics cards via two spare PCI Express slots, and you also get two free standard PCI inputs for other card upgrades. Three additional memory slots stand open, and you can also add multiple extra hard drives easily to the conveniently outward-facing hard-drive bays. We say "technically speaking" about the graphics cards above because as you'll see from our power results below, we're not exactly sure the 1,000 watt PSU could handle another GeForce GTX 295 card comfortably.

Juice box
Digital Storm 950Si  
Off (watts) 2.33
Sleep (watts) 7.34
Idle (watts) 283.08
Load (watts) 489.74
Raw (annual kWh) 1,187.38734
EnergyStar compliant No
Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh) $134.77

The Digital Storm 950Si is the first full-fledged, overclocked gaming PC we've subjected to our power efficiency tests, and the contrast between this system and the all-in-one PCs we tested previously is striking. Where those systems would run you around $20 to $30 a year, the Digital Storm will have a significantly more noticeable impact on your power bill, adding more than $10 a month if you play games for two and a half hours a day. With a more modest workload to match that of our all-in-one tests, the Digital Storm's results come out to around 1,040 annual kilowatt hours, which comes out to about $8 a month.

To our point earlier about adding an extra 3D card, there's little agreement about how much room you should leave yourself when budgeting your power supply needs against your power supply capacity. According to those who suggest 50 percent, at least, this system is close to its threshold. By consuming 489.74 watts under a gaming load with its 1,000 watt power supply, the Digital Storm 950Si would go well beyond the 50 percent mark if you added a second GeForce GTX 295 graphics card. Realistically speaking, it would probably be stable, but our power tests shine a light on why it's more common for a system like this to have a 1,200 watt power unit. That added power headroom will make actually taking advantage of those extra PCI Express graphics slots a bit more comfortable. Of course, we'd hate to see the power bill with four GPUs running an overclocked CPU.

Like many small boutique PC vendors, Digital Storm boasts impressive customer service policies. We found the results varied. The default warranty covers system parts and repair labor for a lengthy three years, with phone support available from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. PT. You have to search around its Web site to find the toll-free support number, and we'd much prefer the business day hours ran 24-7. Then again, reduced hours are common among boutiques that offer only in-house support. We'd feel better about it if Digital Storm had a Saturday shift, as that workweek schedule isn't exactly consumer-friendly. You'll find links to various buying and support guides around the site, but none was that thorough. The tech support FAQ, for example, has only three questions. Digital Storm also has a Web-based form to submit written support requests.

It's hard for us to gauge the true quality of a vendor's customer support but we will at least say that we were heartened by the fact that Digital Storm's configurator offered a thoughtful selection of components for each system, without overloading you with options as with AVADirect. That not only makes the buying process less cumbersome, but it gives us more confidence that Digital Storm can actually support the wide variety of systems it sells.

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System configurations:

AVADirect Custom Gaming PC
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.88GHz Intel Core i7-920 (overclocked); 6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM (underclocked to 1,480MHz); 1,792MB Nvidia GeForce GTX 295 (overclocked); 1.5TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive; 147GB 15,000rpm Fujistu hard drive

Digital Storm 950Si
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.79GHz Intel Core i7-920 (overclocked); 6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1,792MB Nvidia GeForce GTX 295; 1TB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive; 300GB 10,000rpm Western Digital hard drive

Falcon Northwest Fragbox 2
Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit; 3.2GHz Intel Core i7 (overclocked); 6GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 285 graphics cards; 1.5TB 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drive

Maingear X-Cube
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit; 3.7GHz (overclocked) AMD Phenom II X4 940; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 4870X2 graphics card; 1GB Radeon HD 4870 graphics card; (2) 750GB, 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drives

Shuttle XPC H7 5800
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 32-bit; 2.93GHz Intel Core i7 940; 6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 285; 500GB, 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive


Digital Storm 950Si (Intel Core i7)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 5Performance 8Support 7