Digital Storm Bolt review: A Bolt of no-frills lightning

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MSRP: $1,599.00

The Good The Digital Storm Bolt offers a strong combination of performance and value in a compact design.

The Bad The case cover can be difficult to remove, and Digital Storm cut a few relatively harmless corners to keep the price low.

The Bottom Line By sacrificing luxuries, the performance-focused Digital Storm Bolt will satisfy most PC gamers for significantly less than most other small gaming desktops.

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7.7 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8

Editors' Note: Due to a publishing error, this review was posted before final proofreading, listing incorrect configuration information, including the wrong graphics card. This information has since been corrected.

The Digital Storm Bolt joins a growing trend of small, microtower gaming-PC designs. For $1,599, this fixed-configuration desktop offers enough horsepower to run today's most demanding PC games with high resolutions and image quality, but without encumbering you or your desk area with a monolithic tower. As usual, the limits for this kind of system mean you can't add a second graphics card, hamstringing high-resolution play on multiple monitors. For all but that niche, the Bolt will be an excellent gaming PC, and it offers great value in its compact class.

The Bolt conforms to the microtower school of small case design. This puts it in line with the Falcon Northwest Tiki and the Alienware X51, both of which I reviewed last year. Of the three, Digital Storm's system has the most conservative design, with no alien heads or polished granite base plates in sight. The only real flourish is an unobtrusive pair of matte-black plastic fins that jut out along the rear side edges to prevent tipping.

Measuring approximately 14 inches tall by 5.5 inches wide by 15 inches deep, the Bolt also mirrors those systems in that it can accommodate just a single graphics card. And like the Falcon Northwest Tiki, it can support up to three hard drives, in this case one 3.5-inch drive and two 2.5-inchers.

My one gripe about the design of the Bolt comes down to its removable outer shell. The compact design leaves little clearance between the cables, tie-downs, screws, and other internal bits and the removal path for the cover. Every time I took the cover off or replaced it, it caught on something. You won't remove it every day, but expect a hassle when you do, and proceed gently.

Digital Storm Bolt Falcon Northwest Tiki Origin Chronos
Price (at time of review) $1,599 $2,793 $1,199
Motherboard chipset Intel Z77 Intel H Intel Z68
CPU 4.1GHz Intel Core i7-3770K (overclocked) 4.3GHz Intel Core i7-3770K 4.7GHz Intel Core i5-2550K (overclocked)
Memory 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,866MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 Ti 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 680 1.28GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 560Ti
Hard drives 120GB SSD, 500GB 7,200rpm mechanical 256GB SSD, 2TB 5,400rpm mechanical 750GB, 7,200rpm mechanical
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner Blu-ray/dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

Digital Storm seems to have configured the Bolt to undercut the Falcon Northwest Tiki. In terms of core features, the Bolt and the Tiki are similar. Each has an overclocked Core i7-3770K CPU and a higher-end Nvidia graphics card. The Falcon's GTX 680 is more powerful than the GTX 660 Ti in the Bolt, but as we found in both benchmark and anecdotal testing, the Bolt is still a worthy gaming machine. You will also see how the small differences like an extra megahertz or two in CPU clock speed and faster memory pay off for the Tiki in our application performance tests. The Tiki also has a Blu-ray drive and more than four times the Bolt's hard-drive capacity.

Are those things worth the extra $1,000 for the Tiki configured above (and yes, the price is the same today as it was at the time of my review eight months ago)? The graphics card might be, but overall it's a tough call. If all you care about is gaming performance for the dollar, Digital Storm has an extremely compelling deal in the $1,599 Bolt.

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  

The Bolt offers few surprises in its application performance given its modest overclock settings. Compared with the other PCs, which hit clock speeds of 4.7GHz and higher with the same Core i7-3770K chip, the Digital Storm Bolt and its 4.1GHz setting posts slower but still healthy results. I see no warning signs in these scores, and as expected, the Bolt beats the stock-speed (and $1,999) Dell XPS 8500 on almost every test.

Far Cry 2 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920x1,200 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  

Metro 2033 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
2,560x1,600 (DirectX 11, very high)  
1,920x1,080 (DirectX 11, very high)  

3DMark 11 combined test
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Extreme (1,920x1,080)  
Performance (1,920x1,080, 16x AF)  
Entry Level (1,680x1,050)