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Seeing the 17-inch Digital Storm Krypton gaming laptop might elicit a sense of deja vu. It's understandable, as this system is built into the exact same chassis as the Origin Eon17-S we reviewed recently.
That's because of an odd quirk in the PC industry, where smaller, boutique companies take off-the-shelf desktop cases and laptop chassis, fill them with high-end components, and tune, test, and sometimes overclock them. You end up with a custom-made system that's extremely powerful, but that often looks very generic, or just plain ugly.
To make them feel even more custom, the systems are often dressed up with custom logos or touchpad overlays, and come accompanied by hands-on warranties with better access to live, knowledgeable tech support than you'd get from the big guys.
In contrast, major PC makers such as HP or Lenovo have the resources to design and fabricate custom shells for their PCs, but then tend to fill them with nearly identical off-the-shelf collections of components.In this example, both the Origin PC Eon17-S and Digital Storm Krypton models we're currently using are built around the same Compal chassis (that's a Taiwanese company known for making tech hardware for clients including Toshiba, Acer, and others), and each has been slightly customized to reflect their respective brands.
Both are highly configurable with a variety of options for processors, storage, and graphics, although the Krypton we have is a more modest build. Price and availability of specific components can shift in build-to-order systems, but our system came out to $2,240, which is a sizable investment by any standard. The Origin Eon 17S we tested was even more, $3,505.
While available to ship internationally, Digital Storm asks that you call for shipping quotes (and taxes). Directly converted, pricing for the UK would be about £1,380, and pricing for Australian is about AU$2,480.
Why the price difference between two similar-looking 17-inch gaming laptops? Both have 16GB of RAM, the current Nvidia GeForce 880M GPU, and a combination of SSD and HDD storage (and you can adjust the level of storage to suit your budget). The big price difference comes from the CPU. The Origin Eon 17-S configuration we reviewed happens to use a very expensive CPU you don't see very often (and that choice didn't seem to have a big impact on our gaming experience, either).
While both systems have Intel Core i7 CPUs from the current Haswell generation, the Origin PC has an MX, or "extreme" edition chip (the Core i7-4940MX), while the Digital Storm has an MQ chip, just a basic high-end quad-core chip. That MX adds more than $900 to the cost, versus a more common Core i7, and if you configured the Eon17-S with a same CPU as the Digital Storm, its price drops down to around $2,600.Choosing between these two, or any of several other boutique gaming PC brands comes down the availability of the configurable parts you want, and your comfort level with different degrees of customer service. For example, Digital Storm offers what the company calls lifetime support, which means free labor for repairs and upgrades, similar to what Origin PC promises, but doesn't include the 45-day no-dead-pixel guarantee that Origin does.
In our hands-on tests, the Krypton felt indistinguishable from the more expensive Eon17-S, although that covers weeks of use, not months or years. Any no amount of service or support will make it look any less clunky. A new generation of systems, such as the MSI Stealth and Razer Blade , are making inroads as high-design gaming laptops, but they can't yet match the performance of these desktop-dominating monsters.
|Digital Storm Krypton||Alienware 17 (2014)||Origin EON17-S (2014)|
|Price as reviewed||$2,240||$2,967||$3,505|
|Display size/resolution||17.3-inch, 1,920x1,080 screen||17.3-inch, 1,920x1,080 screen||17.3-inch, 1,920x1,080 screen|
|PC CPU||2.8GHz Intel Core i7 4810MQ||2.9GHz Intel Core i7 4910MQ||3.1GHz Intel Core i7 4940MX|
|PC Memory||16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz||16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz||16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce GT 880M||Nvidia GeForce GTX 880M||Nvidia GeForce GTX 880M|
|Storage||256GB SSD, 750GB 7,200rpm HDD||256GB SSD 1TB 5,400rpm HDD||(2) 120GB SSD 750GB 7,200rpm HDD|
|Networking||802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11a/b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1 (64-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)||Windows 8.1 (64-bit)|
From a design and usability standpoint, the Digital Storm Krypton and Origin PC Eon17-S we recently reviewed are essentially identical, and our observations apply to both. Both are big, black, and boxy, and look essentially the same as similar systems might have looked anytime over the past several years.That's because this is essentially an off-the-shelf laptop case of the type that boutique PC makers such as Origin PC buy, then fill with custom components. You're still stuck with a thick, angular machine that doesn't feel as if it was designed from the ground up for gamers.
While Origin PC adds a new sculpted A-panel, which is the panel covering the back of the lid, Digital Storm just adds a logo to the flat black lid. A different, winged logo is stamped on the backlit touch pad, adding a little bit of a custom feel (interestingly, the Origin PC version is identically customized, with its own logo in the same spot on the touch pad).
The key faces on the not-quite-island-style keyboard are widely spaced, but the base of each key is wider and nearly touches its neighbor. The large keys are great for WASD gaming, but I find that Alienware's soft-touch keyboard has a better overall feel.Every gaming laptop keyboard seems to feel the need to be backlit these days. In this chassis, you can set multiple zones with different colors under the keyboard, plus a distinct zone for the touchpad. The Alienware backlit keyboard system is somewhat more polished, with more zones and options, but the overall coolest-looking backlit gaming keyboard is arguably the red backlit one on the Lenovo Y50 and Y70 .
The 17.3-inch display is especially important, as it will be your main conduit to games. The one here has a native resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels, which is the long-time standard for multimedia and gaming PCs, although some systems are boldly moving past that into 4K (or close to it) territory.The screen looks identical to the one on the Eon17-S, with a matte finish, little to no screen glare, and excellent off-axis viewing. The thick plastic screen bezel doesn't scream premium, but none of the highest-performing gaming laptops we've tested have edge-to-edge glass or touch screens.
Audio from the branded Onkyo speakers is loud, and gets an additional kick from from a small subwoofer on the bottom panel. It's same setup, including the Onkyo logo, as found on the Eon 17-S, but I'm still a fan of good quality headphones for a more immersive gaming experience.
|Video||HDMI, DisplayPort, mini-DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers w/subwoofer, headphone/microphone/line-in/S/PDIF jacks|
|Data||3 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||Blu-ray player/DVD burner|
Big, bulky laptops such as are great if you're looking for multiple video outputs, as there's plenty of room for ports. Here, you get HDMI plus both full-size and mini-size DisplayPort connections. Interestingly, the slim 15-inch MacBook Pro has a similar setup, with HDMI and dual mini-Display Ports.While our $2,220-plus configuration has top-notch parts, including an Intel Core i7 CPU and Nvidia GeForce 880M GPU, you can get a Krypton laptop down to as low as $1,531. For that, you get the same Intel Core i7-4810MQ CPU, but trade down to an Nvidia GeForce 860M GPU, only 8GB of RAM, and a standard 750GB platter hard drive, rather than an HDD/SSD combo. It's not a terrible setup for that price, but I'd be tempted to pay less for something like the Lenovo Y50 Touch and get the same GeForce 860M GPU and a sharper design with a touch-sensitive screen.
It's not surprising that the Origin PC and Digital Storm Krypton traded top scores in our benchmark tests with a recent Alienware 17, as all three feature high-end Intel Core i7 processors and Nvidia GeForce 880M graphics. We also didn't see much of a boost from the MX-level Core i7 in the Eon17-S, which was a very expensive add-on, but keep in mind that these tests are built around more mainstream use, such as basic Photoshop and video encoding tests.
In our gaming tests, these systems were also closely matched, which is not a big surprise as the GPU is vital for game performance. In our challenging Metro: Last Light test, at 1,920x1,080 resolution and high/ultra settings, the Eon17-S ran at 27.3 frames per second, versus 25.3 for the Alienware and 27.0 for the Digital Storm Krypton. In BioShock Infinite, also at 1080p/high settings, the Eon17-S ran at 82.6fps, versus 80.9 for the Krypton and 80.3 for the Alienware. In tests with games from Titanfall to Dead Rising 3, we were able to crank graphics settings up to high-to-ultra levels, at full 1080p resolution.
High-end gaming desktops just got access to the new Intel Haswell-E line of CPUs, and new Nvidia parts are expected late this year or early next year, but for now this is about as speedy as it gets.
Don't go in expecting much from battery life in a massive gaming laptop like this, and you won't be disappointed. At 2:49 in our video playback battery drain test, this isn't going to be your coffee shop companion, even if you don't get chased out for taking up too much table space. While playing a game, at the highest resolution and detail settings, it ran for only 50 minutes.
There are several gaming PC brands that will sell you a version of the same laptop, each providing a few custom touches, but essentially offering the same product. On the plus side, performance is top-of-the-line in both the Digital Storm and Origin PC versions of this particular system we tested. On the negative side, it's just plain ugly, with minimal battery life.
If you want to save a few bucks and give up some of the more premium hand-holding and customer service features, from wooden packing crates to dead pixel coverage, we had no problems with the Digital Storm version of this system, which still includes US-based tech help and lifetime access to support and labor. No one has yet built the perfect 17-inch gaming laptop, but between the power of systems such as the Krypton and the new features and designs coming from Lenovo, Razer, and others, we're getting closer all the time.Find more shopping tips in our Laptop Buying Guide.