Thanks to Intel's aggressively priced top-end Core i7-2600K CPU, boutique PC vendors can now build gaming systems priced between $2,000 and $3,000 that perform on a par with $4,000 and $5,000 desktops. We've seen a steady procession of such systems this spring, and Digital Storm's $2,399 Ode Level 3 looks to be the best value in the bunch. This system is one of Digital Storm's new line of fixed-configuration PCs, and by locking the parts, the vendor seems to be able to offer this system at an impressively competitive price. If you're happy with this configuration, and we can think of few gamers who wouldn't be, the Ode Level 3 will provide you with one of the best gaming desktop deals available.
The Ode uses a Corsair 600T desktop chassis, in a handsome white-and-black color scheme. We generally prefer to see custom-made cases from boutique vendors, as opposed to off-the-shelf parts, but the fact that this is a fixed configuration conveys at least some sense that Digital Storm is bringing its own touch to this desktop. That touch also comes out in the build quality, and in general this PC has a very clean look to it, particularly in its interior. The cables are all routed behind the motherboard, which itself is covered by a plastic plate that obscures the usual green-backed mess of transistors and circuitry.
The only real misstep comes with the Ode's front-panel USB 3.0 jack. Rather than directly connecting that port to the motherboard, Digital Storm ran the connecting cable through the case and out the back to one of the rear-panel USB 3.0 inputs on the exterior of the case. Perhaps this design decision came as a result of too few direct USB 3.0 inputs on the motherboard, but regardless, the cable poking out of the case's back looks sloppy and costs you a USB 3.0 connection.
|Digital Storm Ode Level 3||Maingear Vybe||Alienware Aurora|
|Motherboard chipset||Intel P67||Intel P67||Intel P67|
|CPU||4.8GHz Intel Core i7-2600K (overclocked)||4.8GHz Intel Core i7-2600K (overclocked)||3.9GHz Intel Core i7-2600 (overclocked)|
|Memory||8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM||8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM||4GB 1,866MHz DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||(2) Nvidia GeForce GTX 570||(2) 2GB AMD Radeon HD 6950||(2) 2GB AMD Radeon HD 6950|
|Hard drives||120GB Intel SSD, 1TB 7,200rpm Samsung||250GB Intel SSD, 1TB 7,200rpm Samsung||2TB 7,200rpm|
|Optical drive||Blu-ray/DVD burner combo||dual-layer DVD burner||Blu-ray/DVD burner combo|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
Our complaints about the Ode's design, however minor, will seem even less important once you consider its core components. Simply put, this system offers one of the best deals we've seen in the $2,500 price range.
Comparing the Digital Storm Ode Level 3 with the Alienware Aurora isn't much of a contest. No, the Ode does not have the fancy case-lighting software or other features that festoon Alienware's desktops. Instead, Digital Storm offers twice as much memory as the Alienware system, as well as a solid-state hard drive and a far more aggressively overclocked CPU, and for $200 less.
The Maingear Vybe Super Stock gives the Ode Level 3 stiffer competition, and if you drop the Vybe's 250GB solid-state drive (SSD) to a 128GB model, its price drops to a more competitive $2,480. Digital Storm still has an advantage, offering a Blu-ray drive where Maingear only provides a standard DVD burner, and the Ode still comes in at $50 less than the Maingear Vybe. We could drill down on some of the more mundane details, like the Maingear's front-panel hot-swappable hard-drive bays, or the Ode's dedicated fan-speed dial. Rather than wade through that minutiae, we're comfortable calling these systems a wash from a value perspective, which puts the Digital Storm Ode Level 3 in lofty company next to the Editors' Choice Award-winning Maingear.
|Rendering multiple CPUs||Rendering single CPU|
As we would expect given their similar configurations, the Digital Storm and Maingear systems are effectively tied for first place in our application performance tests. Origin's Genesis offers a similar configuration and falls in the same performance ballpark, as does Falcon Northwest's Mach V, but the Mach V, which costs almost $5,000, doesn't seem to benefit from its 16GB of RAM, although we didn't have our Photoshop CS 5 test ready when that unit came out this past January. The biggest outlier on these tests is the Alienware system, with performance that, while not surprising given its conservative overclocking, remains disappointing for its price range.
|1,600x1,200 (high, 4x aa)||1,280x1,024 (medium, 4x aa)|
|1,920x1,200 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)||1,440x900 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)|
|1,920x1,080 (DirectX 11, very high)|
|Extreme (1,920x1080)||Performance (1,920x1,080, 16x AF)||Entry Level (1,680x1,050)|
Our gaming tests tell a similar story. The Digital Storm and its Nvidia GeForce GTX 570 graphics card win in our Crysis, Far Cry 2, and Metro 2033 tests, by varying margins of victory. The Ode's biggest edge came in our higher-resolution Far Cry 2 test in which, unlike its AMD-based competition, the Digital Storm system lost no performance between the high- and low-resolution test runs.
For newer games, the outlook for the Digital Storm system is promising, although we need more information before we can say anything decisive. Metro 2033 is an Nvidia-skewed game, and as such offers a relatively narrow performance picture. Because of a benchmark-recording anomaly, we also weren't able to get a 2,560x1,536-pixel-resolution result for Metro 2033 from the Ode. Finally, we sent back most of the comparison systems before we finalized our 3DMark 11 testing, so we have only the Alienware to compare with the Ode. Though the 3DMark 11 is a good predictor of future DirectX 11 game performance, we're not surprised that the Digital Storm system outperformed the Alienware.
On balance, we expect that Digital Storm Ode Level 3 will play most games at high resolution and high image-quality settings, but the sub-60fps scores on our Metro 2033 and 3DMark 11 tests suggest that you might need to dial down the image quality if you want to play newer titles at resolutions beyond 1,920x1,080 pixels and maintain playable frame rates.
Adding a second monitor to this system would be a great way to find its 3D performance ceiling given that a second LCD effectively doubles your screen resolution. We would thus suggest you exercise restraint when you look at the back panel and find the Digital Storm's generous selection of video outputs. Display outs between the two graphics cards include four DVI jacks and pairs of full-size HDMI and DisplayPort outputs. It's also awash in data connections, offering USB 2.0, USB 3.0, FireWire, eSATA, and powered eSATA between the back panel and the top of the chassis.
Inside the Ode Level 3, you get surprisingly few expansion card upgrade options for its size, with only two free 1x PCI Express slots available, one hidden in the gap between the two 3D cards. You can add four more hard drives, though, which is plenty, although we wish Digital Storm had seen the hard-drive upgrade path through and installed fixed power and data cables behind each outfacing hard-drive bay. You also have the option to add two more memory sticks, although we expect that most gamers will be happy with the 8GB currently installed.
|Digital Storm Ode Level 3||Average watts per hour|
|Raw (annual kWh)||781.9833|
|Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh)||$88.76|
While Intel's second-generation Core i7 CPUs have provided remarkable power efficiency, Nvidia's graphics cards remain disproportionate power hogs. The Digital Storm system seems for the most part marginally faster than the Maingear, but it achieves that greater speed by consuming almost 40 percent more energy. In dollar terms, that translates to about $7.40 per month to operate the Digital Storm system, as opposed to $5.40 for the Maingear Vybe. We expect that most gamers shopping for a PC in this price range can stomach an extra $2 a month in power costs, but it's clear that Nvidia's graphics cards, and the desktops that use them, have room for improvement when it comes to power efficiency.
Digital Storm provides you with three years of parts and labor warranty coverage with the Ode Level 3, which extends two years beyond the industry average. Its support hours are limited, though, with phones open only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, Monday through Friday. Those hours are a particular inconvenience for anyone with a job with standard working hours who purchases a Digital Storm system on the West Coast. Alternatively, Digital Storm offers a number of support videos and other resources on its Web site.
The fixed-configuration Digital Storm Ode Level 3 offers an impressively fast gaming experience and a strong set of features at an aggressive price. A minor, yet amateurish design misstep in its out-of-box USB 3.0 wiring makes us wince a little, and for truly high-end gaming you'll need to spend a bit more, but for most PC gamers in search of a capable PC at a competitive price, this PC is hard to beat.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Digital Storm Ode Level 3
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.8GHz Intel Core i7-2600K (overclocked); 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2)1.28GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 570 graphics cards; 128GB Intel solid-state hard drive; 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive
Alienware Aurora (Core i7-2600, spring 2011)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-2600K; 4GB 1,866MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 2GB AMD Radeon HD 6950 graphics cards; 1TB SATA 300 7,200rpm hard drive; 2TB SATA 600 7,200rpm hard drive
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.6GHz Intel Core i7-2600K (overclocked); 16GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2)1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 graphics cards; 128GB solid-state hard drive; 1TB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive
Maingear Vybe Super Stock (Core i7-2600K, spring 2011)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-2600; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB AMD Radeon HD 5870, 250GB Intel SSD, 1TB 7,200rpm Samsung hard drive
Origin Genesis (Core i7-2600K, Spring 2011)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.7GHz Intel Core i7-2600K (overclocked); 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 graphics card (overclocked); 80GB solid-state hard drive; 1TB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive