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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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MSRP: $2,219.00

The Good Strong selection of features for its price; stable overclocked Core i7 chip; motherboard offers room for third 3D card (but configure a higher-end power supply first).

The Bad Sloppy hard-drive cable design; CPU overclocking not as aggressive as the competition's.

The Bottom Line It's often hard to distinguish one vendor from another in the crowded custom builder market. If you find that Digital Storm has a sale, or a certain component you have your eye on, we can say from this Special Ops 690 II Advanced build that its prices are fair and it's mostly on top of its PC-building game.

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7.4 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Support 6

Review Sections

Technically speaking, this is a review of the Digital Storm Special Ops 690 II Advanced Level 3 gaming desktop. Our review configuration is a well-built $2,219 model, and we found it a competitive higher-end gaming PC, with only a few areas for improvement. Configuring a PC to match our review unit, though, will require drilling down through a daunting selection of options. The selection is not as voluminous as we've seen from AVADirect, iBuypower, and others, but Digital Storm also falls short of the more approachable boutique vendors like Falcon Northwest, Maingear, and Velocity Micro. Digital Storm seems like a competent system builder with fair prices, but unless you see that it offers a case or a component that you can't find elsewhere, it's difficult to separate this vendor from the other custom builders.

Although we like this system and find it a fair value, there's a reason we don't often review PCs from the many small custom shops. Too often, such a shop presents you with an unmanageable array of options that makes it hard to know what to pick. The overbroad selection also calls into question the vendor's ability to service all of those component combinations.

In contrast, buying a Mach V from Falcon Northwest, a Shift from Maingear, or an Edge Z55 from Velocity Micro means you know the case you're going to get, you only have to choose from a few motherboards, and you can feel confident that the vendor is familiar with the particulars of the narrowed-down component selection. The company may have even been involved with the design of some of those components.

Though we question the degree of added value Digital Storm offers, we can't deny that it meets the minimum requirements of a respectable custom PC builder. The interior of the system we reviewed is admirably tidy, at least on the surface, and the overclocked CPU, an Intel Core i7 950 chip bumped from 3.06GHz to 3.83GHz, endured our stability testing with no problems.

Digital Storm Special Ops 690 II Advanced Level 3 Maingear F131
Price $2,219 $2,499
Motherboard chipset Intel X58 Intel X58
CPU 3.83GHz Intel Core i7 950 (overclocked) 4.2GHz Intel Core i7 950 (overclocked)
Memory 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics (2) 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 (2) 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 460
Hard drives 80GB Corsair solid-state drive, 1TB 7,200rpm 64GB Corsair solid-state drive, 1TB 7,200rpm Western Digital Caviar Black
Optical drive Blu-ray/dual-layer DVD burner combo dual-layer DVD burner
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

Comparing the Digital Storm with a competitive PC from Maingear, we see also that Digital Storm's prices are on the mark. Digital Storm has clearly tried to outdo Maingear in the components comparison. For $280 less than the Maingear F131 configuration above, Digital Storm offers a larger solid-state boot drive and a Blu-ray/DVD combo drive where Maingear offers just a DVD burner. If you value those features, the Blu-ray drive in particular, the Digital Storm system seems to offer a better deal.

Note that Digital Storm was not able to match Maingear in its CPU overclocking. The Digital Storm's 3.83GHz setting is a welcome boost, and is in keeping with its advertised 3.3GHz-to-3.9GHz range. The Maingear's higher settings on the same Core i7 chip were just as stable, though, and, based on our performance scores below, produced a noticeable speed advantage in both games and day-to-day applications.

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

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)

Practically speaking, both the Maingear and the Digital Storm systems are fast PCs that will satisfy anyone in need of that kind of horsepower. In absolute terms, the Maingear system is faster. The differences are for the most part minor: a few seconds here, a few extra points there, and all in keeping with the CPU clock speed differential. While Digital Storm was not as aggressive in its overclocking, it has still built a fast PC for multimedia editing, heavy multitasking, and general performance.

Crysis (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Far Cry 2 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

The Digital Storm's gaming results offer more cause for relative concern. Again, this is not a slow system. It hit 60 frames per second on our high-resolution Crysis test, still a demanding title despite its age. Note, though, that the Digital Storm system suffered a rather steep drop on our high-resolution Crysis test compared with the lower-resolution run. It also lagged behind the Maingear rather dramatically on our Far Cry 2 tests.

Again, that lag is relative. The Digital Storm PC still hit 137fps on Far Cry 2 at 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution, so it's safe to say this system will play whatever you throw at it for the foreseeable future. The speed drop-off may have an effect, though, if you have a more ambitious setup, with multiple large monitors, 3D effects, or both. In that kind of nontraditional, more demanding usage scenario, we have more confidence in the Maingear and its steadier, faster frame rates than in the Digital Storm system.

Because it uses an EVGA motherboard that supports three-way SLI, it's possible that you could upgrade this Digital Storm to a third graphics card, which would very likely take care of any performance doubts. We wouldn't feel comfortable with three-way SLI without at least a 1,000-watt power supply to account for the three cards and the overclocked processor, and as shipped the system comes with only a 750-watt unit. That's fine for this configuration. Adding a 1,000-watt power unit via Digital Storm's configuration builder will cost an additional $120 to $160, depending on the model you select.

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