Introducing the DigitalStorm Virtue

One of the biggest benefits of doing system reviews from boutiques like DigitalStorm is the chance to see what talented builders do with brand new hardware once it's released into the wild. Single consumers/enthusiasts get used to and understand the range of performance typically available in overclocking retail kit, but boutiques have to contend with overall performance potential of a range of products on a larger scale. Whether or not you get a decent overclock on your i7-4770K isn't a huge deal; you bought the chip, you're good to go. But for a boutique it becomes a more serious issue, defining their advertising and ultimately helping us all paint a fairly broad picture of what we can expect or at least hope for from new kit.

If you're like me, you were probably incredibly underwhelmed by initial reviews of Haswell. Ivy Bridge proved to be a decent overclocker, but Intel's miserly switch from fluxless solder to thermal paste as a thermal interface material in their chip packaging put a hard limit on what we could really do with it, and they're continuing that aggavating trend with Haswell. One of the most frustrating results is a flattening of the overclocked performance curve from Sandy Bridge to Ivy Bridge, and thankfully we can at least test and see today if Haswell does anything to change things.

With the recent refresh of our benchmarking suite (I carry over notebook benchmarking to the desktop and then add a surround test), I realized we had a perfect opportunity to test just how much progress we've made from one generation to the next. One of the perks of working in the industry is access to high end kit; my personal desktop workstation isn't just fun to have, it also serves as an extremely useful reference platform that I can now pit DigitalStorm's attractive new micro-ATX mid-tower, the Virtue, against.

DigitalStorm Virtue Specifications
Chassis Corsair Obsidian 350D
Processor Intel Core i7-4770K
(4x3.5GHz, Turbo to 3.9GHz, Overclocked to 4.4GHz, 22nm, 8MB L3, 84W)
Motherboard ASUS Gryphon Z87
Memory 2x8GB A-Data DDR3-1600 (maximum 4x8GB)
Graphics eVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 3GB GDDR5
(2304 CUDA Cores, 862MHz/901MHz/6GHz core/boost/RAM, 384-bit memory bus)
Hard Drive(s) Corsair Neutron GTX 120GB SATA 6Gbps SSD

Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB SATA 6Gbps SSD
Optical Drive(s) ASUS BC-12B1ST BD-ROM/DVD+-RW
Power Supply Corsair HX1050 80 Plus Silver PSU
Networking Intel I217-V Gigabit Ethernet
Audio Realtek ALC892
Speaker, line-in, mic, and surround jacks
Front Side Power button
Reset button
2x USB 3.0
Mic and headphone jacks
Optical drive
Top Side -
Back Side 4x USB 2.0
DVI
HDMI
Optical out
4x USB 3.0
Gigabit ethernet
Mic, line-in, headphone, and surround jacks
2x DVI (GTX 780)
1x HDMI (GTX 780)
1x DisplayPort (GTX 780)
Operating System Windows 8 64-bit
Extras 80 Plus Gold PSU
240mm Corsair H100i CPU Cooler
Warranty 3-year limited parts and labor, lifetime customer support
Pricing Starts at $1,403
Review system configured at $2,563

DigitalStorm has four configurations for the Virtue, starting at $1,403. The entry level offers a basic quad core Haswell with no overclocking and a GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost; it's adequate for gaming, but informed consumers will want the second level model featuring an i5-4670K and GeForce GTX 770 for $1,735. Worth mentioning, though, is that DigitalStorm offers a 120GB Corsair Neutron GTX SSD and 1TB HDD minimum, across the board, in all configurations of the Virtue. The highest end model bumps the SSD capacity up to 240GB and the GPU to a GeForce GTX Titan.

There isn't too much to say about the Virtue as we have it, though. DigitalStorm was able to eke out a healthy 4.4GHz overclock on the i7-4770K, but the overclock range they offer is just 4GHz to 4.4GHz, which is underwhelming to say the least. That's not their fault, though; iBuyPower only goes up to about 4.2GHz, ~4.5GHz if you're using one of their signature custom liquid cooling systems. CyberPowerPC offers roughly the same "20% overclock" which works out, again, to about 4.2GHz. DigitalStorm's overclocking options are also essentially in line with AVADirect and other boutiques; Haswell just doesn't have a whole lot of headroom. Meanwhile, DigitalStorm does offer performance tuning on their graphics cards, but the GTX 780 in our review unit is left at stock.

Representing the best and brightest of the last generation is my own custom workstation which will be referred to in charts as the "Reference PC." This is, in my humble opinion, about as good as it can get before you switch over to a custom cooling loop.

Reference PC Specifications
Chassis Nanoxia Deep Silence 1
Processor Intel Core i7-3770K
(4x3.5GHz, Turbo to 3.9GHz, Overclocked to 4.6GHz, 22nm, 8MB L3, 77W)
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H
Memory 4x8GB Crucial Ballistix Sport Extreme Low Profile DDR3L-1600
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 2GB GDDR5 modified with Arctic Cooling Accelero Hybrid
(1536 CUDA Cores, 1264MHz/6.6GHz core/RAM, 256-bit memory bus)
Hard Drive(s) Plextor PX-M5S 256GB SATA 6Gbps SSD

Samsung SSD 840 500GB SATA 6Gbps SSD
Power Supply Rosewill Capstone 750W 80 Plus Gold PSU
Audio Realtek ALC899
Operating System Windows 8 Professional 64-bit
Extras Case modified with Noctua fans
CPU cooled by Swiftech H220
GPU cooled by Arctic Cooling Accelero Hybrid

When you get to the benchmarks, you'll see this is really about as fast as a last generation, single-GPU configuration with a mainstream CPU was going to get. 4.6GHz is healthy for Ivy Bridge, and the Arctic Cooling Accelero Hybrid allowed the GeForce GTX 680 to not only settle on a high boost clock, but maintain it consistently throughout prolonged gaming sessions. This is with the stock GTX 680 BIOS; a modified BIOS with higher voltage might have been able to push the silicon further, but I've heard exactly enough about modified BIOSes burning out GK104 to not tempt fate

System and Gaming Performance
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  • p1esk - Sunday, June 23, 2013 - link

    Well, let's just say I should have the widest possible range of components to choose from, that will fit into their design. Reply
  • Rick83 - Sunday, June 23, 2013 - link

    The advantage is mostly in the hands-off warranty. As long as everything goes well, you're good building yourself, but I can imagine better ways to spend time and money, than to debug every component of my system, because I get odd bluescreens. Reply
  • p1esk - Sunday, June 23, 2013 - link

    Did you even look at their warranty?

    Their default warranty covers defective components for 1 year, and if you want to extend it to 2 or 3 years, you pay $99 and $299 correspondingly. Pretty much every component you buy on Newegg has better warranty that this. So, basically, their warranty is a joke.

    If you get an odd BSOD, you better know how to debug it (not rocket science, most issues relate to faulty RAM, which is easy to check), otherwise you will have to ship your system to them (and pay for shipping).

    Honestly, I don't remember the last time I had problems with my builds, just buy quality components, read reviews, and chances of a problem will be tiny.
    Reply
  • kuraegomon - Sunday, June 23, 2013 - link

    The cost of paying a tech to build and burn-in the system, plus system warranty, isn't worth 10% over Newegg costs? Really? That's a very good margin from a customer point of view. If you don't like it, then don't pay it. By definition, if you're a confident enough builder and are willing to spare the time, you're not a target customer for boutique builders anyway.

    Note that I qualify on both fronts, so would never buy this system. However, I've also worked as a system builder and integrator, and from that viewpoint I think this system represents very good value.
    Reply
  • p1esk - Sunday, June 23, 2013 - link

    See my comment above about their warranty.
    Essentially, their value is assembly of components. For a technician who does it every day, it should not take more than 1 hour to assemble, overclock and test a system. That technician typically makes $15-25/hour.
    So, again, what do they offer for the extra $200 they charge, which actually cost them $20?
    Reply
  • JDG1980 - Sunday, June 23, 2013 - link

    I think these kind of systems are aimed at gamers who aren't "enthusiasts" in the more general sense. Just because you like playing games on a PC doesn't mean you feel comfortable building a PC out of components, or even installing Windows from scratch. To you and I, those things are second nature, but most people can't do them. Reply
  • p1esk - Sunday, June 23, 2013 - link

    Most gamers who are not "enthusiasts" will probably just go to Dell/HP website, or to their local BestBuy store, or ask their more knowledgeable friends for an advice on what to buy at Dell or BestBuy.
    When buying a new computer on their own, their choice will be primarily determined by brand awareness. DigitalStorm does not have any.
    Reply
  • TheScottyB - Sunday, June 23, 2013 - link

    DigitalStorm might not be as big as Dell or HP, but they've been doing well enough over the past 10 years to move into this facility four years ago: http://www.digitalstormonline.com/forums/facility-...

    They probably also have dedicated sales/accounts managers for maintaining a relationship with customers of their workstation products. This would let them avoid being dependent on the health of a single market.

    And at a given price-point their machines have more value than a similarly-priced Dell or other global brand. They might not be the first brand in mind for a gamer, but any gamer who checks them out after seeing an article on a gaming news site will find a better machine for less. Whether or not they take the leap then depends on how much they trust the source. That's why sending machines to reviewers is so important to companies like DigitalStorm.

    I don't work for a company exactly like DigitalStorm, but with regards to technician rates for custom builds or upgrades I get paid $15/hr but my employer charges either $60/hr or a flat fee based on the number and types of components. Whoever closed the sale also gets a small commission. From what I understand, a warranty extension for $99 is pretty typical of our competitors, but my employers charges more. However, we also offer warranty renewals if the customer allows us to perform a system checkup. There's a lot of overhead that eats into whatever the markup appears to be if you go strictly off the BOM.
    Reply
  • Gigaplex - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    1 hour is optimistic, running extended memtests and imaging the software etc takes time. A large OEM would run lots of these in parallel but boutiques don't get large volumes of orders so don't get those economies of scale. Reply
  • techienate - Wednesday, July 10, 2013 - link

    No, a system warranty is worth more than individual component warranties. One example: Let's say you have a potential CPU OR motherboard problem causing occasional bluescreens or crashes, but you don't know for sure which it is. Do you have the spare parts to swap out the cpu and motherboard one at a time to determine what the problem is? Not unless you spend more money. Also, it can take considerable time to diagnose these hardware issues, and time is money. If you don't think it's worth $200 dollars, then don't buy it. But saying it only costs them $20 proves you know nothing about how much it costs to run a business. If it were my own computer, I would build it myself. But if someone offered to pay me $200 to build it for them (I am an IT professional and get requests for help all the time), I wouldn't do it. It wouldn't be worth the hassle, time, and risks. So in that way, I think the $200 is a totally reasonable premium. Reply

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