Today we are taking a look at Digital Storm?s redesigned entry into the mini-ITX form factor gaming market: the Bolt. The Bolt is designed to pack a full gaming desktop into a tiny, low profile package.

Originally launched last fall, the Bolt was criticized for having a poor price to performance ratio, noise issues, and a glossy finish that attracted fingerprints too easily. Since then, Digital Storm has made a variety of improvements at no extra cost to the consumer. They have upgraded the ventilation system, changed the power supply to a Sparkle server class 500W Gold Plus PSU to address the noise issue, changed the paint options to matte finishes, and upgraded the basic specifications of the Level 3 configuration. The Digital Storm Bolt comes in four main primary configurations:

Level 1 (Starting at $999):

Base Specs:

  • Intel Core i3 3220 CPU
  • 8GB 1333MHz Memory
  • NVIDIA GTX 650 Ti 2GB

Level 2 (Starting at $1249):

Base Specs:

  • Intel Core i5 3570K CPU
  • 8GB 1600MHz Memory
  • NVIDIA GTX 660 2GB

Level 3 (Starting at $1599):

Base Specs:

  • Intel Core i7 3770K CPU
  • 8GB 1600MHz Memory
  • NVIDIA GTX 660 Ti 2GB

Level 4 (Starting at $1949):

Base Specs:

  • Intel Core i7 3770K CPU
  • 16GB 1600MHz Memory
  • NVIDIA GTX 680 2GB

Each configuration can be customized, changing the CPU, Hard Drives, Solid State Drives, Graphics Card, and Optical Drive. The top model (Level 4) can change the GPU from a GTX 680 to a GTX Titan for an extra $550, or to a GTX 690 for an extra $587. To upgrade the Level 1 from a GTX 650 Ti to a GTX Titan costs an extra $984, and to a GTX 690 is $1021. Customers can also upgrade any Bolt?s optical drive to a Blu-Ray drive. Also, customers can choose a Windows 8 installation rather than Windows 7 if they prefer. Finally, users may also choose between a Metallic Dark Grey Gunmetal Matte Finish or a Pearl White Matte Finish for no extra cost.

Only the Level 3 and Level 4 models come overclocked by Digital Storm. It should also be noted that all Bolt models use air cooling. We had a chance to speak with Digital Storm at CES 2013 about this.When asked why they opted to use air cooling rather than a closed loop water cooling system, we were told that to fit a water cooling system, the Bolt would have to be wider. The goal of the Bolt is to provide a high performance, modular system in as slim of a package as possible, and increasing the width would defeat the purpose. We are extremely impressed that Digital Storm has been able to get such drastic and stable overclocks using just air cooling in such a compact system (their maximum overclock [included in a Level 4 configuration] guarantees a Core i7 3770K increase from stock 3.5 GHz to somewhere between 4.5 and 4.8 GHz).

For our review, we received a Level 3 Bolt with the following specifications:

  • Processor: Intel Core i7 3770K 3.50 GHz (Unlocked CPU) (Quad Core) (Overclocked to 4.1 GHz)
  • Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z77N-WiFi (Intel Z77 Chipset)
  • System Memory: 8GB DDR3 1600 MHz Corsair Vengeance Series
  • Power Supply: 500W Digital Storm Certified Gold Rated BOLT Edition
  • SSD: 120GB Solid State (By: Corsair) (Model: Neutron GTX)
  • Storage: 500GB (7200 RPM)
  • Optical Drive: DVD/CD 8x Multi-Drive (Writes and Reads DVDs, CDs)
  • Internet Access: High Speed Network and Wireless
  • Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 Ti 2GB (Includes PhysX)
  • Extreme Cooling: High Performance Cooler with Five Heat Pipes
  • Windows OS: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium (64-Bit Edition)
  • Warranty: Life-time Expert Customer Care with 3 Year Limited Warranty

For the purpose of our tests, we used NVIDIA?s 314.22 WHQL driver.

Currently, all models use ?an upgradeable internal standard 1U rack mount based 500W internal power supply.? However, Digital Storm is working with their partners to develop higher wattage power supplies for future power-hungry graphics cards.

The Digital Storm Bolt is the thinnest form factor in its class at 3.6 inches. Its full measurements are: 3.6"(W) x 14"(H) x 15"(D) or for our readers outside of the US: ~9cm(W) x 35.5cm(H) x 38cm(D).

The Bolt normally comes with a power cable, accessories box, and Digital Storm binder which includes all the documentation and CDs for the hardware. However, our Bolt was a review sample and included just the power cable.
The Bolt itself is a very sleek design, we appreciate the aggressive styling on the vent cuts along the sides and top of the chassis. The front panel connectors are along the right side of the chassis, at the very front. It includes a headphone jack, microphone jack, 2 USB 3.0 ports, and 2 USB 2.0 ports. On the top of the chassis at the front is a power button flanked by a smaller restart button.

The time it took from pushing the power button to having the OS and startup applications fully loaded was about 25 seconds. Once in the OS, one will notice that Digital Storm has been careful not to include any bloatware whatsoever. What they have included is a cool Digital Storm wallpaper, as well as some screenshots in the pictures folder proving that the system (including the overclock) was fully tested using Prime95 and LinX.

Digital Storm Wallpaper

Digital Storm Wallpaper

Prime95 Test

Prime95 Test

LinX Test

LinX Test

The system itself is quite snappy. The Bolt uses mostly off the shelf components, so the performance is no surprise, it is simply a sum of its parts as well as the extra boost gotten from the overclock. In our case, the Core i7 3770K was overclocked from the stock 3.5 GHz to a stable 4.1 GHz. What really makes the Bolt unique however is the form factor. It puts a full gaming PC into a chassis slightly larger than an XBox 360 S.

Left: Digital Storm Bolt, Right: XBox 360 S

Left: Digital Storm Bolt, Right: XBox 360 S

Back: Digital Storm Bolt, Front: XBox 360 S

Back: Digital Storm Bolt, Front: XBox 360 S

The design is an aluminum shell attached by 4 screws in the back which slides off to reveal the components below.

It is certainly not as modular as a larger system due to size/space constraints, but it does allow the user to change pretty much any component in the system. The Bolt is quite dense, weighing in at a hefty 20 lbs. which does not sound like much, but was heavier than we expected when looking at such a small system (though this makes sense, the components in the system weigh the same regardless of how tightly packed they are). One issue we had with it was that the sides of the chassis don?t feel rigid, and tend to bow under any sort of pressure inwards. This became quite noticeable when carrying it around, and while it did not cause any real issue, it certainly made us nervous. The flexibility in the chassis walls is definitely something to keep in mind if one is considering the Bolt as a possible LAN rig. The 3DMark11 scores were all about what we?d expect out of an overclocked i7 3770K with a GTX 660 Ti. We used the standard benchmarking tests/settings of Entry, Performance, and Extreme.

3DMark11 Entry score of E11712

3DMark11 Entry score of E11712

3DMark11 Performance score of P8097

3DMark11 Performance score of P8097

3DMark11 Extreme score of X2667

3DMark11 Extreme score of X2667

3DMark Fire Strike score of 4840

3DMark Fire Strike score of 4840

PCMark7 score of 6039

PCMark7 score of 6039

AIDA64 Cache & Memory Benchmark

AIDA64 Cache & Memory Benchmark

AIDA64?s Cache & Memory Benchmark test yielded a Read of 18684 MB/s, Write of 20497 MB/s, Copy of 21329 MB/s, and Latency of 43.0 ns on the Memory; a Read of 131255 MB/s, Write of 65624 MB/s, Copy of 123927 MB/s, and Latency of 1.0 ns on the L1 Cache, a Read of 74652 MB/s, Write of 42681 MB/s, Copy of 61945 MB/s, and Latency of 2.9 ns on the L2 Cache, and a Read of 38246 MB/s, Write of 28343 MB/s, Copy of 34944 MB/s, and Latency of 3.8 ns on the L3 Cache.

AIDA64 Disk Benchmark

AIDA64 Disk Benchmark

AIDA64?s Disk Benchmark on the Corsair 120 GB Neutron GTX SSD yielded an average Read of 556 MB/s across 5 different tests, and a latency of 0.06 ms.

Unigine Heaven Benchmark 4.0

Unigine Heaven Benchmark 4.0

We used the Extreme preset in Unigine 4.0 and achieved an average framerate of 34.7 FPS, netting a score of 873. The settings for the Bioshock Infinite benchmarking tool was Ultra DX11 at 1920×1080.

Bioshock Infinite Benchmark Tool Results

Bioshock Infinite Benchmark Tool Results

It had an average framerate of 79.08 FPS, minimum of 26.45 FPS, and maximum of 395.86 FPS.

The settings we used to play through the first level of Bioshock Infinite were:

  • Graphics Quality: Preset
  • Quality Level: Ultra
  • Lock Framerate: Off
  • Screen Resolution: 1920×1080

Bioshock Infinite First Level Results

Bioshock Infinite First Level Results

We achieved an average framerate of 108.545 FPS, a minimum framerate of 33 FPS, and a maximum of 288 FPS.

For Crysis 3, we used the following settings to play through the first level:

  • Resolution: 1920×1080
  • Antialiasing: SMAA Low (1X)
  • Texture Resolution: Very High
  • V-Sync: No
  • System Spec: Very High

Crysis 3 First Level Results

Crysis 3 First Level Results

During our playthrough, we achieved an average framerate of just under 37 FPS, minimum of 23 FPS, and maximum of 58 FPS.

Finally, for Tomb Raider, we used their benchmarking tool with the following settings:

  • V-Sync: Off
  • Quality: Ultra
  • Resolution: 1920×1080
  • Motion Blur: On
  • Screen Effects: On

Tomb Raider Benchmark Tool Results

Tomb Raider Benchmark Tool Results

The benchmark had an average framerate of 64.2 FPS, a minimum of 54 FPS, and a maximum of 74 FPS.

Overall, the games were quite playable at these settings, which was impressive considering the resolution was set to 1080p on all tests and the graphics quality was always set to the maximum (though not always maximum on AA/AF). In conclusion, the Digital Storm Bolt provides full sized gaming power in a sleek, unique, and small package. Anyone can build a mini-ITX gaming PC, but there currently aren?t any mini-ITX chassis that have a width of 3.6 inches and fit up to an NVIDIA GTX Titan. This allows the Bolt to provide an option not available to a regular system builder. We did have some concerns about the chassis bowing inwards when any pressure is applied, but as mentioned before, it appeared to be structurally sound. The performance was exactly what we expected from a computer with these specifications, but we were impressed by the size. Compared to iBuyPower?s Revolt system, the Bolt is smaller, sleeker, and made from metal rather than plastic, giving it a much more durable and solid feel.

Left: iBuyPower Revolt, Right: Digital Storm Bolt

Left: iBuyPower Revolt, Right: Digital Storm Bolt

By our estimates, the Level 3 configuration would cost a user purchasing the parts retail off the shelf approximately $1445. However, one must keep in mind that not all of these components can be purchased off the shelf (including the CPU cooler and the chassis).

Our estimate broken down is:

  • $330 Processor: Intel Core i7 3770K 3.50 GHz (Unlocked CPU) (Quad Core)
  • $120 Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z77N-WiFi (Intel Z77 Chipset)
  • $65 System Memory: 8GB DDR3 1600 MHz Corsair Vengeance Series
  • $150 Power Supply: 500W Digital Storm Certified Gold Rated BOLT Edition
  • $130 SSD: 120GB Solid State (By: Corsair) (Model: Neutron GTX)
  • $60 Storage: 500GB (7200 RPM)
  • $20 Optical Drive: DVD/CD 8x Multi-Drive (Writes and Reads DVDs, CDs)
  • $290 Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 Ti 2GB (Includes PhysX)
  • $60 Extreme Cooling: High Performance Cooler with Five Heat Pipes
  • $120 Windows OS: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium (64-Bit Edition)
  • $100 Chassis

Most prices were taken straight from Newegg.com, though some were guesses on our part, such as the cost of the CPU cooler and the chassis. The power supply is supposedly unique to Digital Storm, but according to the sticker on the PSU, it is a Sparkle 500W Gold Rated SPI500U4BG-ZTG, priced at approximately $150. This means that the user is paying approximately $155 for the R&D that went into the Bolt, the assembly of the Bolt, the overclocking of the CPU, and the testing of the system. We understand that Digital Storm likely gets better pricing than the individual consumer on the parts, but the purpose of this estimate is to show that the Digital Storm Bolt is priced extremely competitively for the components it contains, and adds value in terms of overclocking and design. All in all, for the space conscious gamer or power user, the Digital Storm Bolt is the perfect choice.

For that reason, we?re giving the Digital Storm Bolt the Editor?s Choice Must Have Award for Prosumers/Enthusiasts.