Digital Storm is a boutique gaming PC maker that I've traditionally associated with putting together mind-blowing systems that cost more than the vehicle I drive. So when they announced a new line of affordable gaming rigs starting at only $799, I was taken aback. What could the company that's built the "world's most advanced PC" create at such a low price point?
How about a gaming PC that gets the job done?
When Digital Storm first approached me about the possibility of reviewing one of their systems they gave me a choice. I could either test out the top-of-the-line Aventum, the $3,000 - $8,000 machine with its custom-engineered case that defies the laws of temporal physics; or I could test the Marauder, a no-nonsense, low-frills PC that starts at $799 and ends under $1,500. Knowing that the average Kotaku reader is a borderline homeless person using their second-hand PSP to access free internet in the parking lot at Starbucks, I decided to go cheap.
Then Digital Storm asked me which of the Marauder's four levels I'd like to try out. I chose the most expensive, which makes total sense.
The Marauder arrived in a large cardboard box, suspended in the middle via a pair of cardboard-framed sheets of plastic. A foam pack was inflated inside the case to ensure the components within didn't shift during transit. Also inside the box was a carton containing the required cables and a handy-dandy binder containing the system info and driver discs. I'm kind of in love with the whole binder thing. They might not get it back when I return the PC.
The Marauder does not, however, come with an ammo belt and case, but that's nothing a trip to the Army surplus store can't fix.
Before we explore its innards, let's take a look at the Marauder's striking outtards. The line is the first built around Corsair's Vengeance C70 chassis. It's the sort of computer case one would expect to find sitting around an Army base, draped with camouflage netting for no good reason. Its steel exterior is as rugged as it looks, the simple metal construction taking me back to the days when I would build my own machines. This is the sort of case I'd pick out of a lineup at the local computer store.
As tough as the case looks, it's actually rather user-friendly. A pair of handles at the top make lugging the massive beast about an easy feat, and those latches for the side panels are the sort of feature I want in every PC from now on. I open and close my computer a lot — nearly as much as most people open their refrigerator — so ease of access is a definite plus.
Inside we've got tool-less drive bays and thumb-screws for all the card slots. With the exterior latches and these interior conveniences combined, this all adds up to me completely loosing track of all of my screwdrivers since I've been testing the unit.
The Digital Storm Marauder Level 4
- Chassis: Corsair's Vengeance C70
- Processor: Intel Core i5 3570K 3.40 GHz (Quad Core)
- Motherboard: ASUS P8Z77-V LX (Intel Z77 Chipset)
- System Memory: 8GB DDR3 1600MHz Corsair Vengeance Series
- Power Supply: 600W Corsair GS
- Hard Drive: 1TB (7200 RPM) (32MB Cache)
- Optical Drive 1: DVD-R/RW/CD-R/RW (DVD Writer 24x / CD-Writer 48x)
- Video Card(s): 1x AMD Radeon HD 7870 2GB
- Windows OS: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium (64-Bit Edition)
- Warranty: Life-time Expert Customer Care with 3 Year Limited Warranty
- Price: $1,349
Available at Digital Storm
The key to the Marauder's low price is the use of components that, while certainly not top of the line, are more than up to the task of making today's games entertain us for hours on end. Like the Intel Core i5 3570K — it's not an i7, but you don't really need an i7. What would you do with an i7 anyway? You'd just spend it on stupid things.
And that Radeon HD 7870. But I don't like the Radeon cards! The Catalyst interface is slow and stupid! Can't we at least get an HD 7970? No, this card is just fine, and you'll be able to play the same games all the other kids are playing.
Yes, this is the sort of gaming PC my dad would have me buy instead of some $3,000+ powerhouse, convinced it would do the same job at half the cost. This is why I grew up eating store-brand SpaghettiOs. And you know what? Those store brand SpaghettiOs taste just fine.
The Level 4 Marauder hasn't made one complaint in the weeks I've been testing it. It's sat there stoically, pumping out brilliant graphics and dealing with all the spyware I've been inadvertently loading onto it with barely more than a whisper from its case fans. There are elements in the configuration I would change if I were building the machine on my own, but I'm not, and this works.
Actually, it works rather well.
Benchmarks are something new for Kotaku PC hardware reviews, which up until now have simply told you how well a system plays Total War: Shogun 2 rather than shown you via numbered chart. While there's a danger that someone might see a PC review, scroll down to the chart and make their decision based solely on the numbers they find, I get to make charts, something I enjoy immensely, so it all balances out.
I went with Total War: Shogun 2, Batman: Arkham City and Metro 2033 for our regular stable of benchmarking games because a) we like these games and b) each one has a built-in benchmarking tool, leaving me more time to focus on charts showing off the average FPS for each game.
Who still uses Direct X 9 anymore? Why, people that want their frame rate charts a bit lengthier than the DirectX 11 one.
The Radeon HD 7870 takes a bit of a beating under DirectX 11, but the numbers are still well within acceptable range, except for maybe Metro 2033 and let's face it — that game is a bit of a dick.
Digital Storm's Marauder has proven that a boutique gaming PC doesn't have to be an LED-lit pillar of pulsating awesome in order to perform its designated function. There is no custom etching here. There is no molded plastic. The window panel doesn't peer into an electric neon wonderland. It doesn't boot up to the sound of screeching guitar riffs, loudly declaring its intentions to rock your gaming world. It's just a simple, sturdy combination of wires and components specifically tuned to deliver stellar performance for a reasonable price.