I’ve spent the past few weeks gaming, working and pretending to work on the Volta V, the world’s first commercially-produced handcrafted wooden computer. It feels like it’s part of the family.
There was a time when most of our electronic entertainment equipment was either made of wood or, at the very least, stylized to look as if it had been. There’s something both enduring and endearing about wood. Perhaps it’s that it was once part of a living thing. Or that each piece of a wood-crafted television cabinet, radio housing or now computer enclosure is unique.
As I was preparing to write my review of this particular Volta V PC, one of my fellow writers asked, “So the reason people would want it is because it looks nice, right?” It does indeed look very nice.
But it goes beyond being an incredibly elegant block of functional walnut standing on slanted metal feet. The system I’ve been testing has a distinct personality. For example, it did not like me making it look like this:
It took it like a champ, but I could tell it did not want that cheap red plastic monster sitting on top of it. And those might be $180 keyboard keys on that custom board, but this Volta V would prefer something a bit more coordinated.
The Volta V is offered in multiple configurations, starting at $1,999 for the most basic, on up to nearly $4,000 for the most powerful overclocked system. The one I tested was a slightly modified version of the “Content Creation and High FPS Gaming” model. Cases are available in both walnut and bamboo.
- 120mm Black Mesh Dust Filters X 2
- Asus Z170I Pro Gaming Motherboard
- Corsair SF600 600W 80 Plus Gold PS
- Custom Black Power Supply Cable Set
- Core i7-7700K Overclocked
- Asetek 545LC - Compact Liquid CPU Cooler
- 8GB DDR4 2133MHZ (2 x 4GB)
- Integrated Wifi / Bluetooth
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 8GB
- Gold Plated 16X PCI-E Shielded Extension Cable
- Onboard Sound
- 512GB Samsung 850 Pro SSD 6Gbps
- Microsoft Windows 10 Professional Edition 64 Bit
- Lifetime Service & Tech Support - 1 Year Parts
Price as configured: $2931.00
The Volta V uses some creative layout tricks on the inside in order to house a powerful gaming PC inside a slim wooden rectangle. Here’s a quick video tour:
We’ve got a trimmed-down motherboard taking up the middle of the unit. To the right is a case fan, pushing air trough the filter beneath that side of the unit. On the left the video card, a Nvidia Geforce GTX 1080, is connected to the motherboard via ribbon cable bridge. It lies upside-down so the fans are pushing air through the filter on the right side of the unit.
Note that the motherboard’s rear connectors rest inside of the unit, instead of flush with the rear. That’s part of the Volta V’s cable management solution, feeding essential devices like keyboard, mouse and network cables through holes in either the back or bottom of the case.
For quick connections like headphones and temporary USB needs, there’s a small strip of inputs on the top of the right side of the case. Were this my machine, I would never use these. Instead I’d plug a USB hub into the back in order to keep the lines clean in the front. Still, it’s nice that they’re there.
A mostly wooden enclosure doesn’t seem to do anything to hinder the performance of the overclocked Core i7-7700K / GTX 1080 combo. Games I played on the system (Dragon Quest Heroes II, Nier: Automata, Overwatch, Rise of the Tomb Raider) all ran spectacularly maxed out at 1920 x 1080, with most barely blinking when jumping up to 1440p. Things started breaking down a little at 4K. Nier in particular hated to jump up, slowing down to the point where I had to dial back settings. Overwatch was fine. Overwatch will play on a toaster.
I wasn’t worried about performance on the Volta V. I was worried about heat and air flow and wood burning. Surprisingly enough (to me at least) the wooden enclosure barely warmed after hours of extended play. There was plenty of heat coming out the exhaust in the back of the system, but the surface only got slightly warm. Looks like trees love water even after they’re dead.
On top of the fine performance and keeping cool under pressure, I can’t say I’ve noticed a whole lot of noise coming through those laminated wood panels.
Wood has plenty of upsides. It’s sustainable, carries a classic traditional elegance and looks great on top of a wooden desk, even if that desk is cheap Ikea. It’s got real character.
But it’s still wood. Wood scratches. Wood chips. I may have put a couple scratches on this Volta V, or maybe they happened before I got it. Some folks will be fine with that—each nick or scuff adds a little more personality. Others will be driven insane.
And wood warps. It happens. Volta V makers Computer Direct Outlet warn against using the system in a humid environment, suggesting placing a dehumidifier in the room it’s used in. They also suggest never taking the system outside. This is because it will see the trees outside, remember what it used to be and get depressed, probably.
Aside from the material used, you’ve also got that unique interior design. While Computer Direct Outlet offers a lifetime service and upgrade installation warranty, eventually something’s going to come along that won’t fit, and you’ll have to purchase a new PC and stand it on top of your old one, like we used to do with televisions.
If you look at the Volta V and think, “That looks really plain,” then you’re not the sort of person the system is made for. There’s nothing wrong with shiny plastic, polished metal and as many LEDs as you can pack in without blowing the power supply (a lot).
I love my blinking LEDs and tinted plexiglass system windows, but I feel drawn to the understated beauty of the Volta V. Is it because I am old, and have fond memories of massive wooden television cabinets housing tiny television screens? Do I long for my early computing days, back when systems were short and wide instead of shallow and tall? Or do I just find comfort in the fact that, should this PC ever catch on fire, I can roast marshmallows over it without having to worry about an overabundance of plastic residue?
I don’t know. What I do know is the Volta V is the sort of computer you try to keep in the family as long as possible. Maybe the next generation will figure it out.