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Maximum PC Staff Oct 06, 2009

Digital Storm 950Si

At A Glance

TOS Spock

Nearly flawless paint job and quiet for this much hardware.

2009 Spock

Somewhat disappointing in gaming benchmarks.

This sleek black rig brings quad SLI and Core i7 goodness

If you doubt the existence of mirror universes that are almost the same except for minor changes, Digital Storm’s 950Si rig could make a believer out of you.

The 950Si is that similar to Maingear’s Kick Ass Award–winning ePhex that we reviewed in August, albeit with some slight differences. For instance, the ePhex’s all-white enclosure was a Silverstone TJ10, while the 950Si uses a nearly all-black TJ09.

In graphics, the 950Si features dual EVGA GeForce GTX 295 cards while Maingear opted for three GeForce GTX 285 cards. Both rigs sport Intel’s top proc—the Core i7 975 Extreme Edition at 4GHz—but get there differently. Digital Storm does a straight multiplier overclock of 31x133MHz base clock to get to 4.1GHz. Maingear preferred a 21x multiplier with a 160MHz base clock to get to 4GHz.

Even in SSDs there’s a similar-but-different feel. Maingear tapped two Intel 80GB X-25M drives; Digital Storm opted for two of Corsair’s 64GB M64 SSDs.


The 950Si is surprisingly quiet for the amount of hardware packed inside.

Our performance tests yielded a few surprises. The water-cooled 4.1GHz Core i7 runs circles, squares, and heptagons around our now-ancient Core 2 Quad zero-point. But good against a Core 2 is one thing; good against another Core i7, that’s something else.

When compared with Maingear’s ePhex, the 950Si was able to grab two benchmark crowns by nudging the ePhex aside in the multithread-lovin’ Main Concept Reference and ProShow Producer tests. But then things got a little odd. Despite its slightly higher clocks (4.1GHz vs. 4GHz), the 950Si actually fell to the ePhex in Photoshop CS3 and Premiere Pro CS3 by about eight percent and 10 percent, respectively. We’re not sure why, but perhaps it’s the result of the higher QPI from the bclock overclock versus the straight multiplier overclock. Or perhaps it’s the RAM. Although we have not known this to impact performance, the ePhex packed 12GB of Kingston DDR3/1600 while the 950Si loads up with a lean 6GB of Mushkin DDR/1600.

The clash of the titans came in gaming, where it was the 950Si’s quad SLI (two dual-GPU GTX 295 cards) against the ePhex’s tri SLI (three GTX 285s). The winner? Tri SLI by a decision. While the ePhex hammered out a stunning 70fps in Crysis, the 950Si’s 65fps is nothing to sneeze at, either. Why wouldn’t four GPUs—albeit clocked lower—beat three? Crysis doesn’t really stress more than three GPUs, so the fourth is there for a ride. There’s also some overhead to having four GPUs, slightly more than there is even with three.

The real oddity was in Unreal Tournament 3.

Instead of the 200fps that we expected, the 950Si spit out a puzzling 115fps. That’s way off the mark for this much hardware. What’s the problem? We’re not sure, but as a sanity check, we also ran 3DMark Vantage’s GPU test on the “extreme” setting and found the 950Si on par with the ePhex, so we’re not too worried about the UT3 performance. However, one final test using Far Cry 2 on Ultra High settings showed the 950Si running about 27 percent slower than the ePhex. Mind you, that still amounts to an excellent 87fps at 1920x1200, but the Maingear rig was clearly the faster of the two.

One area where the 950Si clearly wins, though, is in price. At nearly $2,000 less than the ePhex, the 950Si is more than 30 percent cheaper. But is that really what a buyer who steps into this class of hardware is looking for? In today’s economy, perhaps. Still, the 950Si is a respectable machine, it’s just not the fastest thing out there.

Specifications
Processor Intel 3.33GHz Core i7 975 @ 4.1GHz
MOBO
EVGA Classified
RAM 6GB Mushkin DDR3/1600
Videocard
EVGA GeForce GTX 295 in tri-SLI
Soundcard
Asus Xonar D2X
Storage
Two 64GB Corsair M64 SSD in RAID 0. Western Digital 2TB Caviar Green.
Optical
OptiArc BC-5100S
Case/PSU
Silverstone TJ-09 / PC Enermax Galaxy EVO 1200 watt
BENCHMARKS

Zero Point
Digital Storm 950Si
Premiere Pro CS3 1,260 sec
519 (143%)
Photoshop CS3
169 sec
78 (92%)
ProShow
1,206 sec 433 (227%)
MainConcept 2,049 sec
845 (122%)
Crysis 26 fps
65 (150%)
Unreal Tournament 3 83 fps
111 (34%)

Our current desktop test bed consists of a quad-core 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6700, 2GB of Corsair DDR2/800 RAM on an EVGA 680 SLI motherboard. We run two EVGA GeForce 8800 GTX cards in SLI mode, Western Digital 150GB Raptor and 500GB Caviar hard drives, LG GGC-H20L, Sound Blaster X-Fi, and PC Power and Cooling Silencer 750 Quad. OS is Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit.

THE VERDICT

Digital Storm 950Si

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