Dan Scharff Nov 14, 2012

Digital Storm Black Ops HailStorm Review

At A Glance


Record-breaking performance.


Near record-breaking price, too.

All hail the HailStorm!

We’ll be the first to admit that system benchmarking has gotten downright boring in the last couple of years. It’s been a solid year and a half of Core i7-980X/990X procs followed by a year of Core i7-2600K rigs. Yawn, seen it.

We certainly can’t say that about Digital Storm’s latest Black Ops HailStorm. It’s the first machine to grace our Lab with Intel’s Core i7-3960X, so we were anxious to see if the new chip could actually walk the walk. We know from our testing of the chip in a controlled environment that it’s a bad mother, but what about when it’s in a high-end system and it’s being run against a slew of other super-fast rigs?

The short answer is, it does pretty damn well. In fact, the Black Ops HailStorm actually set three new benchmark records and tied a forth.

Details about the HailStorm’s config are laid out in our spec chart, but the highlights include Asus’s P9X79 Deluxe board and a custom dual-loop liquid-cooling system, which cools not just the CPU but also the tri-SLI setup of GTX 580 cards. The case is a modified version of Corsair’s 800D that’s been custom‑painted with Digital Storm’s “Black Smoke.”

Performance isn't free, and the Black Ops HailStorm proves it.

But the real story is the CPU, right? Digital Storm had hoped to send the chip to us with the company’s custom Cry-TEC thermo-electric cooler but couldn’t get the mounts for the new Intel LGA2011 socket in time. So, with “just” the liquid cooler, the company took the box to 4.7GHz, or about 1.4GHz over stock. That’s certainly not as big a feat as we’ve seen with some Sandy Bridge chips, but this chip has two more cores, and to be fair, people are just starting to get to know it and how well it overclocks.

At that clock speed, the Core i7-3960X doesn’t disappoint. We’ve seen everything from 4.7GHz Core i7-980X boxes to 5.5GHz Core-i7-2600K machines. At 4.7GHz, the Black Ops HailStorm has some legs. The fastest machine we’ve seen in our Sony Vegas Benchmark is Velocity Micro’s Raptor Signature from the May issue. Equipped with a Core i7-990X at 4.7GHz, it’s scary-fast. But with its 32 percent faster score, the HailStorm is Jason-standing-in-your-closet-at-midnight terrifying. The HailStorm also set records in our ProShow encode, MainConcept Reference test, and Far Cry 2 benches.

We also have been keeping an unofficial tally of how the recent machines have been performing in the DX11 Unigine test, and the tri-SLI 580 gives us about 50.8fps. That’s pretty much what other tri-SLI and quad-SLI rigs have spit out. The truth is that even with this much CPU firepower, when it comes to modern games at high resolutions, it’s still 95 percent about the GPU.

So what’s bad here? The price. The Digital Storm tips the scale to the breaking point at $7,369. Much of that comes from the pricey new chip, custom liquid cooler, custom paint job, and, well, what you have to pay to get the absolute latest and greatest in gaming hardware. But then, what do you expect from a box that can walk in and outperform just about every machine we’ve tested this year?

$7,640, www.digitalstormonline.com

Processor 3.3GHz Core i7-3960X OC'd to 4.7GHz
Asus P9X79 Deluxe
RAM 16GB DDR3/1600
Three EVGA GeForce GTX 580 in tri-SLI
StorageTwo Corsair Force GT in RAID 0, two 2TB WD 7,200rpm HDD
LG Blu-ray burner, DVD burner
Custom Corsair 800D / Corsair 1200

Zero Point
Digital Storm Black Ops HailStorm
Vegas Pro 9 (sec) 3,049 1,651 (+85%)
Lightroom 2.6 (sec)
241 (+48%)
ProShow 4 (sec)
755 (+47%)
Reference 1.6 (sec)
2,113 1,227 (+72%)
STALKER: CoP (fps)
124.8 (+197%)
Far Cry 2 (fps) 114.4 217 (+90%)

Our current desktop test bed consists of a quad-core 2.66GHz Core i7-920 overclocked to 3.5GHz, 6GB of Corsair DDR3/1333 overclocked to 1750MHz, on a Gigabyte X58 motherboard. We are running an ATI Radeon HD 5970 graphics card, a 160GB Intel X25-M SSD, and the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Ultimate.


Digital Storm Black Ops HailStorm

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