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Maximum PC Staff

Apr 06, 2010

Digital Storm HailStorm

At A Glance

Hexagon

Six-core processor; quiet; tri-CrossFireX!

Pentagram

Weighs as much as a small car--costs as much, too.

Hexa-core system has its way with our benchmarks

When we introduced our new system benchmarks last month, we thought it might be at least six months before review machines began stomping the holy crap out of them. Unfortunately for us, Digital Storm couldn’t wait to pile it on. The company has unleashed a rig so damned powerful that we’re wondering if our new benchmarks and zero-point system aren’t already obsolete.

But what would you expect of a rig named HailStorm Black Ops Edition that’s equipped with Intel’s new hexa-core Core i7-980X CPU? The Core i7-980X normally clocks in at 3.33GHz, but Digital Storm pushes the CPU to 4.4GHz, with the help of an impressive dual-radiator and large ID hose water-cooling system. For graphics, the company combines three Radeon HD 5870 cards, which have been clock-bumped as well, thanks to the beefy water-cooling. Along with the CPU and GPU cooling, Digital Storm water-cools the chipset and voltage regulators on the EVGA X58 Classified motherboard. We still haven’t reviewed one of these EVGA boards, but its selection by several high-profile OEMs is making us want in on that action. Get the hint, EVGA? We should also mention that for the amount of hardware the HailStorm packs, it’s one of the quietest machine’s we’ve tested.

A single second-gen 160GB Intel X25-M combined with two 1.5TB Seagate Barracudas handle all storage matters. A massive 1,500W Silverstone PSU runs the whole show. There are other amenities such as a Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Champion soundcard, an LG Blu-ray combo drive, and 6GB of DDR3/1600 bearing the Digital Storm brand. The case is Corsair’s killer 800D enclosure with a custom high-gloss paint job. If we had to ding the machine for anything, it’s that the paint job, while nice, certainly isn’t the caliber of those found on Falcon Northwest’s or Smooth Creations’ PCs.


Despite a full rack of hardware and off-the-scale performance, the HailStorm is amazingly quiet.

Even though our zero-point rig is no slouch—a Core i7-920 overclocked to 3.5GHz, with a Radeon HD 5970 and Intel G2 SSD—the HailStorm smashed it to pieces in the benchmarks. In our Sony Vegas Pro 9 video-editing test, the HailStorm was a shocking 45 percent faster. In MainConcept Reference 1.6, the HailStorm achieved a 46 percent faster encode. And in the photo arenas of Lightroom 2.6 and ProShow 4, the HailStorm turned in scores that were 24 percent and 27 percent faster, respectively. Our Radeon HD 5970, the most powerful card on the planet, was no match against the HailStorm’s three Radeon HD 5870s, which bested our rig by 83 percent in STALKER: CoP and 75 percent in Far Cry 2.

You can see why we’re ready to start crying about our smashed and shattered benchmarks. If the first performance rig we test can make such a mockery of our tests, we can only look forward to further humiliation. Sigh.

So, what’s not to like? Two glaring things about the HailStorm make it less than perfect. The first is the rig’s weight. We’ve actually hurt our backs lifting previous Digital Storm systems and this one is just as heavy. Let’s just say you should plan to have help unpacking your new rig. The second imperfection is also painful: the price. At $7,818, the HailStorm ain’t no big-box impulse buy.

But that’s always been the story, hasn’t it? To get this kind of benchmark-crushing performance, you have to pay to play. The HailStorm makes it well worth it.

Specifications
Processor Intel 3.33GHz Core i7-980X (overclocked to 4.4GHz)
Mobo
EVGA Classified X58
RAM 6GB DDR3/1600 in tri-channel mode
Videocard
Three ATI Radeon HD 5870 in CrossFireX
Soundcard
X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Champion
Storage
160GB X25-M Intel SSD, two Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 1.5TB hard drives.
Optical
LG Blu-ray combo drive, Lite-on 22x DVD+R
Case/PSU
Corsair 800D / Silverstone 1,500W PSU
Benchmarks

Zero Point
Digital Storm HailStorm
Vegas Pro 9 (sec)
3,049
2,103
Lightroom 2.6 (sec)
356
286
ProShow 4 (sec)
1,112 873
Reference 1.6 (sec)
2,113
1,450
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: CoP (fps) 42
77.0
Far Cry 2 (fps)
114.4
200.6

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.

THE VERDICT

Digital Storm HailStorm

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