When we looked at Digital Storm’s Twister Ultra 4, we thought of it as Every Dude’s Machine. You know, it’s just how the average person would build it. There’s no fancy-pants paint or custom wiring. But there is a gratuitous use of drive bay doodads like an LED screen, removable hard drive adapter, and Creative Labs Live drive. The upshot? The already-macho-looking Cooler Master CM Stacker case looks even more, well, macho. Yup, this rig will make you hitch up your pants, snort, and say, “Oh yeah, this is just how I’d build it—none of that sissy stuff!”
That’s not to say the machine’s fit and finish isn’t impressive. The water-cooling on the CPU and dual GeForce 7900 GTX cards is top-of-the-line. Because 350-plus watts of heat must be wicked out of the case, Digital Storm thought a single small radiator wasn’t sufficient for the dual videocard/CPU combination. So Digital Storm cleverly put one radiator on the case’s rear and somehow magically plumbed a second radiator to vent out the top of the case. It’s a neat job except for one thing: Not all of the hoses are secured with hose clamps, so they could pop off at any moment. They’re on fairly tight, but unsecured hoses around $6,500 worth of hardware makes us nn-nnn-nervous.
We’re also annoyed that the fans attached to the two radiators run super-loud. We’d expect a dual-radiator setup to run at a quieter speed. In the hard drive category, the Twister Ultra includes four 150GB Raptors in RAID 0. A single Seagate 750GB Barracuda gives you enough space to back up all the data on the RAID array, and sits in an easy-to-remove drive rack. The overclocked 7900 GTX cards let you run any game on the market with aplomb. But the Twister Ultra 4’s processor is a weakness. Yesterday, the Athlon 64 FX-62 was hot, and today it’s simply not. Digital Storm couldn’t secure an Intel Core 2 Extreme CPU by our deadline. (Note that Falcon Northwest, reviewed on page 78, was faced with the same deadline but managed to secure the powerful Intel chip.)
In the end, an FX-62—even one running at 3GHz—is like bringing a Tribble to a Klingon house party. You know it’s going to end up as garnish on an order of stewed gagh. The Twister Ultra ran so slow compared with Falcon’s Mach 4 that we weren’t even sure it was plugged into the wall.
The good news is that the Twister Ultra 4 compares well to our Athlon 64 FX-60 zeropoint system, chalking up scores between 28 and 14 percent faster than the 2.6GHz FX-60. The bad news is that Digital Storm reached a little far with this rig’s GPUs. The machine came with its cards running at a 683MHz core and 876MHz DDR RAM but could not complete Quake 4 until we cranked the cards down halfway to the stock clocks. Even at 667/850, however, there were signs of corruption, and successive runs of Quake 4 got progressively slower. After three runs, we were down to 85fps. Not good, especially considering the water-cooling on these cards.
Oh, by the way, none of the machine’s four front-mounted USB ports were plugged in. We’ve seen Digital Storm machines in the past and they’ve been competent. Not this time. Up against the heavily overclocked Core 2 Extreme in the Falcon Northwest machine, and given its puny Athlon 64 and two glitchy, overclocked GPUs, this review can only end in tears.
Month Reviewed: October 2006
+ BILL PAXTON: Trick water-cooling and a RAID could have made the Twister a mean machine.
- BILL SHATNER: Noisy acoustics, overly overclocked videocards, and last-month's CPU.