Introducing the DigitalStorm Virtue

One of the biggest benefits of doing system reviews from boutiques like DigitalStorm is the chance to see what talented builders do with brand new hardware once it's released into the wild. Single consumers/enthusiasts get used to and understand the range of performance typically available in overclocking retail kit, but boutiques have to contend with overall performance potential of a range of products on a larger scale. Whether or not you get a decent overclock on your i7-4770K isn't a huge deal; you bought the chip, you're good to go. But for a boutique it becomes a more serious issue, defining their advertising and ultimately helping us all paint a fairly broad picture of what we can expect or at least hope for from new kit.

If you're like me, you were probably incredibly underwhelmed by initial reviews of Haswell. Ivy Bridge proved to be a decent overclocker, but Intel's miserly switch from fluxless solder to thermal paste as a thermal interface material in their chip packaging put a hard limit on what we could really do with it, and they're continuing that aggavating trend with Haswell. One of the most frustrating results is a flattening of the overclocked performance curve from Sandy Bridge to Ivy Bridge, and thankfully we can at least test and see today if Haswell does anything to change things.

With the recent refresh of our benchmarking suite (I carry over notebook benchmarking to the desktop and then add a surround test), I realized we had a perfect opportunity to test just how much progress we've made from one generation to the next. One of the perks of working in the industry is access to high end kit; my personal desktop workstation isn't just fun to have, it also serves as an extremely useful reference platform that I can now pit DigitalStorm's attractive new micro-ATX mid-tower, the Virtue, against.

DigitalStorm Virtue Specifications
Chassis Corsair Obsidian 350D
Processor Intel Core i7-4770K
(4x3.5GHz, Turbo to 3.9GHz, Overclocked to 4.4GHz, 22nm, 8MB L3, 84W)
Motherboard ASUS Gryphon Z87
Memory 2x8GB A-Data DDR3-1600 (maximum 4x8GB)
Graphics eVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 3GB GDDR5
(2304 CUDA Cores, 862MHz/901MHz/6GHz core/boost/RAM, 384-bit memory bus)
Hard Drive(s) Corsair Neutron GTX 120GB SATA 6Gbps SSD

Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB SATA 6Gbps SSD
Optical Drive(s) ASUS BC-12B1ST BD-ROM/DVD+-RW
Power Supply Corsair HX1050 80 Plus Silver PSU
Networking Intel I217-V Gigabit Ethernet
Audio Realtek ALC892
Speaker, line-in, mic, and surround jacks
Front Side Power button
Reset button
2x USB 3.0
Mic and headphone jacks
Optical drive
Top Side -
Back Side 4x USB 2.0
DVI
HDMI
Optical out
4x USB 3.0
Gigabit ethernet
Mic, line-in, headphone, and surround jacks
2x DVI (GTX 780)
1x HDMI (GTX 780)
1x DisplayPort (GTX 780)
Operating System Windows 8 64-bit
Extras 80 Plus Gold PSU
240mm Corsair H100i CPU Cooler
Warranty 3-year limited parts and labor, lifetime customer support
Pricing Starts at $1,403
Review system configured at $2,563

DigitalStorm has four configurations for the Virtue, starting at $1,403. The entry level offers a basic quad core Haswell with no overclocking and a GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost; it's adequate for gaming, but informed consumers will want the second level model featuring an i5-4670K and GeForce GTX 770 for $1,735. Worth mentioning, though, is that DigitalStorm offers a 120GB Corsair Neutron GTX SSD and 1TB HDD minimum, across the board, in all configurations of the Virtue. The highest end model bumps the SSD capacity up to 240GB and the GPU to a GeForce GTX Titan.

There isn't too much to say about the Virtue as we have it, though. DigitalStorm was able to eke out a healthy 4.4GHz overclock on the i7-4770K, but the overclock range they offer is just 4GHz to 4.4GHz, which is underwhelming to say the least. That's not their fault, though; iBuyPower only goes up to about 4.2GHz, ~4.5GHz if you're using one of their signature custom liquid cooling systems. CyberPowerPC offers roughly the same "20% overclock" which works out, again, to about 4.2GHz. DigitalStorm's overclocking options are also essentially in line with AVADirect and other boutiques; Haswell just doesn't have a whole lot of headroom. Meanwhile, DigitalStorm does offer performance tuning on their graphics cards, but the GTX 780 in our review unit is left at stock.

Representing the best and brightest of the last generation is my own custom workstation which will be referred to in charts as the "Reference PC." This is, in my humble opinion, about as good as it can get before you switch over to a custom cooling loop.

Reference PC Specifications
Chassis Nanoxia Deep Silence 1
Processor Intel Core i7-3770K
(4x3.5GHz, Turbo to 3.9GHz, Overclocked to 4.6GHz, 22nm, 8MB L3, 77W)
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H
Memory 4x8GB Crucial Ballistix Sport Extreme Low Profile DDR3L-1600
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 2GB GDDR5 modified with Arctic Cooling Accelero Hybrid
(1536 CUDA Cores, 1264MHz/6.6GHz core/RAM, 256-bit memory bus)
Hard Drive(s) Plextor PX-M5S 256GB SATA 6Gbps SSD

Samsung SSD 840 500GB SATA 6Gbps SSD
Power Supply Rosewill Capstone 750W 80 Plus Gold PSU
Audio Realtek ALC899
Operating System Windows 8 Professional 64-bit
Extras Case modified with Noctua fans
CPU cooled by Swiftech H220
GPU cooled by Arctic Cooling Accelero Hybrid

When you get to the benchmarks, you'll see this is really about as fast as a last generation, single-GPU configuration with a mainstream CPU was going to get. 4.6GHz is healthy for Ivy Bridge, and the Arctic Cooling Accelero Hybrid allowed the GeForce GTX 680 to not only settle on a high boost clock, but maintain it consistently throughout prolonged gaming sessions. This is with the stock GTX 680 BIOS; a modified BIOS with higher voltage might have been able to push the silicon further, but I've heard exactly enough about modified BIOSes burning out GK104 to not tempt fate

System and Gaming Performance
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  • JimmiG - Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - link

    You *will* be able to pay extra for a properly TIM'ed CPU but it won't be another $20. You'll be looking at the IB-E and upcoming Haswell-E which will be several hundred more than their LGA1150 equivalents, with more expensive motherboards thrown in for good measure. Reply
  • airmantharp - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    So, 1000W PSU's are just for shits and giggles? It couldn't draw more than 500w in the worst load situations, and 750W PSU's covering dual-GPU setups are far more reasonable. Reply
  • danjw - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Any chance you could be convinced to see what you could do by deliding the i7-4770K changing the internal TIM, and see what you can do with it? I would really like to find out what the real top end to Haswell is, without Intel's nerf. Reply
  • Ubercake - Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - link

    This is kind of a creative way to give Haswell a numeric boost. How about both systems with 780s? Probably not much of a difference whatsoever.

    When AMD starts creating meaningful CPUs again, we'll see Intel get back into competition mode. Until then, they'll just keep selling CPUs with ever-so-slight increases.
    Reply
  • Klimax - Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - link

    I doubt we'll ever again see GHz race, because energy density is getting very high .(Smaller chip is, more heat per mm needs to be transferred)

    And without huge complexity, per-clock performance is walled too. (And GPU show how such complexity works with yields)
    Reply
  • AndersP - Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - link

    If you choose to buy a 780 GTX over a 770 GTX, you gain 10-20% performance increase for 70% higher price.

    You have to pay 20% more if you choose to buy 770gtx SLI rather than a single 780 GTX for a 50-60% performance increase. In addition, a 770 GTX is a lot cheaper, faster and better temperatures than 680 GTX. Not sure, about new features such as shadowplay and automated performance/temperature control also works with older models.

    In my eyes 770 GTX is defiantly very viable. If you want the most for your buck.
    Reply
  • godrilla - Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - link

    My 3 year old rig with i7 980 xe at 4.3 ghz and 1 year old gtx 690 1150/6500 mhz is still top notch. Reply
  • halcyon - Wednesday, June 26, 2013 - link

    These kind of meagre performance upgrades are the reason I'm not upgrading. Yes, I have the cash. In fact, it's burning in my pocket.

    But a 10% or so improvement at best over what I have?

    Even my secondary 2009 system has a 3-channel memory subsystem that can actually feed four cores, unlike Haswell chipsets.

    GTX670 and GTX770 offer almost zip improvements for my CUDA based workload.

    But I'm not complaining, I can spend this money on better digigams, new phone, new tablet, etc.

    At least there have been _substantial_ improvement on those, unlike in CPU/GPU performance of the past years.
    Reply
  • Bluejay234 - Monday, July 22, 2013 - link

    As good as the Digital Storm build looks, the sad truth is that there is STILL no compelling reason to buy a new Digital Storm system, when the 2600k based one I bought at the beginning of 2011 is almost as powerful as anything I can get today (and overclocks better). Reply
  • Drittz121 - Friday, February 28, 2014 - link

    Just do yourself a favor. STAY AWAY from this company. Yes they look good. But when it breaks and it WILL. All they do is give you the run around. They have had my system for over 2 months trying to fix the garbage they sell. Worse company out there for support. DONT BUY Reply

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