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
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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  • techienate - Wednesday, July 10, 2013 - link

    No, a system warranty is worth more than individual component warranties. One example: Let's say you have a potential CPU OR motherboard problem causing occasional bluescreens or crashes, but you don't know for sure which it is. Do you have the spare parts to swap out the cpu and motherboard one at a time to determine what the problem is? Not unless you spend more money. Also, it can take considerable time to diagnose these hardware issues, and time is money. If you don't think it's worth $200 dollars, then don't buy it. But saying it only costs them $20 proves you know nothing about how much it costs to run a business. If it were my own computer, I would build it myself. But if someone offered to pay me $200 to build it for them (I am an IT professional and get requests for help all the time), I wouldn't do it. It wouldn't be worth the hassle, time, and risks. So in that way, I think the $200 is a totally reasonable premium.
  • iamezza - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    It's always the same comment whenever a boutique is reviewed.

    They are offering a service for a certain price and people who want that service pay for it, simple.

    It's true most people with half a brain could assemble a computer themselves if they learnt, most people don't have the time or desire how to do it themselves.

    If I wanted to to I could do all the work on my own car, but personally I prefer to pay a mechanic to do it for me.
    Sometimes it's just easier to pay someone, especially if you could earn more money doing your own job then you would otherwise save by doing it yourself.
  • JimmiG - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    It took my just about one full weekend (Friday evening to Sunday night) to build and initially get my latest system running the way I liked, finding a good 24/7 overclock, finding the tightest memory timings that would work etc. and several more weeks until everything was running exactly how I liked it software- and hardware-wise.

    Since I actually enjoy that process, the time was worth it for me. However not everyone has that kind of time or enjoy building and tweaking computers. Time is money - If your regular job pays more than $200 for working a full weekend, you would actually save money by paying someone else $200 to build a computer for you.
  • JBVertexx - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Here's the value... For a guy, say a CPA, who makes a decent amount of money. He's into tech, but not at an "enthusiast level". He hires a lanscaping company to mow his lawn, a financial advisor to manage his money, another CPA to do his taxes, and he's willing to hire experts to build a top-end PC.

    Maybe this guy likes to game. Maybe he just wants an awesome PC for his kid. But he's definitely not going to waste time learning all the in's and out's of motherboard/cpu/case compatibility, power requirements, GPU performance, cooling, and all that.

    He also wants something better than what most other people have. He likes to buy from boutique firms in general. He just got a nice $50k bonus, and he has no problem dropping $2.5k on a high-end PC.
  • Rvenger - Sunday, June 23, 2013 - link

    Dustin, any chance you can run some IBT AVX on that Haswell and report your highest core temps? I noticed the high vcore and am wondering if the same binned CPUs are being used as the retail box ones we buy at newegg etc. According to that vcore, that CPU should thermal throttle within minutes when Prime95 small fft or IBT with AVX is ran.
  • BrightCandle - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    You wont see much benefit running a 680 under a custom water block. It might in theory go slightly faster but its not normally much. In order to get at the extra performance potential you need to pump more voltage through the chip than an air cooler could cope with, and that level of voltage adjustment is not all that easy with todays GPUs, and the gains are often quite marginal even then.

    I typically say that a custom loop is worth about 5% at most. On a CPU its maybe 100-200Mhz as long as your willing to push more voltage (which could kill the chip regardless of the reduced temperature). On the GPU side I have typically only found water to offer around 25Mhz, its normally not much at all. Its real advantage is noise reduction.
  • wumpus - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Odd. I'd expect a bit more. Even then you can certainly expect more quiet than you will get with airflow. From the comments in the article, the 780 may be a far better board for trying out water cooling.
  • 7Enigma - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Ouch, harsh but true. Let's hope he didn't have his coffee yet and we can pretend to let it slide.
  • 7Enigma - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    I have a more sinister thought that it had nothing to do with cost and everything to do with artificially limiting the performance of the chips. They are so far beyond AMD right now on almost EVERY front that they have the ability to create a fantastic chip today and roll out a refresh of the EXACT SAME CHIP with a better interface material and reap a double sale.

    It's a nasty practice, but a very shrewd one.
  • airmantharp - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    The only confusing part is that they're not willing to offer 'properly TIM'd' CPUs as an additional SKU. I'd pay another $10-$20 to get a K CPU with it; hell, they could just use it on all K SKUs and make everyone happy. We're already paying more for something with less features but an unlocked multiplier, why not let us push it to the limit?

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