This week NVIDIA released its latest high-tech graphics card, the GeForce GTX Titan. The announcement was accompanied by the usual flurry of press releases from boutique PC makers, eager to get their name associated with the next big thing.
Normally these me-too systems don't garner more than a passing mention, but Digital Storm's offering is a special case. The addition of the GTX Titan card doesn't simply make the super-thin Bolt gaming PC better at pumping out graphics — it's the ultimate realisation of the system's core concept.
The first edition Bolt, as I reviewed it, was an incredibly compact gaming PC. At only 9.1cm wide and a little deeper than a standard video card, it didn't take up much more room than an original Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. If the red-and-black case design wasn't so striking you'd have hardly noticed it on sitting on someone's desk or in their entertainment centre. That is, unless it was on.
The system tore savagely into most PC games I pit it against, but that heated savagery was accompanied by an equally savage roar from the Bolt's power supply fans. Soon after release Digital Storm got hold of a better power supply that significantly dampened the noise, but it still wasn't quite optimal.
So the Digital Storm engineers went back to the drawing board, redesigning the case to improve airflow and address customer concerns over that glossy, fingerprint-attracting enclosure. In December they relaunched the Bolt in a sexy new case with an additional side vent, a specially-designed server-class 500W power supply with a reduced fan profile, and a paint finish less likely to make crime scene investigators weep with joy.
Is that pretty? Here I have the case partway off, in order to show you the amazing balance of functionality and space economy Digital Storm's engineers have achieved with this system. Everything component has a place, each is easily removed and replaced when it's time to upgrade. It's not some closed system with proprietary components — it's a high-powered gaming PC with all the goodies in as little space as possible without it melting.
And Digital Storm doesn't skimp on the goodies, either. Along with the aforementioned $US1000 video card there's an Intel Core i7 3.5 GHz quad-core CPU, 16GB of 1600MHz DDR3 memory, 120GB of SSD storage along with a terabyte of standard space — they've even included a DVD drive, and that's almost completely unnecessary these days.
All of that, tucked inside this diminutive cage. Here's the back panel and my filthy desk:
Here's the right side and my filthy desk:
And here's the system compared to a unit of measurement that should be familiar to any lazy PC gamer.
I would have used all the empty diet soda cans on my desk, but I wanted you folks to still be able to see the system.
The Titan Edition Bolt is a lot of power (I already ran benchmarks over here) in a small space, but small is only one element necessary to make the system live up to its full potential.
The goal here isn't to just take up a small amount of room. It's being unobtrusive, and there's more to that than physical footprint. If I am under your bed where you cannot see me (and I've bathed recently), my impact on your environment is negligible. If I start screaming at the top of my lungs, which I often do in such a position, I am no longer unobtrusive.
That's where the GeForce GTX Titan comes in. This supercomputer-powering beast has been designed to purr like a particularly quiet kitten under the heaviest loads. Using NVIDIA's GPU Boost 2.0 technology, the card's performance is weighed against a temperature target, rather that the power target of GPU Boost 1.0. With the GPU temp remaining at or above a predefined limit, the fans never have to kick into overdrive, so the overall acoustic profile is much quieter than say, NVIDIA's other $US1000 card, the GTX 690. Combined with the card's vapour chamber and extended fin stack for physical cooling and heat dissipation, this is one cool-running piece of technology.
Take a card designed for power and temperature control and combine it with a case specifically engineered for cooling components in close proximity, and you've got the best possible marriage of power and profile. The Bolt is right next to me on my desk as I type this, idling in Far Cry 3 at max settings. It's whisper quiet. Hot air isn't billowing forth from the vents. It's just discreetly sitting there, quietly waiting for me to play. Seems to me that's what the Digital Storm Bolt was meant to do.
The Titan Edition Bolt is available at Digital Storm's website starting at $US2499.