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The Digital Storm Bolt 3 ($1,760 starting, $2,024 as reviewed) is a gaming PC that offers big power along with good looks. This slim desktop's see-through, easily upgradable design is as practical as it is eye-catching, and its 6th-gen Intel Core i7 processor and powerful Nvidia GTX 970 graphics make it more than capable of playing the most demanding games. However, in growing more powerful and customizable, the Bolt 3 has lost some of its predecessor's compactness, meaning those seeking something small enough to stuff into the living room may want to look elsewhere.
The super-sleek Bolt 3 has no shame about baring it all, with a completely transparent left panel that lets you watch all of its neatly laid-out components in action. Everything from the Bolt's graphics card to its cooling fans are in full view, illuminated nicely by the machine's internal red backlighting. You can customize the lighting via the PC's included remote, whether you want it to stay static or pulsate like a miniature nightclub.
The rest of the PC boasts a smooth jet-black finish, with a large Digital Storm logo highlighting its slim, rectangular look. The 18.3 x 15 x 5.8-inch Bolt 3 isn't quite as living-room-friendly as more compact machines such as the Maingear Drift, the Alienware Alpha or even the older Bolt 2, but its sharp aesthetic makes a nice complement to any desk or supersized entertainment center.
This conflicted design is one of my few gripes with the PC — while its front-facing ports seem optimized for those with enough space to lay it horizontally, it doesn't quite have the consolelike compactness of the previous Bolt 2.
CPU: Intel Core i7 6700K
Graphics Card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 970
Video Memory: 4GB
Hard Drive Size: 1 TB
Hard Drive Speed: 7,200rpm
Secondary Hard Drive Size: 250GB
Optical Drive: DVD-R/RW/CD-R/RW
Optical Drive Speed: 8X
Warranty/Support: 3-year limited warranty
Ports and Upgradability
As with its predecessor, one of the Bolt 3's most impressive features is just how easy it is to access and swap out parts. Opening the PC's side panel is as simple as twisting off four small knobs, which will allow you to remove and replace components such as the graphics card, RAM and hard drive.
The Bolt 3 carries all the essentials in terms of ports, starting with the power button, two USB 3.0 ports and headphone and microphone jacks placed in the front for convenient plug-and-play gaming.
In the back, you'll find an additional four USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.1 connections, an Ethernet port and a PS/2 port for those rocking old-school accessories. The PC packs all of the usual audio connections, including line in/out, rear, subwoofer and S/PDIF out. There's an HDMI and DisplayPort on the PC itself; if you want to hook up to multiple displays, you can use the HDMI, DisplayPort and VGA connections on the back of the PC's GTX 970 graphics card.
What's in the Box
As with all Digital Storm machines, the Bolt 3 comes with an accessory box that includes a product manual, video and SSD drivers, a remote for controlling the backlighting and more video cables than you probably need.
Our Bolt 3 shipped with a three-year limited warranty, though yours may vary depending on configuration.
Armed with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 graphics card and 4GB of VRAM, the Bolt 3 is more than capable of playing modern PC games at their full potential.
The Bolt's GPU had no issues handling the rich lighting effects and hyper-detailed character models of Metal Gear Solid V at 2560 x 1440 on high settings. More important, the action played at a smooth 60 frames per second, whether I was sneaking around a burning hospital or riding through a lush forest on horseback. I was even able to crank the game to 4K, though at the cost of a less-silky 30 fps frame rate.
Digital Storm's PC had a similarly easy time with the notably demanding Metro: Last Light during our benchmarks. The Bolt ran the game at 1080p at a blistering 162 fps on low graphics and a highly playable 48 fps on high. When we cranked the game to 4K, the Bolt mustered a strong 70 fps on low settings but crumbled to an unplayable 14 fps on high.
The Maingear Drift's beefier GTX 980 Ti GPU proved to be a bit stronger, notching 66 fps on high settings at 1080p and 21 fps at 4K.
The two PCs told a similar story on the 3DMark Fire Strike test, with the Drift's 14,052 trumping the Bolt 3's 10,436. Both machines trailed our 14,315 gaming desktop average, which factors in some models with faster Titan X graphics cards.
Thanks to its speedy 6th-gen Intel Core i7-6700K processor and 8GB of RAM, the Bolt 3 did an excellent job supporting my nerdy multitasking habits. I played some Metal Gear Solid V while downloading a game on Steam and watching four Twitch streams at once (don't judge), and didn't experience the slightest bit of sluggishness.
Digital Storm's PC netted a strong 18,596 on the Geekbench 3 overall performance test, surpassing the Core i7-6700K-powered Drift (17,003) but coming up short of our 21,601 gaming desktop average.
During our spreadsheet test, the Bolt 3 matched 20,000 names to addresses in a brisk 2 minutes and 39 seconds. That's faster than both the Drift's 3:01 and our 3:18 average.
The Bolt 3's 250GB SSD transferred 4.97GB worth of files at a fairly quick 188 MB per second. Predictably, the Drift's duo of 250GB SSDs performed quicker at 364 MBps, while both computers topped our 159 MBps category average.
Digital Storm offers four key configurations of the Bolt 3, each of which can be customized to your heart's content at the point of purchase. The $1,760 Level 1 model packs an Intel Core i5 6600K processor, 8GB of RAM, Nvidia GTX 960 graphics, a 250GB SSD and a 1TB, 7,200-rpm hard drive. We tested a $2,024 version of the Level 2 unit, which sports a Core i7 6700K processor and ups the graphics to a GTX 970.
The $2,686 Level 3 config gives you twice the RAM at 16GB, as well as stronger GTX 980 graphics. Finally, the extra-beefy $3,166 Level 4 model contains an Intel Core i7 5930K processor and high-end GTX 980 Ti graphics. This version is also powered by Intel's X99 motherboard, while the first three run on an Intel Z170 chipset.
The Bolt 3 doubles down on most of what made its predecessor great: an attractive design, painless upgradability and strong overall gaming performance. However, this sleek PC sacrifices the living-room-ready compactness that made the Bolt 2 a standout. Those seeking something easier to slide into an entertainment center should consider the Maingear Drift or the Alienware X51. For everyone else, the Bolt 3 is one of the best constructed and most powerful gaming desktops in its price range.
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Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.