Even the untrained eye can spot a Digital Storm laptop from across the room, thanks to the company’s insistence on slapping its huge logo across the lid of each system. The overbranded, gaming-oriented x17 is no different: There’s also a large logo on the wrist rest. That said, at just 8.8 pounds sans accessories, it is actually one of the lightest 17.3-inch gaming laptops we’ve seen.
Our review model, which costs $1777 as configured, packs a third-generation Intel Core i7-3610QM processor, 16GB of RAM, and an AMD Radeon HD7970M graphics card. The system also features a 750GB hard drive, built-in Bluetooth, an 802.11n Wi-Fi adapter, and a DVD-RW optical drive. The x17 runs a 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium.
In PCWorld’s WorldBench 7 benchmark tests, it scored 99 out of 100. This means it’s only one percent slower than our reference machine, a desktop PC with a second-generation Intel Core i5-2500K processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 1TB hard drive. While this is an acceptable score for a desktop replacement—the Dell Inspiron 17R-1316MRB scored just 86 on WB7—it’s a little low for a gaming-oriented desktop replacement. The Alienware M17x R4 and the Samsung Series 7 Gamer both scored decently higher on WB7, with scores of 146 and 123, respectively.
The x17’s performance is just about what you’d expect on individual tests. It starts up in 35.6 seconds, which is about 10 seconds slower than the aforementioned gaming laptops. It manages 15.6 frames per second in our Web Performance tests (just a little slower than the Alienware and the Samsung), and it scores only 2006 in the PCMark 7 Office Productivity tests, compared with the Alienware’s 4549 and the Samsung’s 2513.
Luckily, while the x17 may not have gaming-laptop WB7 scores, it does offer up gaming laptop level of graphics. In our Crysis 2 graphics tests, it managed frame rates of between 44.4 (maximum-quality graphics, 1920 by 1080 pixel resolution) and 94.4 (low-quality graphics, 800 by 600 pixel resolution) frames per second. By comparison, the Alienware and Samsung managed frame rates of between 42.8 and 95.7 fps, and 27.7 and 96 fps, respectively, on the same tests.
In our battery life tests we managed to eke out three hours and 54 minutes of battery life, which is just around average for the desktop replacement category.
Design and usability
Gaming laptops are not known for their sleek profiles or light weight, and the x17 is no exception. This 17.3-inch system weighs just under 9 pounds sans accessories (about 11 pounds with the 3-pound power block), which is average for the desktop replacement category, but below average for the gaming-oriented desktop replacement category.
It comes housed in a solid black chassis with robust hinges, a thick base, and a sturdy, unshakeable lid. The cover features a black brushed-aluminum plate with tapered plastic edges. The interior features more brushed aluminum on the wrist rest area, a full-size backlit keyboard with a number pad, and a medium-size touchpad with two discrete mouse buttons and a fingerprint reader.
The keyboard has regular-style keys with flat, plateau-like surfaces. It’s nothing special, the key surfaces are a little small, and the keys offer somewhat stiff tactile feedback. Digital Storm squeezes in a 10-key number pad next to the keyboard. The keyboard is backlit, and you can change the backlighting color scheme. The backlight editor lets you choose different colors for each of the three keyboard sections, as well as different pulsing rhythms.
The touchpad, which is located directly below the keyboard on the wrist rest, is a disappointment. It’s attractive enough—textured with the same brushed aluminum styling as the wrist rest, and it blends right in, but it’s not very comfortable to use. The cursor moves sluggishly, and multitouch gestures are jumpy and erratic. The two discrete mouse buttons are stiff and difficult to press, and because they lay flush with the wrist rest, it’s difficult to distinguish between the two. To be fair, most gamers will use a cabled mouse while gaming, so a crappy touchpad isn’t as much of an issue as it would be on a more mainstream laptop.
The x17 has a 3-in-1 card reader, one combination USB 3.0/eSATA port, two USB 3.0 ports (one of which is a Sleep-N-Charge type), a FireWire jack, and a gigabit ethernet port on its left side. The right side has four audio jacks (microphone, headphones, line in, and S/PDIF) and one USB 2.0 port, as well as the DVD-RW optical drive. There’s a lock slot, one DisplayPort, one HDMI out, one DVI out, and a power jack around the back.
Screen and speakers
The x17 sports a 17.3-inch glossy LED-backlit display with a native resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels. The screen is surrounded by a shiny black plastic bezel, which contains a built-in webcam. For the most part, the screen looks excellent, rendering text and pictures crisply with well-saturated colors. HD video plays back seamlessly.
After closer inspection, however, we began to notice issues with darker scenes, a distracting shimmering effect while watching videos containing lots of blacks and dark grays. Apart from that, the screen looks very good, with excellent contrast and brightness.
The x17 delivers very good audio, too, thanks to the presence of Onkyo speakers above the keyboard, near the laptop’s hinge. But laptop speakers can only do so much, given the limitations of the form factor, and most gamers will plug in headphones or a headset anyway.
Digital Storm’s x17 is a good gaming machine that’s lighter than most desktop replacements—but it delivers less performance. If you can plump up your budget by $200, you can grab something like an Alienware M17x R4, which costs $1974.