Digital Storm x17 gaming laptop

Gaming laptops should offer more than just performance–they need to provide an excellent screen, as well as loud, deep speakers and a highly responsive keyboard/touchpad combo. The Digital Storm x17 definitely delivers in performance, but the rest of the package is just average.

Our review model, priced at $2621 (as of November 3, 2011), comes packed with a quad-core Intel Core i7 processor (the i7-2860QM, to be exact), an Nvidia GeForce GTX 580M graphics card, 8GB of RAM, and a 750GB hard drive plus a 120GB solid-state boot drive for quick startup. It also comes with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, a webcam and microphone, and a TV tuner. This laptop runs the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium.

In PCWorld’s WorldBench 6 benchmark tests, the x17 scored very well, earning a mark of 162 and ranking as one of the best performers in the desktop replacement laptops category. By contrast, although the Dell Precision M6600 achieved a score of 152–fairly high for the category–that model will set you back a whopping $5700. Needless to say, such excellent performance in a machine that’s half the price is definitely impressive.

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Thanks to the x17’s GTX 580M graphics card, which has 2GB of dedicated video RAM, the x17 performs well on graphics-intensive applications and games, too. In PCWorld’s Dirt 2 tests at high quality, the x17 produced an average frame rate of 121 frames per second across all resolutions tested. In our Far Cry 2 test at high quality and a resolution of 1920 by 1080, the x17 generated a frame rate of 74.2 fps, almost twice the average frame rate of recently evaluated desktop replacements in the same test (42.7).

As for the x17’s design, well, let’s just say that the company won’t win any style points with the x17. The laptop has a black brushed-aluminum case, which sounds like it should look pretty good–except for the huge, unattractive “Digital Storm: Customized Systems” logo emblazoned across the cover. I understand that Digital Storm is trying to market its product, but this is the largest logo I’ve ever seen on a computer. Plus, it doesn’t even try to be cool–it isn’t shiny, it doesn’t light up–it’s just a matte white print.

The x17, which weighs 8.5 pounds (about 11 pounds with the massive power brick), is otherwise pretty typical. Its 2.1-inch-thick chassis is part brushed aluminum and part plastic, and it’s quite bulky-looking. The interior isn’t much better, though the keyboard deck and touchpad are both made of brushed aluminum; this design decision makes for a strange-feeling touchpad but an attractive deck, so that’s something.

The keyboard is not backlit, and has smallish matte-black Chiclet-style keys. It offers no special buttons, but all of the Function keys have various secondary controls/toggles, such as brightness control and Wi-Fi on/off. Even though the keyboard isn’t especially comfortable to use, as the keys are small and somewhat stiff, it isn’t the worst keyboard I’ve ever used, either. It does have a ten-key number pad, which is expected on a laptop of this size.

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The touchpad is a little small. Its brushed-aluminum finish is slightly rougher than the aluminum around it, though, and a thin line also helps to distinguish it from the deck. Two textured, discrete mouse buttons, as well as a fingerprint reader, sit below it. The touchpad offers smooth movement, and it supports multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom. The roughness is a little weird, however, and it makes using the touchpad less comfortable.

Ports on the Digital Storm x17 are located all around the chassis, except for the front. On the sides are your typical connections: two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 connections, a FireWire port, microphone and headphone jacks, S/PDIF-out, and a line-in jack. A three-in-one card reader and a TV hookup are on the left side, and a DVD-RW/Blu-ray Disc player resides on the right. On the back of the machine are the HDMI-out and DVI-out display ports, along with an eSATA port and a Kensington Lock slot.

The x17’s glossy, 17.3-inch screen has a native resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels. The display is disappointingly dim, even at its highest brightness setting. Color looks okay, but not awe-inducing. High-def video also looks good, though a few blocky artifacts marred my tests of streaming online video. Games look fine, but the brightness (or lack thereof) can really be an issue in darker scenes.

Sound on the x17 is what you’d expect: much louder than typical laptop speakers (since it is a desktop replacement and a gaming machine), but not great. The machine has a built-in subwoofer, but you can barely tell, as most audio on the x17 is fairly thin and bassless.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the x17 is its pitiful battery life. Although hulking desktop replacements aren’t known for their excellent battery life, I still expect one to last at least 3 hours. Unfortunately, in PCWorld’s tests the x17 barely scraped past 2 hours, 20 minutes. Such a result is definitely disappointing, though not a deal-breaker (after all, this system is hardly meant for toting about).

While the Digital Storm x17 is an excellent desktop replacement laptop specs-wise, the rest of the package isn’t impressive. Digital Storm makes no attempt to pretty up its machine–the laptop doesn’t even sport any fancy lights (and we all know that gamers love fancy lights), and the rest of the design is average or slightly below. The screen quality, sound quality, and keyboard/touchpad quality are also below average. Even if you care about performance and nothing else–not design, not portability, not usability–I would still suggest that you go for a desktop PC instead of the x17.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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