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Digital Storm Marauder review: Good gaming, little else

For a budget desktop, this bare-bones system offers little beyond its frame rates.

Digital Storms Marauder gaming desktop is perfectly named, but for all the wrong reasons. The only thing this system is going to plunder is your bank account, and it will leave little to show for the pillaging. True to its design, the Marauder is decently geared for gaming given its budget appeal ($999). And if you're buying the PC simply as an affordable gaming system, you'll do fine. But in nearly every other respect, this system suffers from critical deficiencies that make it less appealing for general use.

Performance

In our review unit as configured, a 3.1GHz AMD FX-8120 Zambezi processor and 8GB of memory serve as the brains and heart of the system. However, with a less-than-impressive score of 77 on our WorldBench 7 suite of tests, the Marauder barely had a pulse, as it was soundly bested by comparably priced, Intel-driven budget desktops such as the $999 Asus Essentio CM6870 and its WorldBench 7 score of 106.

Gaming is the Marauder's specialty, though. Armed with a Radeon HD 7700 graphics board, which launched in February of this year and uses a single 28-nanometer Cape Verde GPU, the Marauder pumped out 80.4 frames per second on our Dirt 3 benchmark (1920-by-1080-pixel resolution, high quality). On this test, the Marauder even scaled as high as 2560 by 1600 and retained playability, achieving a frame rate of 52.6 fps. Our Crysis 2 benchmark is a tad more demanding: The Marauder was able to run it at a maximum playable resolution of 1928 by 1080 (high quality), hitting a rate of 42.8 fps.

In gaming, at least, the Marauder trounced the aforementioned Essentio CM6870, which eked out only half the Marauder's frame rate on the Dirt 3 benchmark run and looked completely overwhelmed by its trip through Crysis 2.

Features and connectivity

But when I say that gaming is this systems only bright spot, I mean it. The single 500GB hard drive in this machine is a low-end choice even for a budget desktop, especially when lined up against the full 2TB of storage that the Essentio CM6870 bestows. And thats not even the worst item on the Marauders spec sheet: This Digital Storm desktop sports a simple DVD combo drive, whereas Asus manages to pack a full Blu-ray player into its sub-$1000 system.

Were big fans of the Marauders lovely Corsair Vengeance C70 chassis. The military theming carries well across the olive-green chassis, up to and including a reset switch (with a finger-flip cover) that makes you feel a little like youre taking the country to DEFCON 2 instead of power cycling your system; the cases convenient carrying handles and side-panel latches are a nice touch too. We love the fact that we dont have to fiddle with screws to pop off the cases windowed or solid sides, even if its a bit loud to do so. Two side fans, two front fans, and one rear fan circulate air around the Marauders interior, but you can add two more on the cases topor a liquid-cooling radiatorif you want to change up the cooling.

You'll find plenty of room for upgrades within the Marauder, and the Vengeance C70 makes that process as smooth and streamlined as possible. The systems three 5.25-inch bays (two of which are free) use built-in locking mechanisms to secure your components sans screws. The case can hold a total of six hard drives, and easy-to-operate, slide-out trays transform the process of adding and removing storage into a task you can measure in seconds, not minutes.

A single PCI Express x16 slot remains free on the motherboard (wed use it to install another graphics board in CrossFire), alongside one open PCI Express x1 slot and two PCI slots. Thumbscrews secure the Marauders PCI-based components in place, a practical but imperfect solution for a case thats almost entirely screw-free.

The biggest drawback of the Vengeance C70 case is that it allows for only two USB 3.0 connections on its front. Four would have been better, and we even could have settled for a mix of USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports. The systems rear is more USB-friendly, with two USB 3.0 ports and six USB 2.0 ports joining an optical S/PDIF connection, a gigabit ethernet port, and connections for 7.1 surround sound. The Marauders Radeon HD 7700 graphics board supports one DVI-I, one HDMI, and two Mini-DisplayPort connections. In total, the Marauder presents an average assortment of connectivity; a bit more, and some extra diversity, would have been appreciated.

Digital Storm didnt include a mouse or keyboard with our system as reviewed, but you can select from a variety of options when customizing a system on the company's site.

Bottom line

Youd have to be a pretty enthusiastic gamer with barely a budget to work with for Digital Storms Marauder to appeal to you. Digital Storm has recently upgraded this system to include an AMD FX-8150 processor, so the CPU performance should be marginally, but not substantially, better. Otherwise, theres little about this $999 gaming desktop that similar systems dont thoroughly squash. Unfortunately, at the bottom, choosing a PC often involves a trade-off: You get great general performance or good gaming, but rarely both.

Performance charts

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