The spec war continues on the gaming notebook front, and Digital Storm is hoping to rise to the top of the fray with its new Krypton laptop. Outfitted with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 880M GPU and an Intel Core i7 processor, this 17-inch system (starting at $1,478, or $2,251 as configured) exhibits an impressive combination of power and speed. This rig looks worthy of the Man of Steel himself on paper, but is it truly super?
From the outside, the Krypton is just as mild-mannered and unassuming as Clark Kent, although we couldn't help but think of Superman when looking at Digital Storm's distinctive matte silver "S" logo in the center of the lid. The laptop's lid is covered in a black, soft-touch finish that begs to be touched, while a pronounced ridge on both sides adds some much-needed shape.
There's more black soft-touch goodness on the notebook's interior, primarily on the palm rest. A dark-gray glossy band of plastic sits at the top of the deck with a small rectangular power button in the lower right corner. Digital Storm placed an equalizer in the middle of the band, adding a colorful light show to your audio. Directly above the glossy strip sits a metal grille that holds the speakers, which are angled upward to point the sound toward your face.
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The touchpad is ablaze with a unique backlit graphic whose coloring you can change via the Hotkey Utility software. A pair of discrete mouse buttons is located below the touchpad, separated by the fingerprint scanner between them.
Weighing 8.6 pounds, the 16.3 x 11.26 x 1.81-inch Krypton is a lightweight as far as behemoths go. The ASUS G750JZ (16.1 x 12.5 x 0.67~1.96 inches) and Alienware 17 (17.9 x 12.9 x 2.26~2.23 inches) weigh 9.4 pounds and 9.2 pounds, respectively. The MSI GT60 Dominator Pro 3K-375 (15.5 x 10.5 x 2.16 inches) weighs only 7.4 pounds, but keep in mind it has a smaller, 15.6-inch display.
Bright hues and sharp details abound on the Krypton's 17.3-inch, 1920 x 1080, antiglare display. An image of a bird of paradise flower was an explosion of vivacious reds, fuchsias, oranges and greens. Fine details looked crisp, such as striations in the petals and the tiny yellow dots of a lizard resting on the flower.
As we played "Guacamelee! Gold Edition," we admired the vivid violets, golds and greens in the opening scenes of the game. Our character's royal blue luchador mask popped against the yellow sky. We could easily make out small details, such as the tears of El Presidente's daughter as a skeletal villain carried her off.
However, the Krypton's viewing angles were rather disappointing, as colors started washing out as soon as we moved from directly in front of the panel. It's a shame, since such a large screen should comfortably accommodate up to three people.
The panel measured 262 lux on our light meter, which is enough to top the 258-lux desktop replacement average. However, the MSI GT60 and the ASUS G750JZ are brighter, each registering 277 lux. None of these rigs can hold a candle to the 307-lux Alienware 17, however.
The Krypton displayed only 88 percent of the sRGB gamut on our color test, which is noticeably less than the G750JZ's score and the category average, both 101 percent. Color reproduction wasn't as accurate as we would have liked; the Krypton's Delta-E score of 10.8 is well above the category average of 4 (lower scores are better, with 0 being perfectly accurate). The G750JZ was nearly perfect with a score of 1.
Sadly, the Krypton's Onkyo speakers were quieter than the Fortress of Solitude. Explosions during "BioShock Infinite" lacked the oomph we would have expected from a system this size. In-game dialogue and accompanying effects like a murder of crows sounded hollow and distant.
Santana's mournful electric guitar on "Europa (Earth's Cry, Heaven's Smile)" was harsh and grating to the ear at higher volumes. When we switched to Beyonce's "Drunk in Love," the bass lacked power. Overall, the track wasn't as crisp as we would have liked.
The Krypton hit 82 decibels on the Laptop Mag Audio Test (measuring a continuous tone from a distance of 23 inches), which is short of the 89-dB desktop replacement average. The Digital Storm did beat the GT60 and the G750JZ (80 dB), but the Alienware 17 blew everything else away at 97 dB.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Similar to most gaming notebooks, the Krypton is outfitted with a traditional keyboard that has a full number pad. The backlit keys are fairly large with the exception of the Backspace and Right Shift keys.
The keys have 2.5mm of vertical travel, which is higher than the typical 1.5-2mm, which resulted in a more comfortable typing experience. We scored 65 words per minute on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, well above our usual 60 wpm.
We liked looking at the backlit Sentelic touchpad almost as much as we enjoyed using it. The 4.2 x 3.75-inch touchpad gave us more than enough space to easily perform multitouch gestures, such as pinch-zoom, two-finger rotate and switching between apps.
The Krypton isn't as flashy as other gaming laptops on the block, but it can still put on a compelling show via the preinstalled HotKey Utility software. The program encourages you to get creative by customizing the keyboard's backlighting -- that is, if you can find it. Launching the program entails hitting the Fn key and the / button located on the number pad. We wish there were a more intuitive setup.
Using an octagonal color wheel flanked by eight effects (tempo, flash, dance, wave, cycle, breathe, random and custom), we adjusted the lighting and coloring of the keyboard, which is broken into three different zones along with the touchpad. The software also allows you to adjust the keyboard brightness.
While the software is relatively simple to use, we wish it had a prettier presentation, more along the lines of what the Alienware FX software delivers.
After 15 minutes of streaming a full-screen Hulu video, the laptop's touchpad measured 88 degrees Fahrenheit, while the underside hit 90 degrees. The space between the G and H keys registered 98 degrees, which is a couple degrees above our 95-degree comfort threshold. The space between the R and T keys was slightly hotter at 98 degrees.
Cooler fans prevailed once we started gaming. After playing through 15 minutes of "Guacamelee! Gold Edition," the touchpad and space between the G and H keys measured 86 and 88 degrees. The laptop's undercarriage and the space between the R and T keys both posted a temperature of 89 degrees. Despite the heavy-duty cooling, the fans were remarkably quiet.
Muted color and grainy details await anyone looking to shoot a quick selfie or have a video conversation. That's why it's so hard to believe that the stills and video captured with the camera are 1080p. In our test shots, our bright saffron sweater took on a darker, rusty tone while the red stripes on our co-worker's plaid shirt appeared orange. Details were nonexistent, as the knit pattern looked like a blob of muted color.
The Krypton plays host to a lot of ports. The right side of the notebook has a USB 2.0 port; a tray-loading DVD player; and jacks for headphones, microphone, S-PDIF and line-in. A pair of USB 3.0 ports, an eSATA/USB 2.0 port, Firewire, Gigabit Ethernet and a 3-in-1 card reader sit on the notebook's left. On the Krypton's rear, you'll find a DisplayPort, HDMI, mini-VGA, a secure lock slot and a power jack.
Graphics and Gaming
The Krypton is a gaming force to be reckoned with, thanks to its Nvidia GeForce GTX 880M GPU with 8GB of VRAM. For those rare instances when we weren't gaming, the notebook switched over to the Intel HD Graphics 4600 GPU via Nvidia's Optimus technology.
The Digital Storm Krypton scored 5,527 on 3DMark Fire Strike, topping the 4,942 desktop replacement average. The ASUS G750JZ and MSI GT60 Dominator Pro, which have the same GPU as the Krypton, notched 5,610 and 5,443, respectively. The Alienware 17's last-gen Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M GPU scored 4,871.
When we ran the "BioShock Infinite" benchmark, the Krypton hit 151 frames per second at 1080p resolution on low settings, topping the 123 fps average. The GT60 and G750JZ were lower with 142 and 141 fps, while the Alienware 17 posted 106 fps. The Krypton's frame rate dropped to 65 fps at maximum settings, matching the G750JZ and surpassing the 53 fps average. The GT60 was a close second, with 64 fps, while the Alienware gave us 35 fps.
During the "Metro: Last Light" test, the Krypton delivered 88 fps on low at 1080p, sailing past the 79 fps average. The Alienware 17 posted 84 fps, while the G750JZ and GT60 got 81 and 75 fps. When we cranked it up to high, the Krypton got 24 fps. That's not quite playable, but this rate tops the 19 fps average and matches the G750JZ. The Alienware 17 and GT60 weren't far behind, with 22 fps each.
Greater performance is just one aspect of Nvidia's new family of GeForce GTX GPUs, which includes the 880M. The GeForce Experience app includes several features meant to enhance gameplay and endurance.
Battery Boost lets you cap performance at a predetermined frame rate. The app will then throttle the notebook's components, so that gamers can eke out a bit more juice without sacrificing too much performance.
Battery Boost Custom Game Settings will let you tweak individual titles even further. ShadowPlay enables you to record gameplay at resolutions up to 1920 x 1080p, and broadcast their gaming sessions to sites such as Twitch.
GameStream, previously only available on Nvidia's desktop GPUs, lets you stream games from your notebook to connected devices, such as Nvidia's SHIELD.
When you aren't busy dispatching bad guys and liberating worlds, the Digital Storm Krypton can be a productivity juggernaut. The laptop's 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-4810MQ processor with 16GB of RAM easily juggled running a full system scan with 15 open tabs in Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer while streaming an episode of "Young Justice."
On the PCMark7 benchmark, the notebook hit 6,437, easily beating the 5,347 desktop replacement average. The Alienware 17 and MSI GT60 Dominator Pro, which both have 2.7-GHz Intel Core i7-4800MQ CPUs, scored a lower 5,492 and 6,054, respectively. The ASUS G750JZ and its 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ hit 5,969.
The Krypton's 250GB SSD and 750GB 7,200-rpm hard drive loaded Windows 8.1 in 14 seconds. When we ran the File Transfer Test, the Krypton duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 32 seconds for a transfer rate of 159 MBps. That's below the 163-MBps average, but enough to beat the GT60's 102 MBps. The Alienware 17 and G750JZ hit 182 and 283 MBps, respectively.
During the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro Test, the Krypton paired 20,000 names and addresses in 3 minutes and 33 seconds. That's faster than the 4:50 category average as well as the G750JZ (4:03), Alienware 17 (3:42) and GT60 (3:40).
Every superhero has his or her Kryptonite, and for the Digital Storm Krypton, it's the battery life. The laptop lasted 2 hours and 54 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 100 nits of brightness). That's well short of the 4:20 desktop replacement category average. With the backlighting and antivirus software deactivated, battery life improved by a little over one hour, to 4:05.
We evaluated this notebook using the updated Laptop Mag Battery Test, in which we surf the Web continuously over Wi-Fi with the screen brightness set to 100 nites. In the case of the Krypton, this was 31-percent brightness. On our previous version of the battery test, we set the brightness to 40 percent across the board; at these settings, the Alienware 17, MSI GT60 Dominator Pro and ASUS G750JZ posted times of 4:09, 5:21 and 6:26, respectively.
Digital Storm isn't big on pre-installed software, for which we're thankful. However, the company did take the time to add its Command Center utility. Opening in a control panel, Command Center lets gamers tweak power configurations; change time zone; and enable backlighting, Wi-Fi, touchpad and the webcam.
The laptop also comes with the standard Windows 8.1 apps and Nvidia's GeForce Experience software.
Our $2,251 configuration of the Digital Storm Krypton features a 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-4810MQ processor with 16GB of RAM, a 250GB SSD and 750GB 7,200-rpm hard drive, Intel HD Graphics 4600 GPU, and Nvidia GeForce GTX 880M GPU with 8GB of VRAM.
The $1,478 base model has a 2.7-GHz Intel Core i7-4800MQ CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 750GB and 7,200-rpm hard drive, Intel HD Graphics 4600 GPU, and Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M with 4GB of VRAM.
The $2,576 ultimate configuration has a 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-4900MQ CPU, 16GB of RAM, 250GB SSD and 750GB 7,200-rpm hard drive, Intel HD Graphics 4600 GPU, Nvidia GeForce GTX 880M GPU with 8GB of VRAM, and a Blu-Ray Player/DVD burner.
It may not have ice breath or heat vision, but the Digital Storm Krypton still has some formidable powers. For $2,251, gamers get a laptop that can handle the rigors of a 64-man death match in "Call of Duty" without breaking a sweat. However, we expect better viewing angles and sound for a notebook at this price.
For a few more dollars, shoppers can grab the $2,299 MSI GT60 Dominator Pro 3K-475, which offers comparable performance, a stunning 2800 x 1620 display and longer battery life. Still, the Krypton is a good choice for a gaming notebook with powerful specs in an unassuming package.