Ah, the joys of computer shopping. Dealing with underpaid stockboys (from anywhere in the world), utterly indifferent management, and machines that work poorly, if at all, when you finally get them. I’ve handled all that nonsense before with larger computer retailers, so last year I decided to go with a smaller, dedicated boutique computer shop–Digital Storm. As I mentioned in one of my previous entries, “Review of the Digital Storm Bolt,” my experience with them was very positive and my Bolt desktop was great. Indeed, I got it over a year ago (June 2013) and when I left for grad school this August, it was still going strong! Quite a contrast to my machines bought from other big retailers, which often slowed down after just a year.
As it happened, however, I found myself needing a new *laptop.* For reasons I’ll get into soon, the one I bought from the other retailer was just inadequate. I did some shopping around, being much more willing to pay a higher price if it meant better quality, but after looking at prices, I didn’t see any that were significantly cheaper than what Digital Storm offered. That, combined with my previous experience with them, was what led me to buy from them once again. And today, I’ll be reviewing the laptop they gave me. My previous experience with DS was very good, but perhaps I just got lucky. Could DS come through again? Could they prove they really did deserve their reputation and the solid review I gave them? Was their first performance more than a fluke? Read on to find out!
(SPOILERS: The answer is yes).
1: Background with Digital Storm and Other Hardware Retailers
Since it’s been a while, it might be a good time to recap in more depth my history with both Digital Storm and the other big computer company, Dell. I mentioned most of this in my Bolt review, but in 2013 I ordered a laptop for grad school from Dell. However, they were *very* late in delivering to me, and angry, my brother and I had to go through hell and high water just to get them to give me a 50 dollar rebate to make up for the unhappy experience! I had to deal with workers who spoke with such heavy accents I could barely understand them and who seemed to be capable of doing nothing more than shunting me off to superiors who knew as little as they did.
The laptop itself, when it finally arrived, was nothing impressive. I thought I wouldn’t be doing much besides typing up Word documents and checking JSTOR at grad school, so I got the cheapest little thing from Dell I could find. It cost about 600 dollars, 550 after the rebate, and worked okay when I was at home, but by the time I went back to grad school last month, it was running slow as molasses! It took like 2 minutes to boot up, 30 seconds to open a simple Word file, and often froze up or chugged when I was just writing! It also slowed to a crawl with about 2 tabs open in either Firefox or Chrome. Since I have to do a variety of things, like keep dozens of tabs open in JSTOR, grade a dozen undergrad student papers, and write my own articles and papers, all under tight deadlines, the sheer slowness of that annoying paperweight was becoming a severe hindrance to my work, which was obviously unacceptable. To ensure that my work in graduate school wasn’t derailed by the frustration of waiting a minute for a paper to load when I had to grade dozens of them, I endeavored to get a new laptop ASAP.
Personal Background: Why I Chose a More Expensive Gaming Laptop
Now, since in grad school, I’d be using my laptop mainly for word processing, you may be wondering why I went with Digital Storm, which sells relatively more expensive gaming laptops. Well, a couple of reasons. First, as I mentioned in my Bolt review, I also tried a couple of other “big” retailers, like Lenovo and HP, and was scared away by either poor customer service, bad website design, or both. Second, my bad experience with my 550 dollar laptop made me consider if it might be more economical to shell out more money for a stronger machine. 550 bucks for “just” a portable word processor might not sound so bad, but I had to replace this thing within a year. Considering I’ll be in grad school for at least 3 more years, possibly 4, at that rate, I’d have to spend a total of 2200 dollars on replacement machines at that price if they pooped out so quickly! My DS bolt, on the other hand, was still steaming along nearly perfectly even after over a year of heavy use. Finally, Digital Storm provided me with FAR better customer service than the other companies did. For those reasons, then, I decided to buy from Digital Storm again, thinking I’d be willing to pay over quadruple the 550$ cost for my old laptop for a machine that would last me years and that came with excellent customer service. I’ll likely be wandering across America if my graduate school career continues on course, so I’d like a companion that can withstand my travels. My previous laptop definitely wasn’t up to the task, but if the performance of my desktop is any indication, a Digital Storm buddy might well be.
The Lance Order Itself:
-Original Price: $2,172.00
Price after 50 dollar discount: 2122$
Price after 230 (!) dollar shipping: 2352$ (I’ll explain this later)
Chassis Model: Digital Storm Lance 15.6 Inch Laptop (Model: S:8258)
Display: 15.6 Inch (16:9) (Resolution: 1920 x 1080) (Anti-glare) LED-Backlit Display
Processor: !SPECIAL PRICE: Intel Core i7 4810MQ (Up to 3.80Ghz) (Quad Core) (6MB Cache) (LIMITED TIME ONLY)
Thermal Compound: Premium CPU and GPU Thermal Compound (Reduces Thermal & Laptop Noise)
Memory: 16GB DDR3 1600MHz
Storage Drive 1: 500GB Solid State – Samsung 840 EVO
Storage Drive 2: 750GB 7200RPM (SATA 3Gb/s)
Optical Drive: Blu-Ray Player & Blu-Ray/DVD/CD Writer (Blu-Ray 6x)
Wireless Card: Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 + Bluetooth 4.0
Graphics Card(s): NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M 4GB with NVIDIA Battery Boost + NVIDIA Optimus
Windows OS: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium (64-Bit Edition)
Recovery Tools: Windows Recovery Toolkit (Bundled with Windows CD)
Virus Protection: FREE: McAfee AntiVirus Plus (1 Year Service Activation Card) (Not Pre-installed) ($35 Value)
Office Suite: – No Thanks
Cooling Pad: – No Thanks
Extra Charger: Extra Charger for Lance (Model: S:8250)
Extra Battery: – No Thanks
Carry Bag: – No Thanks
Audio: – No Thanks
Mouse: – No Thanks
Branded Gear: – No Thanks
Priority Build: – For 99 dollars this would ship within 4 days, but it didn’t and they refunded me–more on that later.
Warranty Plan: Life-time Expert Care with 3 Year Limited Warranty (3 Year Labor & 1 Year Part Replacement)
Choosing the Machine
Now that I’ve described the order, let me tell you about the events leading up to it, and how DS almost disappointed me but ended up coming through.
I started looking at Digital Storm’s laptop selections in early September, and saw the Javelin model (no longer available) for about 1200 dollars (in its cheapest iteration). However, at grad school currently, my mailing address is a P.O Box and different from my billing address. I talked with some VERY helpful customer service people, namely Brian (in the online chat) and Janna (via phone), and they told me I’d have to do a sort of verification–send Digital Storm scanned images of my credit card–for extra security if my shipping address was different from my billing address. I was a little suspicious of that, so I decided it might be better to wait until I came home for Christmas. A few days later, however, I got so frustrated with the slow performance of my old laptop that I said “screw it” and decided to buy a new one.
Alas, when I did I found the Javelin had been discontinued! It had been replaced by a more expensive variant called the “Equinox.” The Equinox was powerful and thin (smaller than the Lance), but it had no CD/DVD drive, so I decided to forgo it. Instead, I went with the next cheapest variant, the Lance, which was around 1500 dollars and somewhat bigger. From what I heard on the forums, the Lance was sturdier and also had some excellent speakers, so I wasn’t too broken up about paying an extra 300 bucks for the chassis.
For the rest of the build, I splurged a little bit. I got a solid state drive in addition to a normal storage drive because I wanted the extra start up speed I’d heard came with it. I also wanted a 500GB SSD rather than a smaller one because I wanted to store a lot of stuff on it, since SSDs have faster access speeds generally, though I also had a regular HD as a backup of course. I also wanted a Blu-Ray player in case I needed to watch movies related to my field of 19th century US history, like Gods and Generals, Spielberg’s Lincoln, etc. I got a decent processor and 16GB of RAM to make sure my computer would never slow down, the graphics card was the cheapest that build allowed, and I also bought a second charger just to be safe (in case I lost one).
The Shipping Saga
So, on Sep. 14, I sent in my order. I needed that laptop ASAP, so I asked for an extra 99 dollars of “priority building,” i.e they’d build my laptop within 4 days. The initial shipping cost was calculated by their on-line calculator to be 67 dollars. However, I’d also heard on the forums that shipping costs were much greater for large packages sent to P.O boxes–one user reported a shipping charge of 130 dollars. I was prepared for that–as much as I regretted not buying a laptop while I could have used my home address, I thought I just had to bite the bullet and accept the charges, since I *really* needed a reliable machine for my work.
Soon after, however, I received notification that the shipping charge would be *230* dollars. Definitely a pretty penny! I talked to an employee named John, however, and he told me the shipping charges were based on zip code–since I lived in a different state than the other user, I got charged significantly more. I could have avoided the extra prices altogether if I was still at home, but I needed the laptop so quickly there was nothing to be done. I also couldn’t blame Digital Storm for the prices the USPS charged for shipping, searching online told me many retailers refused to ship to P.O boxes for that reason. So I accepted the charge, went through the card verification process (which was easier than I thought) and sent in my order.
Soon after, I encountered another issue. When I called Digital Storm, Janna told me they were out of Lance chasisses and would be getting one the day after. No big deal–she told me they’d refund my 99 dollars while keeping me at the top of their build queue, which didn’t seem bad to me. I accepted, and soon afterwards they got in the Lances, completing my machine on the 19th and slated to ship it out on the 22nd.
Several days later, however, I received no notification that it had shipped! I called Digital Storm daily starting on the 22nd,, and every day they told me it ought to ship “tomorrow.” I waited till Thursday, the 25th, and still received no shipping notification! I began to despair and contacted the management, Alex, directly. And he found out…
It actually HAD shipped! It had went out on Friday and actually arrived on my mailbox on the 23rd! The Post Office, for some unfathomable reason, had not informed Digital Storm that it had shipped (to give them a tracking number) or informed me that it had arrived! The second thing was puzzling, as I though I’d set up being notified by email whenever I received a delivery at my P.O box. I’d have to check with the mail people…
But in any case, it seemed as if Digital Storm had pulled through entirely, and the bulk of my irritation was due to the Post Office. They refunded my 99 dollars priority build when it was just a day late, and sent the laptop to me almost as quickly! Janna, Alex, and Brian on chat were all great and helped me immensely in solving the issue. So, in terms of the shipping experience, I was initially prepared to give DS a 6 out of 10, but when I found out they were prompt in sending my package to me and it was the post office’s fault for not notifying EITHER of us, I boosted it to an 8 out of 10, and the sterling customer service I received increased that to 9 out of 10. The only flaw in my experience was the unpleasant surprise I got with the expensive shipping. I would have strongly preferred to have been told by the calculator how expensive it would be.
Also, just as an aside: When I got the machine, one of the chargers was labeled “Javelin.” I was suspicious and called them, and the fellow there, Dryden, got back to me promptly and considerately after consulting with the technicians and told me the Javelin charger also worked with the Lance. It seems DS hadn’t made a mistake; since they phased out the Javelin they were giving out its chargers to Lance users as well, since it worked with both machines. So Dryden’s another reason I give Digital Storm high marks for customer service!
Now, for the machine itself? It came in a nice big box, where it was packed securely in a frame and covered in a plastic sheath. It also came with some extra goodies in another box, though those weren’t as generous as they’d been with my Bolt. The goodies box just contained some spare backup CDs for Windows 7 and some of the drivers, along with the Digital Storm certificate of ownership. But don’t just take my word for it, have some pics:
A couple of notes: First, while the screen itself is 15.6 inches, the laptop is also fairly thick, a little bigger and heavier than my previous one. A minus for portability (important for a traveling grad student), but a plus for durability, which is also important for an itinerant. The Equinox model was much thinner, but it didn’t have a DVD/CD/Blu Ray drive, which as I mentioned I needed. The Lance also has 4 USB ports (enough for my needs), an HDMI port (in case I wanna hook it up to a big screen), and a variety of other ports like a card reader for camera memory cards. I don’t use those, but they may be useful for those who do. It also has a very nifty lighted keyboard, and you can customize the colors of the lights to your heart’s content. Not that important for me, but a very nice touch. I kinda wish they let you customize the chassis paint itself, though–mine is just black/grey, and that’s the only option 😛
More importantly, how does this thing perform? GREAT! It’s pretty much everything I’ve hoped for! The SSD is wonderful: My system boots up in under 30 seconds, compared to the nearly two minutes it took for my crappy lappy to do so. It opens up word documents immediately, as opposed to waiting 30 seconds as my old laptop did, I can work and write on those word documents to my heart’s content without the machine slowing down slightly. Internet surfing is also great. I can keep 50 tabs open in Chrome or Firefox for JSTOR papers and the machine won’t slow down at all! It seems to be very stable, too, no surprise slowdowns, crashes, etc.
In terms of gaming, while I can’t do much of that in grad school, I did download Steam and run a few things. My beloved Vindictus runs very smoothly, though there’s some slowdown if I play it at max settings…at least there was, until someone on the forums reminded me to make sure it used theNVidia graphics card rather than the default! When I did so, it now runs great even on max settings 😀 Xenonauts runs super fast. That’s pretty much all the gameplay I had time for this week, so I suppose I can’t go into much depth there, but from the looks of it I think I can recommend this machine to more dedicated gamers too.
As proof, have a few more pics:
So overall, yes, this machine is beefy, smooth, and runs like a dream, meeting all my expectations and fulfilling all my important graduate school needs. There were just two minor hiccups: I encountered an odd error while running windows update, but the friendly folks at the Digital Storm forums fixed it right up for me. The CD drive also didn’t work when I first tried it (more on that later), but it seems to have fixed itself, haha, and now works like a charm. Yet another reason DS has secured my loyalty as a customer 😀
Overview: Good Things About My Experience
Digital Storm’s customer service is top-notch and really sets it apart from the pack, or at least the previous vendors I’ve dealt with. They refunded my 99 dollar priority build charge while still getting my machine to me ASAP. Brian on the online chat was friendly and very knowledgeable, while Alex got back to me very promptly after I voiced concerns in the forum. Janna, whom I spoke to online, was an absolute doll–infinitely patient and professional, no matter how many times I called. An absolute pleasure to work with, and I hope Digital Storm recognizes her stellar performance. Dryden, the technician I called about my chargers, was also friendly, competent, and professional, getting back to me VERY quickly and answering all my questions politely and promptly.
The digital storm community forums are also wonderful–I received a lot of great help and advice on my configuration and shipping options, and Arkansaswoman in particular helped me out a LOT with a small windows update problem I had!
The laptop itself is EXCELLENT and runs everything about as fast as I could reasonably hope, MUCH MUCH MUCH faster than my old crappy laptop. I’d forgotten how good it felt to open up a word document without waiting 30 seconds, and to actually write without the computer freezing up momentarily every few minutes. I’m also VERY pleased that the machine turns on and off within 20 seconds as opposed to the nearly two minutes it took my old machine to boot up. Surfing is a joy rather than a chore now, as I can open up dozens of tabs in firefox and chrome without the computer slowing to a near-halt. At long last, operating my computer is once again a source of satisfaction rather than irritation!
Overview: Bad Things About My Experience
The most obvious would be the extremely high shipping charges. I trust Digital Storm; as I said before I’ve heard mailing to P.O boxes is trying under even the best circumstances, and some carriers won’t even deliver to them, so I can understand there being extra charges for it. Still, I would have liked to have been aware of that before placing my order. I also wanted the Javelin originally, and was a little surprised to see it gone, though I’m happy with the Lance overall. That said, the Lance *is* primarily a gaming laptop, so it’s a *little* big and heavy if you want to travel around with it. In terms of dimensions, its length and width are about the same, but the Lance is nearly twice as high as my old crappy laptop! It’s also commensurately heavier. As I said above, though, that also makes it sturdier and less likely to be damaged, so that’s at least a plus. I also encountered the “0x0800something” error while using windows update, while booting up Windows the first few times, but that was fixed by the people at the forum soon enough, as I said 😀
There are only three other things which are so minor they can barely be called complaints. First, I did get a free download for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (again, I can’t play much, but no reason not to get a game if it’s free). However, the game’s not downloadable yet (it hasn’t been released)! 😄 Second, I didn’t buy Microsoft Office; I hoped to get that through my university. It turns out they only let you download it once, though, and I spent my download on my crappy laptop! T_T At least they let you re-download it if you pay a 13 dollar fee, though, which is MUCH less than the 165 they charge you on its own, haha. Third, earlier today my disc drive wasn’t working…I put in a brand new CD containing the drivers for my new printer, along with some older CDs (Diablo and Starcraft) and it wouldn’t recognize them, just saying “Please insert disc into Drive D.” I was furious and sent tech support and management pleading emails, but then I turned my laptop off, removed a couple of USB things (printer and external HD), and turned it back on again. The disc drive worked just fine after that! Seems I got worked up over nothing–I apologized to the people I contacted, of course 😄
So yeah, the only real complaint I have would be the surprise shipping charges. Everything else was either negligible (Borderlands and my uni not letting me DL more than one copy of MS Office) or easily solved (the windows update issue and the Blu-Ray player issue). 😀
(Addendum 1: Important Suggestions for Digital Storm)
I cannot emphasize enough how strongly I advise DS to improve its shipping calculator. I understand there’s nothing they can do about shipping charges to post office boxes, as those are often inconvenient at the best of times, but at the very least the shipping calculator should reflect that. I’m not the only one, a few other people on the DS forums have vented about surprise shipping costs. It seems to be the source of more than a few complaints. Modifying the calculator so it takes into account both zip code and P.O. Box presence would likely improve the user experience significantly.
(Addendum 2: Optional Suggestions for Digital Storm)
Notifications for when a part or model will be phased out would be very nice. The sudden loss of Javelin chassis came as a surprise to me and a bit of an unpleasant one, though the Lance has enough benefits that I’m willing to overlook its higher cost. Again, I’m not the only one who’s a bit peeved by this sort of thing. Another user on the Digital Storms forum expressed displeasure at a graphics card they were looking at suddenly disappearing from the store.
A few more decoration options might also be nice. I forewent one of Digital Storm’s competitors because their comparable machines were more expensive, but one thing I noticed about their laptops was that they hand some nifty paint scheme options. While I wouldn’t need one, it might be useful for other buyers who wanted some pizazz. One thing I might have used, though, was a nice laptop backpack. I already had one, thankfully, but if I didn’t, the option would have been nice to have. Digital Storm offered some laptop carrying cases as optional add-ons, but I prefer backpacks to those. The competitor I mentioned had some very cool custom backpacks for their laptops–it might have been nice for Digital Storm to have something similar.
(Addendum 3: Things I Would Have Done Differently)
I should have skipped going for my crappy previous retailer and gone straight to DS for my laptop needs. At the very least, while I was staying home before leaving for grad school, I could have got the considerably cheaper Javelin (base price 1200 bucks compared to the Lance’s 1483) at a considerably lower shipping cost. I’m not too unhappy about this, as the Lance seems to be very sturdy and has some EXCELLENT speakers (as good as my big Bose speakers at home, it sounds like), and for the reasons I stated above, I really really needed a new laptop ASAP, so the immense shipping price was something I was willing to pay. Still, I could have saved myself a great deal of money, but oh well. I only found out about Digital Storm AFTER buying from that crappy retailer, so I suppose I was a bit constrained on that point, ahaha 😄
OVERALL RATING OF MY TRANSACTION WITH DIGITAL STORM: 9/10
Aside from an unexpectedly high shipping fee, a bit of delay in getting the order (which turned out to be the fault of USPS, not DS), and a small issue with Windows Update and my disc drive (solved by the forum and turning the machine on and off, respectively), my dealings with Digital Storm have been wonderful. The machine I’ve received is not the cheapest, but its power and reliability make it worth the price. Already I can say my productivity has been AT LEAST tripled thanks to this awesome laptop. Whereas previously, I struggled to write one or two thousand words a day, since receiving my laptop I’ve gotten three thousand words a day written! Such are the joys of actually being able to surf the internet without slowdown or load up a word document immediately, not to mention booting up the machine itself in under a minute as opposed to two! That, of course, is on top of the top-notch customer support and the three-year warranty for labor-free diagnostics and tuneups, along with part replacement if necessary (though it doesn’t cover damage…don’t spill orange juice on your machines T_T). All these factors justify, in my view, the price of a Digital Storm machine. If this keeps up–and I have no reason to believe it won’t–I’ll be set for the rest of my time in grad school.
So, all in all, Digital Storm has secured my loyalty as a customer. They did a great job on my first purchase from them, but after my positive experience with this one, I can only conclude that it was more than luck. I recommend DS on this blog (though watch out if you have a P.O box XD) and will definitely buy my next machine from them…if I need one, haha!
Anyways, phew! What a looooong entry! I’m gonna post this on the DS forums and hope it becomes a featured review. Meanwhile, I’m also gonna try to see how much work I can get done on Wayward Son (I didn’t manage to get any over this weekend cause I was dealing with my new laptop and this review) and give you an update on Friday, as usual. See ya then! 😀