Build it yourself, or go with a prebuilt model? That’s the classic dilemma when you’re shopping for a gaming desktop. California-based specialty builder Digital Storm aims to deliver the benefits of both worlds with its Lynx mid-tower (starts at $ 799; $ 1,999 as tested). Designed for serious gaming, it’s offered in four prebuilt configurations (dubbed Levels 1 to 4) to meet most budgets, maxing out with eight-core Intel Core i7 or AMD Ryzen 7 CPUs and Nvidia GeForce RTX 20-class graphics cards. Other high-end options include liquid cooling and full LED case lighting. Spotless attention to detail, smart part selection, and superb overall performance (in our test model) make the Lynx an alluring choice for a gaming mid-tower at its value-packed price, and an easy substitute for doing the DIY thing.
Making a Clear Case for It
The Lynx isn’t an off-the-shelf, mass-produced desktop. While the chassis and certain internal components are designed or branded by Digital Storm, they’re all standard parts that have aftermarket equivalents.
In fact, most of the parts inside are aftermarket to begin with, such as the motherboard and graphics card. I was able to locate most of them at online retailers. That’s part of the allure of getting a prebuilt desktop from a system builder like Digital Storm; it’s essentially a product of the aftermarket, but expertly assembled and covered by a system warranty, meaning you don’t have to deal with individual part warranties. You have single-destination tech support you can call if you need help. And the Lynx is covered by a three-year labor, one-year parts warranty.
The Lynx has highly typical dimensions for an ATX mid-tower, at 18 by 7.9 by 18.4 inches (HWD). Most of the build is sturdy metal, while the front panel cover is plastic. The left-side panel is tinted, tempered glass. The right-side panel is metal…
The look is aggressive without being gaudy. I’m grateful for the lack of polarizing curves and design cues. Multiple RGB-lit fans and LED light strips make the Lynx a real attention-getter; a handy remote is included for controlling the colors and patterns, or turning off the show entirely.
Moving to the top of the tower, the magnetically attached dust filter makes maintenance a breeze…
Simply pull it off and vacuum or wash it as needed. The port selection along the front edge includes separate headphone and microphone jacks, and a pair of USB Type-A 3.0 ports…
There’s also the power button, a reset button, and a drive activity light up here. A flash-card reader would have been nice, though. That’s one of the few convenience features missing here.
Four raised feet with rubber pads give the Lynx some breathing room from the underside, as well as keeping it from sliding around. There’s another removable dust filter covering the power supply’s air intake on the bottom of the tower.
Our Lynx review unit doesn’t have wireless connectivity, but Wi-Fi is available as an option. On the back of the tower, the port selection will vary based on the components, but it shouldn’t be too different from what you see here…
The Asus Prime Z390-P ATX motherboard in our tester has legacy PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports, two USB 3.1 Type-A ports, four USB 3.0 Type-A ports, an Ethernet jack, and a trio of audio connections: microphone-in, line-out, and line-in. The aluminum backplate looks out of place, given the blacked-out theme.
The onboard HDMI and DisplayPort video-out connectors are disabled in lieu of the dedicated graphics card in this review unit, which is an Asus-brand GeForce RTX 2070. The card has an HDMI video-out connector, two DisplayPort video-out connectors, and a VirtualLink USB Type-C port for next-generation virtual-reality (VR) headsets…
All Lynx configurations include dedicated graphics of some kind.
Lynx In: A Look at the Interior
Accessing the Lynx’s interior entails removing two thumbscrews that secure the tempered-glass side door. The spacious interior is expertly wired…
Haphazardly tied-off cables are strictly prohibited in here. You won’t see any unused cables, either; the top-shelf Corsair RMx Series RM750x 750-watt power supply in our unit is fully modular, so extraneous cables aren’t even connected. Digital Storm includes them in the accessories box, if you need them later.
The Asus Prime Z390-P ATX motherboard in our review unit is a basic, yet very capable, Intel Z390-based model.
It has four DIMM slots for memory, occupied here by two 8GB DDR4-3200 DIMMs (for 16GB total), wearing Digital Storm-branded heat spreaders. The motherboard’s single M.2 Type-2280 (80mm) slot holds an excellent-quality 500GB Samsung SSD 970 EVO PCI Express drive in our configuration. The circular waterblock over the processor has RGB backlighting.
The Core i7-9700K processor in this unit can be overclocked via the motherboard’s BIOS, but it isn’t sent overclocked by default. (Digital Storm offers from-the-factory overclocking services for both the processor and graphics card, if you so desire.) The conventional look of the blower-style GeForce RTX 2070 graphics card melds well with the blacked-out case interior. It has a faint LED strip going diagonally through its center.
One thing you’ll note: The lack of 3.5- or 5.25-inch bays along the front of the tower allows for uninterrupted front-to-back airflow…
The 240mm liquid-cooling radiator for the processor, shown above, is mounted vertically behind the front panel. Two 120mm fans send cool air through it, while a third 120mm fan mounted underneath provides cooling to the 3.5-inch drive bays.
In modern fashion, the power supply is isolated in its own partition along the bottom of the tower. Two 3.5-inch drive bays are located just in front of it. Those are the only 3.5-inch bays you get, which is limiting in a mid-tower as large as the Lynx. To access them, remove the two thumbscrews securing the right-side panel, and slide it back. One of the 3.5-inch bays is occupied by a 2TB Toshiba-brand hard drive in this test unit. Power and SATA connectors are pre-routed to the empty drive bay and its tool-less, slide-out caddy. That’s a good thing, as I doubt I could wire them as concisely.
Indeed, the wiring speaks volumes about the Lynx. This kind of attention to detail generally isn’t found in mainstream, mass-produced desktops.
Our $ 1,999 “Level 4” Lynx review unit is the most powerful configuration preset that Digital Storm offers in this chassis. It includes all the power you need for playing today’s AAA titles at 1080p, 1440p, and even 4K resolutions. If you’re gung-ho about 4K, consider upping your graphics-card choice to a GeForce RTX 2080, as the GeForce RTX 2070 in our unit is right on the edge of playability in some of today’s games. (Look for our benchmarks of the Lynx in the next section, and see my MSI GeForce RTX 2070 Armor review for in-depth coverage of an example of the GeForce RTX 2070.)
Prebuilt desktops usually command some premium for assembly, so to figure out what I could save if I built it myself, I part-shop online (at Newegg or Micro Center, for instance) for the included components to get a ballpark estimate. I was surprised that my mock-build arrived at nearly the same price as our Lynx review configuration. In other words, the premium is nominal.
Even if you were building it yourself, this kind of value proposition ought to make you reconsider. As I noted earlier, Digital Storm covers the Lynx with a system-wide warranty. When you DIY, you’ll have warranties on the individual parts, but not the entire system, so you’ll need to do your own troubleshooting. Additionally, I pointed out the excellent wiring and assembly job; doing the same quality of work on your own takes more patience than you might think.
Checking out the competition, I found an Alienware Aurora mid-tower configuration on Dell’s website for $ 2,099 with a similar loadout as our Lynx, but with only half the hard drive space (1TB). Lenovo’s Legion T730 mid-tower was cheaper at $ 1,799, but having reviewed that unit first-hand, it doesn’t have the fit and finish, nor the aftermarket appeal, of the Lynx, and it isn’t as well-cooled.
One big-box unit that does give the Lynx a run for its money is the HP Omen Obelisk; it’s competitively priced, offering a more powerful GeForce RTX 2080 graphics card for less than our Lynx as I type this, but it’s a smaller tower without as much expansion capability.
Our new testing regimen has been around long enough that I can pack the comparison charts full of competition for the Digital Storm Lynx. I compared it to these gaming desktops…
The Corsair, HP, and Origin machines use considerably faster, although more expensive, GeForce RTX 2080 graphics cards, which should have no problems edging out the GeForce RTX 2070 in our Lynx. The Lenovo Legion T730 represents a good “minimum spec” for a 1080p and mild 1440p gaming rig; it’s about half the price of the Lynx. The Origin PC Neuron (a review of that one is in progress) uses AMD’s flagship Ryzen 7 2700X eight-core processor, which should be a good matchup to the Core i7-9700K in the Lynx.
Productivity and Storage Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheeting, Web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
PCMark 8, meanwhile has a Storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the drive subsystem. This score is also a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better.
The Digital Storm Lynx serves up an outstanding 7,081-point showing in PCMark 10, which is one of the highest scores we’ve seen from a gaming desktop. For reference, the fastest gaming notebooks we’ve tested recently have come in around 5,000 points. Given the PCMark 8 Storage test shows a relatively even playing field (the Origin PC Neuron being an anomalous exception), it stands to reason the Core i7-9700K processor, Intel Z390-based motherboard, and speedy DDR4-3200 memory helped propel our Lynx to the top.
Media Processing and Creation Tests
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. As with Handbrake, lower times are better here. The Photoshop test stresses CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
The Core i7-9700K processor in the Lynx has no trouble beating the older 8th Generation Core i7 six-core chips in the Corsair, HP, and Lenovo units in Cinebench, but it can’t match the Origin’s AMD Ryzen 7 2700X chip in raw power. That’s largely because the Core i7-9700K can only process eight threads at once, whereas the Ryzen chip, despite also having eight cores, can simultaneously process 16 threads. (The Core i7-9700K doesn’t support thread-doubling Hyper-Threading; Intel has gotten stingier with Hyper-Threading support in its 9th Generation mainstream chips, reserving it for the Core i9s.) Its advantages didn’t spill over into the Photoshop test, where the higher clocks of the Core i7-9700K helped give the Lynx an undisputed advantage.
Synthetic Graphics Tests
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s done in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.
The demanding 3DMark Fire Strike test shows the Lynx and its GeForce RTX 2070 performing almost identically to the GeForce RTX 2080-equipped Corsair, HP, and Origin units. That wouldn’t be the case if they all used the same processor; the Core i7-9700K, again, gives the Lynx a serious boost. But the processor can only compensate so much. In the Superposition test, the Lynx trails those three by a significant margin at the 1080p High preset.
Real World Gaming Tests
The synthetic tests above are helpful for measuring general 3D aptitude, but it’s hard to beat full retail video games for judging gaming performance. Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are both modern, high-fidelity titles with built-in benchmarks that illustrate how a system handles real-world video games at various settings.
These two games are run on the maximum graphics-quality presets (Ultra for Far Cry 5, Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider) at 1080p, 1440p, and 4K resolutions to determine the sweet spot of visuals and smooth performance for a given system. The results are also provided in frames per second. Far Cry 5 is DirectX 11-based, while Rise of the Tomb Raider can be flipped to DX12, which we do for the benchmark.
The 1080p and 1440p numbers from the Lynx are outstanding. In fact, it’s hard to argue spending extra for a GeForce RTX 2080 to play at those resolutions unless you have a 120Hz or 144Hz gaming monitor.
The Lynx is capable of, but not ideal for, 4K gaming; that’s where you’ll need a GeForce RTX 2080 to average near 60fps in these titles with maxed-out settings, as the Corsair, HP, and Origin units plainly show.
Cooling and Thermals
The airflow in the Lynx has a highly effective front-to-back design. Three 120mm fans handle fresh-air intake through the front panel, while one 120mm rear fan, plus the fans in the power supply and graphics card, handle exhaust duties. Two of the front-mounted fans are attached to the 240mm liquid-cooling radiator for the processor. I could occasionally hear the fan speed varying with processor load; for example, when I opened an animation-heavy website, I could hear the fans ramp up briefly and then go back down. This behavior was noticeable in a quiet room, making me wish the fan curve was less sensitive.
On the contrary, the fan noise was consistent during our benchmark runs and gaming. Our Lynx isn’t a silent machine; there’s no motor noise or whine, but four 120mm fans and a blower-style graphics card in a relatively open case design just won’t be inaudible. That said, just about any kind of headphones will drown out the sound. Even under full load, the total sound level is unlikely to draw glances from those around you.
For thermal testing under gaming workloads, I used a 20-minute run through the 3DMark Time Spy stress test. The liquid-cooling setup on the Core i7-9700K processor capped its maximum temperature at just 59 degrees C. Meanwhile, the GeForce RTX 2070 graphics card reached 81 degrees C, a normal temperature for a blower-style graphics card. All good there.
Conclusion: Why Build When You Can Buy?
Shopping for a high-end gaming desktop may snag you in the all-too familiar conundrum of building it yourself, or going with a prebuild. The DIY route gives you your choice of parts and some potential cost savings, while a prebuilt model is hassle-free and covered by a system warranty. Digital Storm strikes a happy medium with the Lynx mid-tower.
The Lynx has all the qualities a desktop might have if you built it yourself and applied lots of TLC, from top-notch aftermarket parts to impeccable wiring and assembly. You’d normally pay a premium over and above the sum of the parts for that kind of action, but according to our attempts to part-shop the components in our “Level 4” Lynx review configuration (as if we were going to build an equivalent desktop), the premium is nominal. You can potentially get a big-brand prebuilt desktop for less money, but you’d be losing out on the custom-built vibe and attention to detail in the Lynx, among other things.
All told, the Lynx makes about as compelling of an argument to go with a prebuilt gaming tower as we can imagine. The only thing you’ll miss are the joys of rolling your own, if that’s your thing.