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Many gaming laptops are about as mobile as a microwave oven, but with Digital Storm’s $1,999 Equinox, you get a 4.2-pound portable you can easily toss in a bag. It features Nvidia 970M graphics, a speedy 6th-gen Intel Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and a blazing 256GB SSD, providing plenty of oomph to play the latest titles. And to ensure your games look good in any environment, the Equinox’s 15.6-inch full-HD screen has a matte coating to prevent distracting reflections. Just don’t forget to bring the power cord, because even simple Web surfing drains the battery fast.
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Despite a somewhat large footprint, the 4.2-pound Equinox makes portable PC gaming an appealing proposition, and it has a fairly slim 0.78-inch profile. This system is thinner and lighter than Razer’s 14-inch Blade (13.6 x 9.3 x 1.0-1.1 inches and 4.4 pounds).
The Equinox’s body is constructed out of smooth, black aluminum, and unlike other gaming systems, it keeps exterior case lighting to a minimum, so older gamers won’t attract undue attention and can play in peace. Inside, the Equinox features big fans hidden under the grille behind the keyboard, which help keep temperatures on the deck comfortable even while you’re gaming. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the vents on the bottom (more on that later).
Keyboard and Touchpad
The RGB lighting on the Equinox’s keyboard brings some cheer (and light) to the dark days of winter. You can use the KLM app to assign different colors to three different areas of the keyboard, and even make them pulse and waver like the aurora borealis.
The keys require an actuation force of 64 grams and have a travel distance of 1.77 millimeters — a little heavier and longer than average. The keys’ sponginess felt a little awkward at first, but they made for a more comfortable experience during longer typing sessions. On 10fastfingers.com’s typing test, I hit 78 words per minute, which is smack-dab within my typical 75- to 80-wpm range.
I also appreciate that Digital Storm moved the Windows key to the right of the spacebar, which means you’re less likely to accidentally disturb your games. The full number pad is pretty convenient, too.
The spacious 4 x 2.7-inch touchpad responded quickly to both multitouch and clicking gestures, but it doesn’t get the same RGB treatment as the keyboard.
Featuring a nonreflective matte coating and bright, dynamic colors, the Equinox’s 15.6-inch 1920 x 1080-pixel screen is fantastic for multimedia and gaming. When I watched the trailer for Independence Day: Resurgence, the Equinox’s screen made the aliens’ green laser bolts sizzle. As for gaming, even when I played in brightly lit rooms, I never had to deal my own reflection staring back at me and ruining my digital escapism.
Compared to other 15-inch gaming systems, the Equinox’s screen was slightly dimmer, at 293 nits of brightness. That compares to 311 nits for the Alienware 15 and 337 nits for the 2015 Razer Blade.
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However, with a color range that covered 110.8 percent of the sRGB spectrum, the Equinox displayed a wider range of shades and hues than the Alienware 15 (98 percent) and the Razer Blade (102 percent).
Finally, notching a Delta-E rating of 1.12, the Equinox’s color accuracy was strong and slightly better than the Alienware 15’s 1.3 and the Razer Blade 15’s 1.2 (closer to zero is better).
Serious gaming on a highly portable laptop usually requires headphones in order to pick up faint footsteps of enemies creeping up from behind, and it’s not much different for the Equinox. While its bottom-mounted stereo speakers produced audio loud enough to fill our 15 x 15 testing lab, many mid and low tones were muddy and indistinct. That made it difficult to enjoy MGMT’s “Electric Feel,” whose bass line often sounded distorted and unusually crunchy, and the Sound Blaster Audio app did little to fix that.
Ports and Webcam
Digital Storm took full advantage of this laptop’s available real estate by cramming two USB 3.0 ports and separate headphone and mic jacks onto the left side, and a DisplayPort, an Ethernet port, an HDMI port, an SD card reader and a USB Type-C port on the right.
The webcam shoots photos at 1920 x 1080, and although its resolution isn’t anything special, I was impressed by the camera’s ability to capture well-exposed photos with accurate colors and relatively sharp focus.
Equipped with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M GPU with 6GB of VRAM, the Equinox is primed for gaming at 1920 x 1080, although you may have to step down the settings from Ultra if you want to hit a smooth 60 frames per second on certain titles.
In Fallout 4 at Medium settings, the Equinox consistently stayed between 50 and 60 fps. It wasn’t until I pushed the presets to High and Ultra that the rate began to dip toward 30 fps. That’s still playable, but not great.
On Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, the Equinox hit 60.9 fps at 1920 x 1080 and High settings. In the more demanding Metro: Last Light, the Equinox hummed along at 98.5 fps on Low and 1080p, but the notebook mustered just 23.8 fps on Ultra settings.
On 3DMark’s Fire Strike graphics benchmark, the Equinox scored 6,683 — higher than the 2015 Razer Blade’s 6,550 and the Alienware 15’s 5,572.
Gaming is one of the most intense tasks computers are asked to do, so it’s no surprise that this rig’s Intel Core i7-6700HQ CPU, 16GB of RAM, 256GB SSD and 1TB HDD easily brushed off less-demanding tasks, such as streaming movies, surfing the Web or performing general productivity chores.
When we ran Geekbench 3 to evaluate the system’s overall performance, the Equinox scored 13,525. That’s more than twice as high as the Alienware 15’s 6,321 (Intel Core i5-4210U CPU, 16GB RAM, 128GB SSD), almost 25 percent faster than the 2015 Razer Blade’s 10,915 (Intel Core i7-4720HQ CPU, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD) and way ahead of the mainstream notebook average of 8,531.
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The Equinox’s 256GB SSD also impressed us with a transfer rate of 424.13 MBps, which was more than four times faster than the 128GB SSD in the Alienware 15 (103 MBps) and more than twice as fast as the Razer Blade’s 256GB SSD (182 MBps).
The Equinox also performed well on our spreadsheet test, where it matched 20,000 names and addresses in OpenOffice in 3 minutes and 37 seconds. The 2015 Razer Blade was slightly slower, at 3:46, while the Alienware 15 finished more than half a minute behind, at 4:14.
A word of warning: Refrain from gaming on your lap with the Equinox, because the bottom can get really hot. After I played Fallout 4 for 15 minutes, the padded inserts next to the bottom vent measured a scorching 137.5 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s way hotter than uncomfortable; it borders on potentially painful. At least the Equinox’s topside was much cooler, measuring 89.5 degrees on the touchpad and 98.5 degrees between the G and H keys.
Even for a gaming notebook, the Equinox’s time of 3 hours and 9 minutes on our battery test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 100 nits of brightness) is seriously short. Both the 2015 Razer Blade (5:52) and the Alienware 15 (6:18) lasted about 3 hours longer. If battery life is a deal breaker for you, the Equinox probably isn’t the right machine.
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On its site, Digital Storm has very limited configurations options. You can choose a system equipped with Windows 10 Pro for an extra $50, add professional display calibration for another $29, and tack on some accessories, like external optical drives, Digital Storm-branded mice and Windows recovery kits. But that’s about it. There are no options for other storage solutions or GPUs, which seems like an oversight for a gaming notebook.
Software and Warranty
The Equinox’s Windows 10 installation is squeaky clean; you only have to deal with the trials and software that come prepackaged with the OS. Digital Storm also includes important utilities, such as KLM for configuring the keyboard lighting, Killer Network Manager and Diagnostic for optimal network setup and Nvidia’s GeForce Experience.
Digital Storm’s base warranty is quite comprehensive, offering lifetime technical support, three years of free labor (which includes services such as tune-ups, diagnostics and part replacements), and one year of free replacement of defective parts. Digital Storm also offers free labor in the event users want to upgrade a component, like storage or memory.
Offering a dazzling 15.6-inch screen, more than enough graphics for gaming at full HD, and a slim, sexy body, the Equinox straddles the line between power and portability in a way that feels just right. The comprehensive warranty is pretty nice, too. It’s just too bad that this notebook doesn’t last longer on a charge or run cooler in your lap.
Starting at $1,200 ($1,500 with similar specs), the Alienware 15 is significantly cheaper and offers the ability to attach a desktop GPU via Alienware’s graphics amp if you want to spend more, but its heavy, boxy chassis would keep me from taking it anywhere.
The really tough decision comes when comparing the Equinox and Razer’s Blade. The $2,000 Blade also features a nontouch, full-HD display and a 256GB SSD. But that machine lacks an HDD for additional storage and has an older, 4th-gen Core i7 CPU (for now), and its Nvidia 970M GPU has half the VRAM as the one in the Equinox. However, the Blade’s extra 2.5 hours of battery life give it an edge. But for those who want a little extra oomph from their gaming notebook, Digital Storm’s Equinox is an attractive option for mobile gamers.