StormForce Inferno review: the ultimate glass cannon
Today we’re looking at one of the most powerful gaming PCs offered by Zoostorm: the StormForce Inferno. This gaming PC is designed for gaming at high settings and big resolutions, with a GTX 980 TI graphics card and an overclocked i7-6700K processor strapped inside a gorgeous glass-and-aluminium case. Let’s put this £1550 beast to the test!
Summary and score
The StormForce Inferno is a mighty machine, capable of running almost any game at 1080p or 1440p, with decent performance at 4K as well. Apart from the fragile glass sides and puzzling lack of inner lighting, there’s only one flaw with this build: the GTX 1070 and 1080 have just been released, offering more power at a lower price. If you’re able to wait a month or two, an upgraded version of this PC with the next-generation hardware will prove hard to resist.
Design & components
Part and parcel of choosing a pre-made system is losing some control over which components are included. Ideally your PC maker will make the best choices for you, giving you a well-balanced and future-proof system for a competitive price, but this doesn’t always work out. ZooStorm have proven adept in the past, so let’s see how they’ve done with the Inferno.
This time around, ZooStorm have gone for a high-end PC, with a Core i7-6700K processor running at 4GHz (£290), a Thermaltake Water 3.0 Pro cooler (~£80) and a KFA2-made Nvidia GTX 980 TI (£530). Logical Increments indicates that this is a balanced ‘Enthuasist’ build, and I’d have to agree.
The only elephants in the room are Nvidia’s recently released GTX 1070 and 1080 graphics cards. While these cards aren’t yet available in premade systems (and are still scarcely available as standalone purchases as of mid June), they will offer considerably more bang for your buck.
The GTX 1070 is reckoned to offer a similar level of performance to the Inferno’s GTX 980 TI for a lower price, while the GTX 1080 offers even better performance (about 20-30% faster, depending on resolution) at around the same price. ZooStorm systems with the new 1070 and 1080 cards are in production and will be available to buy from Ebuyer in the next two to four weeks (e.g. in early to mid July). In the meantime, the GTX 980 TI is still a strong card, but it’s a weaker option now than it was a few months ago.
The motherboard is the well-regarded ASRock Z170 Pro4S (£90). This is backed by 4x 8GB of Kingston HyperX memory running at 2400MHz (£115) and a 480GB Sandisk X400 M.2 drive (£120) offering SATA speeds (no NVMe / PCI-e here). There’s also a 4TB Western Digital Blue drive (£110) here for your media storage needs.
The Inferno is powered by a 750W FSP PSU (£70). Using the OuterVision PSU calculator, we get a typical usage figure of around 445W, rounded up to 500W as a recommended PSU measurement. 750W isn’t massively above that, and provides room for plenty of extra lights, fans, hard drives, two graphics cards, etc etc.
The system is placed in an impressive case, the In Win 805 (£140). It’s made from glass and aluminium, with two tempered glass side panels and more glass up front. The front glass is backlit in a hexagonal pattern by the two red-LED fans. There are four USB ports up front – two USB 3.0, two USB 2.0 – plus two headphone jacks, a small blue power light and a tiny hard drive activity indicator.
All this glass looks pretty cool, but it means you need to be very careful taking off the side panels (ideally laying the PC down on its side over a soft surface) and I can’t imagine it surviving a car ride to a LAN in a stack of other PCs. If you want to transport it, better to use the original box rather than go naked.
There’s no LED lighting elsewhere in the case, which is a bit puzzling as it means you can’t actually see the high-end components inside. A little lighting on the cooler or GPU would have gone a long way, and proper case lighting (e.g. the NZXT Hue+) would be amazing.
All together, the build comes to around £1545 based on my Amazonian research. It’s possible you could find the components a little bit cheaper elsewhere, but that’s pretty much right on the £1549 asking price so I’ve got to give full props to ZooStorm here. It’s not often that a premade system will be available at the same price as buying the components and building the PC yourself.
The Inferno seems well-assembled, with tidy wiring throughout (good thing too, as its visible from the side without difficulty).
Now let’s get to the tests!
First up are the synthetic benchmarks, which give us a good measuring stick against other gaming PCs and laptops we’ve reviewed recently (and your own PC, if you want to see how much of an upgrade the Inferno would be).
Our first test is 3DMark, a fairly effective analogue of a gaming workload. There are two tests we’re interested in here, the high-end Fire Strike and its 4K upgrade, Fire Strike Ultra.
The Inferno records our highest ever scores for both tests, with a solid 14,000 in Fire Strike and 4,000 in the 4K variant. That’s an approximately 20% higher score than the Stormforce 442, which was equipped with a more mainstream GTX 980 and i7-6700.
That suggests 1080p and even 1440p performance isn’t likely to dip below 60 fps at high settings, and even 4K gaming is possible. The combination of a GTX 980 TI graphics card and i7-6700K is a powerful one, and based on these results we’d be surprised to see anything less than first place in the following benchmarks.
Next up is the Cinebench test. Once again we have the Inferno at the top of the charts, about 15% clear of the (formidable) XMG U506 high-end gaming laptop. Compared to the other desktop options – the Acer G6-710, the Stormforce 442 – we see an even larger performance delta. Similarly high scores for both tests is a good sign, suggesting a well-balanced system.
GeekBench is up next, which is largely a test of processor performance. The Inferno does well in both the single-core and multi-core benchmarks, thanks to the nice high clock speed and excellent multi-threading of the i7-6700K CPU. Running at 4GHz instead of the 3.4GHz of the i7-6700 looks to provide about a 25% higher score.
The titan slips a bit in the CrystalDiskMark benchmark, which looks at hard drive performance. The machine is only equipped with a single SATA-connected M.2 drive, so we’re looking at speeds limited by that interface (around 500 MB/s reading and writing). The higher scores are produced by laptops using arrays of multiple SSDs in RAID0 or (more recently) drives connected via PCI-e, whether M.2 or traditional 2.5-inch form factors.
Next up are true in-game performance benchmarks, offering a look at how this system handles a selection of recent titles including shooters, MMOs and strategy titles.
Our first game test is Tom Clancy’s The Division, a cover shooter MMO set in the frozen wastes of post-viral-outbreak NYC. The Inferno performs as expected here, setting a comfortable 70 fps on the Ultra preset at 1080p. At 4K, performance drops significantly to a (still playable) 30fps. 1440p, is in the middle, at 51fps. The game is definitely playable at all resolutions, particularly if you’re willing to knock down the settings from Ultra to High (or Medium for 4K).
Bioshock Infinite represents the easiest workload for our test machines, but it’s still important given just how many games of its era use the same Unreal Engine. The Inferno murders the benchmark, turning in a score of 234 fps at High settings and 1080p resolution. Even with all settings turned up at 4K, hitting 70 fps is no problem (and the game looks amazing).
Metro: Last Light
Metro is another demanding benchmark, but the Inferno again turns in a strong performance (and is only pipped from the top spot by the Acer G6-710 by 2 fps). The Inferno gets 110 fps at 1080p and high settings, and still manages a playable 45 at 4K / High settings.
Company of Heroes 2
Company of Heroes 2 has one of the most difficult benchmarks we use, offering a kind of ‘worst case scenario’ rather than something more typical of either the singleplayer campaign or multiplayer. The Inferno again turns in a best-ever performance, reaching 94 fps at 1080p.
Most of these workloads were designed for gaming laptops and older desktops; we may have to start incorporating 1440p and 4K benchmarks for high-end laptops like the Inferno!
Total War: Rome 2
We conclude with a look at performance in a large-scale RTS, Total War: Rome 2. The Inferno is again way ahead of the pack at 140 fps at Ultra settings and 1080p, and still manages to provide playable framerates at 1440p (90 fps) and 4K (50 fps).
With our benchmarks concluded, it’s time to take the Inferno into some more games to see how well it handles them and then get some writing work done.
DOOM (2016): The new Doom handles like a dream on this setup, running at a solid 45-60 fps at 4K with the highest possible settings. Sweet.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt: The Witcher 3 runs decently at 4K with maxed settings, but you’d likely want to turn down the settings a tad to ensure a stable frame rate. Hairworks seems to be disproportionately challenging for the GPU, so that might be a good thing to turn down first.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive: CS:GO is the ultimate competitive shooter, and that usually means sacrificing visual fidelity for maximum frame rates and minimum latency. We ended up running the game at a less-than-4K resolution, but it’s nice to be able to keep all the settings way up and keep a crisp 200 fps average.
Sid Meier’s Civilization V: This is an older game, and hardly the most demanding, but it looks pretty good at 4K with all the settings. Running a game with lots of AI empires does take a strong processor, and the Inferno slogs through the turns like a champ. Less time waiting for the AI players to go makes this game all the more dangerous, as the siren call of ‘one more turn’ gets ever harder to resist.
In general, gaming on the Inferno is a pretty magical experience. Everything pretty much works out of the box, with recent games defaulting to high resolutions and (often) the highest detail settings available. If you have a 1080p monitor then you’ll have plenty of headroom to play around with; for 1440p you’ll be about right and on 4K you can hit that magical 60fps if you turn down a few settings here and there.
The Inferno should be decent down the road as well. The i7-6700K processor can be overclocked, as can the 980 TI graphics card, and it should be easy to slot in a later-generation GPU a few years down the road without needing to upgrade the rest of the PC.
Writing, Photoshop & the web
Thanks to their impressive performance, most gaming PCs will also double nicely as high-end work PCs, whether you’re rendering video, running Photoshop or compiling your latest bit of code. The i7-6700K makes quite work of most compute-intensive tasks, and the GTX 980 TI assists ably in 3D-accelerated programs.
Outside of raw performance, the Inferno is pretty quiet when in ‘work mode’; there’s little fan noise even with the tower sitting on the desk. The plethora of front-facing USB ports make it easy to keep all of your peripherals connected, too. The SSD is fast enough to make booting Windows and various programs a breeze, while the 4TB mechanical drive is big enough for years of stored photos, videos and music. There’s also plenty of space inside, both in terms of case slots and the motherboard, to expand your storage with additional drives later if you choose.
The StormForce Inferno is a super solid gaming PC, with nicely selected components carefully wrapped up in a pretty case. If you want to play games at high settings with a 1080p or 1440p high refresh rate monitor, this build is ideal. 4K gaming is also possible, although you may have to stick to slightly older games or lower detail settings to ensure a playable result.
The only caveat is the recent release of the GTX 1070 and GTX 1080 GPUs, which offer considerably more power-per-pound than the GTX 980 TI. I’d recommend waiting for an upgraded Inferno with one of these cards, but if you need a PC right away then the Inferno is an awesome choice.