Introducing the Puget Systems Serenity SPCR Edition

This is our second review unit from the Washington-based Puget Systems (our first was several years ago when they were first starting out), and it's a doozy. While the P67/H67 chipset recall has proven to be a boot to the collective breadbasket of the industry, we were fortunate enough to get the Serenity SPCR Edition in before the recall hit, and Puget was kind enough to let us review it anyhow. That seems reasonable, since the SATA bug in the chipset isn't liable to affect any of our test results outside of PCMark, leaving us with an opportunity to show you a remarkable system that you'll be able to get your hands on in the near future.

Puget Systems' has also issued a post discussing how they'll handle systems with the SNB chipset bug. The short summary is that they'll let you continue to use your system and send it in for a replacement motherboard when those become available, or they'll ship you a PCIe SATA controller to use in place of the affected SATA ports. It's a nice change of pace from the motherboard side of things, as Puget Systems will let you use your new system now, and get the problem fixed in the next few months with a minimum of hassle. With that out of the way, let's look at the system we received for review.

Puget Systems' Serenity line of computers are designed to maximize silent operation, with the SPCR Edition being the quietest system in their lineup. This tower is designed in cooperation with Silent PC Review and independently certified by them to run at a staggeringly low 11db; the regular Serenity models have a noise ceiling of 20db, which is still impressively quiet. If you're wondering whether the Serenity SPCR lives up to that claim, we can't tell you: the unit is inaudible unless you put your ear against the side (even under heavy load), and operates below the noise floor of my apartment at any hour. Simply put, we're not equipped to measure the noise level of something this quiet. So how is our review unit outfitted?

Puget Systems Serenity SPCR Edition Specifications
Chassis Antec P183 (Customized)
Processor Intel Core i5-2500K @ 3.3GHz
(spec: 4x3.3GHz, 32nm, 6MB L3, 95W)
Motherboard ASUS P8P67 Pro Motherboard with P67 chipset
Memory 2x4GB Kingston HyperX DDR3-1333 @ 1333MHz (expandable to 16GB)
Graphics PowerColor Radeon HD 5750 1024MB GDDR5 with Passive Cooler
(720 Stream Processors, 700MHz Core, 4.6GHz RAM, 128-bit memory bus)
Hard Drive(s) Intel X25-M 34nm Gen 2 120GB SSD
Western Digital Caviar Green 1.5TB
Optical Drive(s) ASUS DVD+/-RW Combo Drive
Networking Intel Gigabit Ethernet
Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
Audio Realtek ALC892 HD Audio
Speaker, mic, line-in, and surround jacks for 7.1 sound
Digital and optical out
Front Side Optical Drive
2x USB 2.0
eSATA
Headphone and mic jacks
Top -
Back Side 2x PS/2
Digital and optical out
2x eSATA
6x USB 2.0
6-pin FireWire
Ethernet
2x USB 3.0
Speaker, mic, line-in, and surround jacks for 7.1 sound
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 19.9" x 20.25" x 8.1" (WxDxH)
Weight 31 lbs (case only)
Extras Antec CP-850 850W Power Supply
Gelid Tranquilo CPU Cooler
Scythe Silent Fans
Silent Case Modification
Warranty 1-year limited warranty and lifetime phone support
Pricing SPCR Edition starts at $1,550
Review system quoted at $2,149

For most of this review we were able to handpick and outfit the tower with the components of our choice; as a result the Intel Core i5-2500K we chose didn't ship overclocked and Puget Systems doesn't offer overclocking on this model (though you can still do it yourself). By now you already know that Sandy Bridge processors are the fastest clock-for-clock on the market, and also among the most efficient (which our thermal and power consumption testing will bear out).

If you're a little bit underwhelmed by the Radeon HD 5750 in our review unit, don't be. This 5750 is arguably the fastest passively-cooled card on the market (only the Sparkle GTS 450 really competes), and is included in this build for what should be obvious reasons. Our rep did tell us that a passively-cooled Radeon HD 6850 is in the works right now; when that becomes available expect it to be offered with the Serenity SPCR Edition. That said, just because it's fanless doesn't mean it's slower: this 5750 runs at spec.

As for the parts we didn't choose, most of them make sense, though the lack of a card reader is disappointing when most of the review units we've seen include one as a matter of course. An SSD is a shoo-in with no moving parts to produce noise—though you could argue for using a SandForce-based drive instead of the Intel one—and the inclusion of the Western Digital Caviar Green sacrifices some performance in the name of silent running. A basic DVD+/-RW combo drive instead of a Blu-ray drive was disappointing, but the upgrades are at least available for a reasonable price. Puget Systems claims on their website to test individual components and cherry pick them and I can believe it. And finally, a brief thumbs up for including 8GB of DDR3 instead of 4GB in the review unit. This really should be standard and it's perplexing why so many of our review towers don't ship with 8GB at this point.

Finally, wrapping everything up is the Antec P183 enclosure. The P183 is often regarded as among the quietest cases available, but as you'll see Puget Systems takes it a few steps further in the name of silent operation. If I could really complain about anything, the Antec CP-850 power supply seems like gross overkill for a machine with specs this modest. You'll see in our power consumption testing that it's not really an issue, though.

Application and Futuremark Performance
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  • Sagrim - Thursday, February 10, 2011 - link

    Again, the 850 might be overkill, but it does allow room to grow, and is cheaper than most other models. It also has the fan up front, is able to create a little wind tunnel in the area that lacks other case fans, and vents it out with the CP's pass through design. If you put in the Seasonic X series you have the upper fan venting into the lower case compartment, and airflow is restricted to the back "vents" so the hot air produced must fill up the lower compartment, and rise up into the rest of the computer. Unnecessarily giving hot air to the rest of the computer.

    And again, the 460 passive PSU leaves no intake air into the lower compartment, and would require a fan mounted to the front bay of the case, increasing dB levels even at low settings. This isn't something you want when your main goal is to create one of the most silent computers on the market. The CP-850 has an extremely silent fan, cools the SDD/HDD/PSU, and pushes it right out the back. It's cheaper than most Seasonic units -- so there's no reason to buy a more expensive PSU, and front mounted fan (which airflow would be restricted by a non-pass through PSU, and whirl hot air about the case).

    Video cards -- yeah, there's room for improvement there, but not factory passive. The issue you run into with installing custom coolers on higher end cards is shipping. How good would those custom coolers do when being shipped cross country? If they're passive from the factory -- you have little worries. Having a custom cooled video card get to the customer with pieces fallen off isn't good for business. I also believe it voids the manufacturer's warranty. In the end -- it makes sense to prefer factory passive video cards.

    A faster hard drive? It already has a 120GB SSD -- the 1.5TB is for storage, or non important programs. It can also work for games too, but might take a bit longer to load/etc. Overall, I don't see it necessary to increase RPM speed at the expense of sound, or the unnecessary expense of extra sound dampening/HDD silent drive boxes.

    There's a ton of could haves to improve the system's performance. However, I doubt they would have resulted in a system being around 11dB.
    Reply
  • mariush - Thursday, February 10, 2011 - link

    You're forgetting the fact that these power supplies have very high efficiency, therefore small loss means small heat generation.

    Here's a review for the 400w model : jonnyguru.com/modules.php?name=NDReviews&op=Story&reid=200

    Here's one for the same400w model (in German, but use Google Translate if you need to) : tomshardware.de/lufterlos-fanless-netzteil,testberichte-240704.html

    And one for the 460w model, but in Spanish (same, use Google Translate): traficantesdehardware.com/Reviews-Hardware/Review-Seasonic-X-460W-Fanless-Gold-Modular-460W.html

    They got up to 45C during operation (the 400w averaged 35C with 300w load, more than the maximum this system used at load), so they don't heat too much. A simple fan on top near the cpu to pull out air from the case would also drag air inside through the power supply and create a minimal air flow.

    I guess they just chose that one for the big number and popular brand, because apparently 460w sounds too small nowadays for the less knowledgeable persons.

    About the hard drive... well they chose green purely for the word... the drive isn't much cooler or more silent than other brands and mounted correctly in the middle of the case, especially with some 5-10$ silencing kit, nobody would hear it..

    I'll give you credit for the video card rebuttal... yes, it may be an issue to ship a video card with manually mounted ram heatsinks, tape could get loose, the video card may be too heavy and get out of the slot during transport... yeah, it would be complicated.

    But anyway, my point is that it's just a system made with stock parts and just some insulating material placed on the side, nothing special. For the 2400$ price, they could offer better value.
    Reply
  • Sagrim - Thursday, February 10, 2011 - link

    Sure, slap in a smaller power supply, and the price doesn't change. Now, you're left with a smaller power supply, and are possibly limited if you want to upgrade your system later down the line. Unnecessarily gimping your system in terms of potential upgrades (ie. better video card(s), overclocking, etc).

    You now should probably put in another fan on the bottom HDD cage to blow across the HDD/SDD, and at least move the heat within of the PSU compartment area.

    It is not just about big flashy numbers, the CP-850 was specifically designed for a few Antec cases (or, vice versa). It is low cost, and a very capable/reliable PSU. Just because you have an 850 watt in there does not mean it is drawing out 850. Granted, it might not be as efficient as smaller units -- it isn't going to really harm anything, or send your electric bill through the roof.

    The hot air exiting the PSU makes it's way into the main case area, and drags across just about every component (it would be blown by the 2nd cage fan across the video cards first), and then eventually make its way up further to the heatsink fan, and exhaust fan. The top vent fan is blocked off, as that actually can hinder overall airflow, and cooling performance (it also reduces sound levels).

    The "green" HDD cannot be placed in the middle of the case, as there is a fan in that area (at the back of the top HDD cage). You can not have the rear HDD cage 120mm fan if there are any drives in that cage. The removal of that fan would create severe airflow issues. So, it was put down on the bottom. I guess the HDD is a matter of preference if you must eek out a few more thousand RPMs to load itunes.

    And, for what its worth -- insulating material does little for most cases. It works so well here because all the fans, or anything that makes noise is retreated deeper into the case (with the exception of the exhaust fan, but that lacks direct line of hearing, and arguably the reason for a few of the dBs). If any fans were put up front -- the case would be louder, and most likely around the 15-30dB levels. Most case noises are from fans, and vibrations of it's parts to the chassis. They did an excellent job of making this work. Even with that overkill PSU.

    And, by the way -- the price was 2,149, not $2400.
    Reply
  • michal1980 - Friday, February 11, 2011 - link

    do you know how much power your pc really needs? Or are you a stupid sheep blinded by PSU sales people. Reply
  • Sagrim - Friday, February 11, 2011 - link

    Amazingly yes, and I've never said that the CP-850 isn't overkill for this system. The 400-450 seasonic PSU would power the system well, but also could slightly limit it in terms of upgrading the GPU, and overclocking. You also would most likely require an extra fan. It would further increase the price, noise levels, and possibly raise the temperature within the case. Reply
  • Sagrim - Thursday, February 10, 2011 - link

    On newegg this is almost the exact system. Exceptions being the foam (lesser quality on newegg), and guessed at the exact fans used (though, scythe slipstream are normally used, just don't know exact model). I also removed all instant rebates from newegg prices as these may not always be there, and gives a better general idea of true cost of components.

    To achieve the relative cost of the CPU (that cannot be purchased on newegg at this time) I used a $209 i5 + an extra order of 9.99 AS5, giving 218.99, taken up to 219.00 in calculations.

    Case - 159.00 (Antec P183 v3)
    CPU - 219.00 (i5 2500K)
    MB - 190.00 est. (ASUS P8P67 Pro)
    DVD - 18.99 (Asus DVD/RW)
    HDD - 79.99 (WD Green 1.5TB, bare drive)
    SSD - 229.99 (Intel X-25M 120GB)
    GPU - 359.98 ($169.99 x 2) (PowerColor Go, Crossfire Ready)
    PSU - 139.99 (Antec CP-850)
    RAM - 109.99 (Kingston HyperX, 8GB, 1333)
    OS - 99.99 (Windows 7 Home Premium, 64bit)
    Fans - 26.97 (8.99 x 3) [56.97, originally 18.99] (Scythe 120mm Slipstream)
    Cooler - 39.99 (Gelid Tranquillo)
    Foam - 44.97 (14.99 x 3 to cover) [arguably, cheap foam] (Silverstone, 4mm [7mm is used by Puget])
    AS5 - 9.99 (Arctic Silver 5)

    Sub Total - 1728.84
    Shipping - 42.70
    Total Cost -- $1771.54
    (if exact parts ordered from newegg today with discounts, $1733.51, including shipping).

    In essence, you could buy all these parts, and put them together yourself to achieve similar results. If anything goes wrong it's dealing with newegg, and then the manufacturer. After the computer is built, you then get to enter the BIOS settings, and play around with fan control/speeds. Then, while doing so, you get to take the temperature of the various components, and then alter the settings again to achieve maximum levels of cooling vs. sound. But, for most -- simply using quieter components will result in a happier experience, and will most likely forgo the extra alterations necessary to achieve such low volumes.

    As for the debate about cost/performance -- that shouldn't have ever been a debate. This system was not built with high end performance in mind. The Crossfire setup does allow for mediocre gaming/production, but that was not what it was designed for. Though, if you wanted better gaming, use the $360.00 on a better quiet gpu, and drop the crossfire 5750s. It may increase dB slightly, and overall system heat -- but it is very doable. Hopefully Puget will offer a dedicated "gaming" line of silent computers to accommodate to that market (though, this can arguably already be done with their customization features on their site -- just not marketed as silent gaming).

    With an upgraded video card -- this system would cost about the same (possibly cheaper depending on card used), and would post extremely respectable numbers on par with most other i5 2500K systems.

    And, the year parts/lifetime warranty may not be the best, but it still is good. Considering you still fall within the manufacturer warranty on the products, and have all the documentation for it. At which point, it'd be no different than dealing with the manufacturers yourself had you bought it from newegg.

    But, then again -- this is a Walmart loving world where lower price vs. quality will almost always favor the side of lower price. I understand system builders enjoying building their own systems, but when companies like Puget (and others) try to make a name for themselves building good quality computers at a slight markup, and are bashed for their $300-400 increase makes me wonder why these companies even try. Sell systems at cost, and you'll have tons a business -- you'll also have little money making potential. Of course, you could outsource it to another country, charge a $100 markup, price it less than the competition, and still make loads of profit...but that's a totally different discussion...

    Anyways -- awesome job Puget. You've done what few other companies have been able to do (in terms of silent computers), and have top notch customer service.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, February 11, 2011 - link

    You've got an extra $170 in there for a second HD 5750 GPU -- the reviewed system is only running a single GPU. But otherwise, you're correct about the pricing. Reply
  • Sagrim - Friday, February 11, 2011 - link

    Ah, you're right. I watched a youtube video of another Serenity line review, and it was crossfired. Subtract $170, and another $10 for the non-crossfire version.

    So, around $1,591-1,600.
    Reply
  • AbRASiON - Friday, February 11, 2011 - link

    Beautiful case - a little cramped for the REALLY long video cards - but it's well built and AMAZINGLY quiet considering how open it is, I was shocked.
    Heavy but worth every cent.
    Reply
  • flemeister - Friday, February 11, 2011 - link

    Remove the upper hard drive cage and you've got 15-16" to play with. =) Reply

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