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
Headphone and mic jacks
Top -
Back Side 2x PS/2
Digital and optical out
2x eSATA
6x USB 2.0
6-pin FireWire
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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  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, February 10, 2011 - link

    It's not a 5db decrease. Trust me when I say that even in the dead of night, in utter silence, you still won't hear so much as a low hum from this computer. Laptops don't get this quiet unless they're asleep.

    The only way you'd know the Serenity was on would be the power light.
  • mgl888 - Thursday, February 10, 2011 - link

    Yes I kind of exaggerated there:P

    I wonder how much difference the foam makes in dampening the noise. I might grab some from Ebay and give it a try.
  • Trefugl - Thursday, February 10, 2011 - link

    Foam goes quite a long way damping the airborne noise and since they chose a good (quiet) HDD they don't have to worry about structure borne noise (vibration).

    You really should tailor the solution to the particular problem. My personal PC was having issues with structure borne noise a few years back (due to my RAID array), so I added some vibration damping PVA sheeting to the side panels. I probably should also add some foam (to stop the sound of my SLI setup during gaming) but i just haven't gotten around to it now that my system is acceptable.
  • vol7ron - Thursday, February 10, 2011 - link

    Agreed, solution should fit the problem.

    Really, when in doubt dish it out. It's easier to cater to all the noise possibilities early, rather than install everything and find out something is rattling behind the board later on. Be careful when getting a 120mm, you want to pay attention to two numbers: the db and the cfm. The decibels (db) is directly related to sound, but the cubic feet per minute (cfm) is how much air can be pushed through. If you have a fan with a high cfm, it's more likely that you can run it at a lower setting, thus reducing the actual db used.

    Also, realize that the foam/filters might decrease airflow. It's sort of like how you put more ventilation behind drywall to help sound-proof noise between rooms in a house. It does reduce sound, but it also helps close off the thermo system. That means your case might build up more heat, increasing work on the fans, increasing the sounds generated -- just something to keep in mind when making sure you have good airflow set up.
  • oynaz - Thursday, February 10, 2011 - link

    Sounds like a nice system for use in a studio.
  • mgl888 - Thursday, February 10, 2011 - link

    Pun intended?
  • wolfman3k5 - Thursday, February 10, 2011 - link

    So because Puget is not willing to just give their work away, and instead they charge money for real warranty, support, and excellent service they won't get an award? Wow! Ever heard of you get what you've paid for? In all my dealings with Puget I've been extremely satisfied. I've seen now other companies that offer 3 ~ 4 years warranty, but will rarely honor it. So what good is it then?! Dustin, grow some man hair and some common sense and write more acceptable conclusions. And Puget: stop wasting your time and money with web sites like this.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, February 10, 2011 - link

    Nobody asked them to give their work away, and actually I've been very briefly back and forth with Jon over there about the review. He disagreed with me on the pricetag and to an extent he's right, but there's still some real markup there that makes Puget Systems a tough sell compared to other boutiques.

    The flipside is that, as I mentioned, most other boutiques frankly just aren't producing systems as nice as this one and I think you could definitely make a case for spending up a bit and going with them. If you're willing to spend up you'll likely get a better shopping experience with them and frankly they don't seem to cut any corners on their builds, using top notch parts from day one.

    Jon also argued that the one year warranty is to avoid being disingenuous: parts can go EOL and it may be difficult to even service that warranty under those circumstances. I don't disagree with him.

    Unfortunately, a lot of consumers are only going to look at the bottom line: Puget's computers are more expensive and they only allow list a one year warranty on parts when everyone else has standardized on at least advertising three.
  • Trefugl - Thursday, February 10, 2011 - link

    I'm somewhere between both sides on this.

    Dustin, I think it was unfair to simply list the Newegg price without pulling a comparable list price from another boutique. Yes, we as the Tech crowd could just throw something together from Newegg (tho it might be louder), but with a boutique there is always some markup to cover labor and overhead, and at least (as you said) they don't charge a lot extra to upgrade components.

    Now, a roughly $1k markup is pretty high, but you're getting excellent components and a ridiculously quiet system. While the price is too high for my personal tastes, I'm not really the targeted customer - I really would never buy a mid to high end desktop from anyone, as I can always make it cheaper myself and have the knowledge and abilities to customize the case/design to suit my needs.
  • NCM - Thursday, February 10, 2011 - link

    Dustin Writes: "Nobody asked them to give their work away."

    Hey, they get to set their price— and the market decides whether it sells or not. The AT readership is likely to have a disproportionate number of people who would assemble their own systems, but out in the real world many more buyers want complete solutions. We've certainly paid good money for well engineered low noise devices.

    (Me, I'm still trying to get over noting in the comparo that someone sells a box called the DigitalStorm BlackOps. Are these named by 12-year-old boys or for 12-year-old boys...or both?)

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