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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  • Sagrim - Thursday, February 10, 2011 - link

    I've been in the market for a new computer as of late, and preferably a silent one at that. It has ultimately led me to Puget Computers. And, honestly, I'm seriously impressed with the company.

    A few oversights. First, as mentioned, Puget does not just slap together a computer and hope it is silent. They spent numerous hours designing the ideal configuration for their Serenity line, and only allow upgrades that meet the "standards" of that particular line.

    Next, they actually spend serious time with your computer personally. The customer gets a notebook thanking them for their purchase, and also an entire slew of information pertaining to YOUR purchased computer (benchmarks, temps, etc). It also lists who worked on your computer, what time the work was started/completed -- and, this can also be viewed online via their website so you can track the construction of your computer.

    Another nice addition is they ship a box of all the spare/extra parts that came with every component of your built system. All those extra cables, screws, ties, etc are sent to the user. A trip over to a popular online parts retailer will cost around $1,686 before tax, $1,728 after (depending on shipping method) to build this system almost exactly (figured in $219 for SB cpu, $190 for mobo). I also removed the "Instant Savings" from the quote. Give or take a few dollars, but that is well above the $1,000 quoted in the review. Bringing it to a difference of $421.

    It essentially comes down to if $421 is worth having someone else build the system, test the system, quality check the system, create a binder that tells you ALL about your system, package it for safe shipment, and then offer a 1 year parts, lifetime labor. And, with excellent customer service in case anything does in fact happen to your system during transit, or for that next year (or more if paid for extra 2/3 year parts). Ultimately, that's the peace of mind you get from ordering custom built computers from truly respectable companies that value the customers.

    Sorry for the slight rant, but after reading that it would cost someone about $1,000 for this type of system was a bit much. Where the price was being the main issue of complaint -- the gap isn't nearly as large as the reviewer made it seem. This is a respectable company, and have been around for quite some time.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, February 10, 2011 - link

    Not $1,000 for this TYPE of system, just equivalent hardware performance. But you're right, they do go through major qualifying with their hardware and communication from order to shipment is excellent.

    And beyond all that, frankly this computer is dead silent. I can't stress enough what it means to not be able to hear a computer AT ALL. Again, though, I'm looking at things from how the average consumer might: pricetag, one year warranty, *BAMF*.

    That's a shame but that's how a lot of shoppers work. If someone was willing to spend up to get premium service and a premium build, though, I'd have no reservations at all about recommending Puget Systems to them, and hopefully we're going to get more of their builds in-house for review soon.
  • Sagrim - Thursday, February 10, 2011 - link

    Falcon Northwest only offers 1 year parts.

    ibuypower only offers 1 year parts, 3 years labor, lifetime technical "support."

    Without scouring too much Dell's website -- they offer 1 year basic warranty, and their hardware warranty...however long that is.
  • Sagrim - Thursday, February 10, 2011 - link

    I guess I'll clarify myself on this...

    Falcon Northwest's "basic" system (Talon) carriers a 1 year parts. All their laptops carry a 1 year parts as well. Their Frag Box/Mach V both carry a 3 year.

    Though, in terms of price -- they all carry a hefty premium as well. A similarly configured Talon is a bit more than the Serenity without the overall sound quality.

    Arguably, Puget should allow upgraded GPUs on their Serenity line. Find a quiet (not silent) line, and offer it. I think that would make it a lot more attractive to people who want a silent, but fully capable gaming machine. People aren't exactly used to paying a premium on virtually silent pc's yet, but big gpu numbers seem to make all the sense in the world for increasing price.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, February 10, 2011 - link

    Ah, but comparing to FNW is comparing to one of the most expensive boutique system builders around. It's difficult to quantify all of the elements of customer support without being a long-term customer of a company, so all we can really say is how they dealt with us. Puget (and FNW the last time I worked with them) both put in a lot of one-on-one time to make sure things are top notch, and you pay for that experience.

    Anyway, I've priced out everything I think I'd need to build a similar "silent" system -- all parts from Newegg. I get a total price of around $1560 with shipping. That includes sound dampening foam, Scythe fans, OS, and all the other parts used by Puget. So by that measure, the price premium is "only" about $600 -- or put another way, it's almost a 40% markup over what Newegg charges. And I hate to break it to you, but Newegg makes a profit as well, so if you were getting bulk reseller pricing I'd say Puget is at least a 50% markup.
  • Taft12 - Thursday, February 10, 2011 - link

    Puget is certainly not a "bulk reseller". They buy in quantities that might qualify for a few percent less than retail. In many cases, they can (and almost surely do) buy parts CHEAPER from Newegg than the distribution channel.
  • GeorgeH - Thursday, February 10, 2011 - link

    Newegg does make a profit. From their financial statements, they average a ~10% markup over cost; taking overhead into account, their profit margin is around ~1.5%.

    There's no way in hell Puget is getting the same kind of volume discounts as Newegg, which does over $1 Billion in sales every year. I could believe that Puget's cost is ~5% under Newegg's average prices, but not much more than that.

    Subtract ~5% from ~$1500, and you get ~$1400. $2000 is a healthy markup there (~40%), but the article is claiming Puget's markup is twice that.

    But what's a factor of two here or there, right? $1000, $500; who really cares?
  • Taft12 - Thursday, February 10, 2011 - link

    Dell for one (and almost certainly HP, Lenovo, etc) offer up to 4 years hardware warranty INCLUDING on-site service for business PCs and servers.

    Of course you can't get that even if you wanted to on $499 Inspiron trash, but real business warranty coverage is not something you, me, Falcon Northwest or Puget Systems could ever hope to offer.
  • Hubb1e - Thursday, February 10, 2011 - link

    Dustin, your comment about price made it sound like you could get the same components for $1000. When you take into account the extra fans, the quality PSU, the CPU cooler, and some of the other extras you are closer to Sagrim's pricing.

    Yes, you can get a computer with similar performance (same CPU and 5750 video card) for $1000, but you won't get these components for $1000 and I think you should make that clearer in your article.

    This system is truly unique in the marketplace, and while 11db isn't needed for most people, it really shows the capability of Puget and as a flagship quiet model it gives them a lot of credibility in the marketplace with their other machines.

    On another note, I would have liked to have seen you try a bit of overclocking on the CPU, at least at stock voltage, because I'm sure the system had plenty of cooling headroom for a bit more clock.
  • Paulman - Thursday, February 10, 2011 - link

    Really? The review definitely makes it sound like the EXACT SAME components would cost only $1000 fron Newegg:

    "The hardware configuration is largely up to the end user; the quote on our price sheet listed our test system at a fairly onerous $2,149. We're really looking at a little over $1,000 in parts here judging from a trip to NewEgg and some quick and dirty math. No one likes seeing 100% markup on a computer that costs over two bills, so from a pure value perspective the Serenity SPCR Edition can feel like a real bust."

    If the exact same components actually cost more than $1000, I think the review should be updated/corrected with the approx. Newegg price for the SAME components. I definitely feel like I got the wrong idea from the first reading of this article (on that issue) :P

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