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Certified Silent Puget Serenity Pro

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The latest Certifiably Silent PC from Puget Computers features an Ivy Bridge i7-3770K and an nVidia GTX670 gaming card. The SPCR Silent Certification should be a clear hint: There’s not much of a price in noise for this high performance gamer.

Certified Silent Puget Serenity Pro

Puget Custom Computers is no stranger to SPCR readers, as the company has been
an active member of the SPCR Certified Quiet/Silent Computer Program for nearly
three years. During that time, successive versions of Puget’s Serenity PC SPCR
edition (and the mini variant) broke acoustic standards for SPCR Certified Computers,
not once but a couple of times. Puget does not mass produce systems; each system
is custom built to your order. The last refresh of the Serenity was the
i7 Sandy Bridge SPCR Edition
, certified in January 2011: Its sound pressure
level (SPL) measured an astonishingly low 11 dBA@1m (the ambient floor of SPCR’s
tomb-quiet anechoic chamber) at idle and low load, and reached just 12.5 dBA
after an hour at absolutely maximum system load.

The latest Puget PC submitted for certification is called the Serenity Pro.
The chassis remains the same as in the Serenity, the proven Antec P183 in gun
metal finish, with an Asus socket 1155 motherboard and Intel i7 CPU. It differs
from the i7 Sandy Bridge SPCR Edition with component upgrades forced by the
short product life cycles in IT — an Ivy Bridge CPU instead of Sandy Bridge,
a Z77 chip motherboard instead of P67, and so on — but primarily in the
choice of graphics card. The last three generations of Serenity systems from
Puget all featured a fanless Radeon HD5750 with a fairly modest TDP of 86W,
which is what allowed the card to be cooled passively. The Pro has a much more
powerful graphics card, an ASUS GTX 670 2GB DirectCU II. This is one short step
down the very high performance nVidia GeForce GTX 680 card, capable of playing
the latest demanding 3D games at speedy FPS with high detail settings and screen
resolution. Its TDP is 170W, definitely a far bigger challenge to cool quietly
than the Serenity’s HD5750.


Puget stayed with the tried-and-true Antec P183 for the Serenity Pro.
The gun metal gray of the Antec case is quite classic, looking professionally
subdued yet always reflecting something of its environs.

Here is a comparison of the components for the Serenity Pro versus the last
certified Serenity. As mentioned above, there are many differences, mostly subtle
and largely a result of ongoing product changes by component manufacturers.
The single biggest difference is the graphics card, which increases total power
demand by over 80W.

Puget SerenityPro vs. i7 Sandy Bridge Serenity
*
Serenity Pro
i7 SB Serenity
Motherboard
Asus P8Z77-V Pro
Asus P8P67 Pro
CPU
Intel Core i7 3770K Quad-core 3.5GHz 77W (Ivy Bridge,
socket 1155)
Intel Core i7 2600K Quad-core 3.4GHz 95W (Sandy Bridge,
socket 1155)
RAM
2 x Kingston DDR3-1600 8gb
2 x Kingston Value DDR3-1333 4gb
Video Card
ASUS Geforce GTX 670 2gb DirectCU II
PowerColor Radeon HD5750 1gb Silent
SSD
Intel 520 120gb SATA 6Gb/s SSD
Intel X25-M 34nm Gen2 120gb SSD
Hard Drive
WD Caviar Green 2.0 tb 6Gb/s
Optical Drive & Software
ASUS 12x Blu-ray SATA Burner; Cyberlink PowerDVD 12 Ultra
w/o 3D
Lite-On 8x Blu-ray Player
Case
Antec P183 V3
Power
Seasonic X-560 Antec CP-850
CPU Cooler
Gelid Tranquilo v.2 w/ Scythe SlipStream 120 fan
Gelid Tranquilo w/ Scythe SlipStream 120 fan
Fans
Quiet Fans Upgrade (Scythe SlipStreams)
Case Mods
AcoustiPack Acoustic Composite Sheets
OS
Windows 8 Pro 64-bit
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Warranty
Lifetime Labor & Support, 1 year parts
Special
Cherry picking of quietest components.
Price
Starts at $1250.00
As
tested, Jan 2011: $2463

Serenity
PC page at Puget Custom Computers

The SPCR-certified Silent PC
Program

Serenity i7 Sandy Bridge
PC, SPCR Edition

WHAT’S IN THE BOX?

The Serenity Pro sample arrived via UPS in the usual large carton Puget prefers.
Inside, the P183-housed system was securely packed in the original carton for
the Antec case. Double-boxing is Puget’s way of ensuring the system will arrive
unscathed through whatever UPS can throw at it in transit.


This huge carton holds…



…the PC in the original P183 carton…


…along with a box holding unused accessories, parts, software documentation
and a 3-ring binder detailing your system.


The binder holds a lot of useful information such as unpacking instructions,
software serial keys, FAQ, troubleshooting tips, measured performance
and burn-in data, and a pair of system restore DVDs. It is a thoughtful,
complete customer care package which shows a commendaby high degree of
attention to detail by the folks at Puget.

One of the most interesting extras Puget offers its customers is an email notification
when your system is fully assembled and tested, complete with photos of your
system, including thermal imaging shots of the system at idle and full load
that graphically show the effectiveness of their cooling. Here are the images
they sent of the review sample system.


System at idle.


System at load. Note that Puget does not use the same load testing as
the SPCR PC Certication program.

Serenity
PC page at Puget Custom Computers

The SPCR-certified Silent PC
Program

Serenity i7 Sandy Bridge
PC, SPCR Edition

INSIDE THE PUGET SERENITY PRO

The build quality of this system is similar to previous Serenity samples, with
AcoustiPack acoustic damping lining the inside of the top and side panels as
well as behind the front door, and neat cable management throughout. The overall
excution shows evidence of thoughtful care in system cooling and quieting. In
case there is any doubt, this is a heavy system in a solid case: It tips the
scale at 43 lbs.


A custom-fitted foam bag keeps the CPU heatsink and any add-in cards
secure during transit. It is the same shock protection system used in
all previous Puget systems, and it must be removed before using the computer.
There are clear, detailed "Before powering up" instructions
in the 3-ring binder supplied with the system.



The interior is a model of clean assembly. Sycthe Slipstream 120mm fans
are used through, even on the now-familar Gelid Tranquillo CPU heatsink
favored by Puget for its ability to withstand transit without any slip
or movement. The 16GB of RAM is in two 8GB sticks, for dual channel support,
and leaves two more RAM slots free (though it’s hard to imagine the need
for more RAM in a desktop PC).

In the lower chamber, the Seasonc X-560 power supply is mounted conventionally,
fan side down. In the fron HDD cage are an Intel SSD and a 2TB WD Green,
mounted vertically with damping rubber blocks. The front of the PSU chamber
does not have an intake fan, which is probably perfectly OK as both the
drives and the PSU run extremely cool.


The ASUS GTX670 graphics card is given extra support by a simple and effective
clear acrylic brace. This helps the PCIe socket and motherboard to bear
the weight of the heavy card and cooler, which can often be seen sagging
on the inside end. Over the long term, the extra support should help avoid
any malfunctions due to physical stress of the VGA card or motherboard.
The cut and fit of the Acoustipak foam, the best of all the PC case damping
foam SPCR has examined, is meticulous as usual in all the Puget systems
examined thus far.



This angle shows the front intake fan for the main chamber of the case.
It is fitted securely into acrylic cutouts on the inside of of the HDD
cage so that it angles upwards a bit. Puget found that this provides better
cooling airflow for both the CPU and the graphics card. Note the foam
blocks that fill the unused space in the optical drive cage; airflow and
acoustic flow paths are both tightly controlled in this system.

Serenity
PC page at Puget Custom Computers

The SPCR-certified Silent PC
Program

Serenity i7 Sandy Bridge
PC, SPCR Edition

THE SPCR CERTIFIED PC: A SUMMARY

There are two classes of SPCR Certified PCs:

  • SILENT PC: 15 dBA@1m or lower SPL with the system in idle, 20
    dBA@1m or lower at maximum load.

    The noise level of this class of SPCR certified PC is low enough that
    in most environments and most workloads, it is effectively inaudible.
    Even at maximum possible load (with both video card and CPU running
    full tilt simultaneously), it remains very quiet.
  • QUIET PC: 20 dBA@1m or lower SPL with the system in idle, 27
    dBA@1m or lower at maximum load.

    The idle noise level of this class of SPCR certified PC is low enough
    that in most environments and most workloads, it is very quiet; it may
    even be inaudible, like some SPCR Certified Silent PCs. At full load
    (most notably extreme 3D gaming or extended video processing), it is
    still quiet, although definitely audible. This certification is designed
    for gaming enthusiasts who want their PC to be very quiet in normal
    use but don’t mind a bit of noise in exchange for very high performance
    during game play when headphones or speakers are sounding gaming effects.

All SPCR Certified PCs must also meet these criteria:

  • No rapid changes in noise. The noise level increases
    or decreases gradually so that the change itself does not become a source
    of annoyance.
  • No prominent tonal peaks. These are narrow frequency
    peaks that sound like pure tones. Especially in the middle and higher
    frequencies, they can be extremely annoying even if low in amplitude.
  • Maintain acoustic levels and safe operating temperature for
    all components even under high load, in ambient temperature up to 30°C
    .
    The reference system submitted by the vendor is tested by SPCR in a
    hemi-anechoic chamber with the air temperature at 30°C.

The Fine Print: Each certification is valid for a period
of 18 months from the date of testing, or until the core components are
no longer available. The vendor may offer component alternatives that
differ from those used in the reference system tested by SPCR, but must
ensure that their acoustic or thermal properties cause the overall noise
level to rise no more than 2 dBA SPL above the reference sample or beyond
the SPL requirements of the certification class (ie, Silent or Quiet).

ACOUSTIC & THERMAL CHARACTERISTICS

This is the core of the SPCR certification for a PC. Many tools are used to
analyze the system:

The basic approach is to assess the noise, thermal and power characteristics
at idle, and then at full CPU and GPU loads. The testing was conducted entirely
in the SPCR anechoic chamber. Measurements under load were recorded 60 minutes
after the tests were started. This is an artificially long time for both CPU
and GPU to be at continuous 100% load; it simply does not happen in actual use
with real applications, even the most demanding 3D games. With the torture test
settings, Prime95 loads up an Intel CPU like no other real application, as does
FurMark with any GPU. Together, they represent a more extreme torture test than
used by 99% of PC system integrators.

One further challenge since our last Puget system certification is that all
the testing is now done at 30°C room ambient temperature. Electric space
heaters are used to raise the air temperature in the anechoic chamber to 30°C.
The heaters are then turned on/off as necessary to maintain that room ambient
during testing. The hot room pushes the cooling capabilities of any PC to extremes,
especially with the extended time of the artificial maximum CPU/GPU loads. This
was done in response to feedback from users in hot climates as well as vendors
considering participation in the SPCR Silent/Quiet PC Certification system.
Note that Puget actually cites 30°C as the recommended maximum operational
temperature for their systems.

Two other system states were added to the testing:

  • Bluray disc playback, which engages the optical drive, as normally this
    is a noise source.
  • TMPEnc video encoding of a 60 minute 720p video from WMV to MP4 format.
    This is to check cooling and noise under a more typical real-use load.
Test Results: Puget Serenity Pro, SPCR Edition
System state
idle
1080p/Bluray
HDD Seek
TMPEnc
Prime95
P95+FM
AC power
76W
83/88W
78W
108W
124W
270W
CPU
36°C
39°C
38°C
49°C
55°C
69°C
GPU
40°C
48°C
48°C
30°C
45°C
76°C
Mainboard
32°C
35°C
35°C
32°C
37°C
46°C
HDD
32°C
32°C
34°C
32°C
32°C
32°C
SPL @1m
11.5
11.5
12
12
12
15
SPL – ISO 7779 Seated User (0.6m)
12.5
12.5
13
14
14
17
SPL = SoundPressure Level in dB, A-weighted
Ambient conditions: 30°C, 10 dBA – Off/Sleep Mode: 0.3W

Max safe temps – CPU: 72°C, GPU: 100°C, HDD: 55°C

For those who wish to compare this Pro against the last Serenity, here are
the main test results for the earlier system. Note that the earlier system was
tested at a cooler room temperature.

Test Results: Puget Serenity Sandy Bridge, SPCR Edition
Criteria
idle
1080p
Prime95
Prime95+
Furmark
AC power
68W
86W
155W
215W
CPU
30°C
38°C
66°C
69°C
GPU
40°C
48°C
45°C
82°C
Mainboard
38°C
41°C
55°C
63°C
HDD
32°C
32°C
32°C
33°C
SPL – dBA@1m
11
11
12
12.5
SPL – ISO 7779 Seated User Position (0.6m)
12
12
14
15
Ambient conditions: 22°C, 10 dBA – Off/Sleep
Mode: 0.3W

Max safe temps – CPU: 80°C, GPU: 100°C, HDD: 55°C

1. Noise

The Puget Serenity Pro SPCR Edition easily qualifies as a Certified Silent
PC. The measured sound pressure level of 11.5 dBA@1m at idle and 15 dBA at
full system load and 30°C room temperature is very impressive and unprecedented.
At idle, it is hard to tell that the system is on using only sonic cues, even
sitting next to it (with the system on the floor as it should be). The signature
of the sound at full load is smooth, a very subdued broadband whoosh.
At low load, the difference between the Serenity Pro and the Serenity will
be difficult to hear. At extended full load, it’s about 2~2.5 dBA@1m. Audible,
but subtle.

The Bluray playback test was added at Puget’s request. They worked with ASUS
to create an exclusive firmware for this Bluray burner, which keeps it running
at slower than normal speed in most conditions. It works: Even with the computer
sitting on the desktop close to the user, it is difficult to hear the Buray
drive actually working; there is hardly any audible difference from system
idle. Using fast forward at 32x made it slightly more audible but it was still
not more than a single dB increase.

When accessed, occasional chatter from the hard drive can be heard, but at
a very low level, with peaks getting no higher than 1 dBA@1m above the norm.
Placed on a carpeted floor under a desk, that chatter is all but inaudble
beyond 1m distance. The Antec P183 may be getting long in the tooth in some
ways, but there’s no denying the acoustic qualities of its composite-layered
panels and heavy internal frame.

The ISO 7779 computer noise standard’s defined "Seated User Position"
SPL places the microphone about 0.6m away from the top/front of the PC, which
explains the 2 dBA higher readings. This is an unrealistically close distance
for a PC in a case as large as the Antec P183, which is designed for placement
on the floor; few users would put it on top of the desk.

2. Cooling

The components stayed well under maximum safe limits through most the testing,
but under Prime95+Furmark, the CPU got close to Intel’s maximum safe recommended
temperature of 72°C. No throttling was seen, however, but users may want
to monitor component temperatures when running extreme CPU-intensive tasks
during hot weather. The GPU, on the other hand, never even got close to its
limits; it has over 20°C headroom. Heat-wary gamers need not worry while
playing to their heart’s content on this machine. All the other component
temperatures stayed very modest even under extreme load.

It is interesting to note that the maximum speed of the CPU was only 610
RPM even after an hour of Prime95+Furmark. In contrast, the fans on the Asus
Geforce GTX 670 2GB DirectCU II video card reached 2220 RPM during the same
test. This suggests the bulk of the noise increase at full load was caused
by the video card fans, and therefore, there is some leeway for Puget to adjust
the CPU cooling fan up a notch to improve CPU cooling without any noise penalty,
as any increase in CPU fan noise can probably be masked by the GPU cooling
fans.

3. Power

The idle state AC power consumption of 76W is about what you’d expect for
a modern powerful gaming system. The maximum CPU/GPU load power of 270W AC
is higher than any previous system from Puget, but significantly lower than
the 320W of the AVADirect
Quiet Gaming PC with GTX680
; that GTX680 is the obvious difference. Until
the GPU become seriously engaged, AC power draw is unlikely to exceed the
124W seen in Prime95. Power draw when shut down is an insignificant 0.3W.

4. Performance

No performance benchmarks were run on the system. The high performance of
the Intel i7-3770K is already well documented in the tech press; ditto for
the nVidia GTX670 and the Intel 520 120gb SSD used as the operating system
drive. There were no problem of any kind encountered during our testing. The
quick boot time of about 32 seconds (from power button press to actual usability
at the desktop) is excellent. Windows 8 Pro 64-bit has yet to be widely accepted
among power users, but all variants of Windows 7 continued to offered for
Puget PCs.

SPCR
Certification Report on Puget Serenity Pro
(PDF)

CONCLUSIONS

The Puget Serenity Pro SPCR Edition is a welcome addition to the stable of
SPCR Certified Silent PCs. It is meticulously assembled, provides very high
gaming performance, draws relatively modest power even at full load, and is
extremely quiet even our hot room torture test conditions. As with the last
two Puget systems, it is hard to imagine any setting where the system’s noise
would be audible in normal use. The ambient noise floor in any common
human habitation is louder by many decibels. The noise bar has been set to a
new low (as in limbo dancing) for a powerful gaming computer.

Puget’s practice of cherry picking quieter components from their shelves for
SPCR Editions remains unique. This careful selection service, the thoughtful
airflow and noise reduction design, and the high performance all combine to
make our fourth Serenity PC test sample truly impressive. It bears comparison
even with PCs that have no moving parts; some of them will actually have more
electronic noise (high pitched, sometimes intermittent whine) than the Serenity
Pro. You do pay a premium for all the careful design, component selection and
execution, but the sheer luxury of the end result is hard to better, and Puget
offers lifetime serice and support.

* * *

Serenity
PC page at Puget Custom Computers

The SPCR-certified Silent PC
Program

Serenity i7 Sandy Bridge
PC, SPCR Edition

* * *

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