As any system builder knows, there’s a constant yin-and-yang balancing act between performance and noise. When you crank up performance, you crank up the noise. And as you bring down the acoustics, so goes the performance.
That’s the delicate line Puget Systems attempts to walk with its Serenity Mini desktop system. For this task, Puget configured the Serenity with a 3.3GHz Intel Core i5-2500K, an Asus P8H67-M EVO motherboard, 8GB of low-profile Kingston DDR3/1333, a Gelid Tranquillo cooler, two Intel 320 Series 80GB SATA 6Gb/s drives, a 2TB WD Caviar Green drive, and a Power Color Radeon HD 5750 videocard.
All this is packed into an Antec Mini P180 case. The Antec P series is already tuned for acoustics, but Puget added some additional touches, such as AcoustiPack sheets in various spots, to make the case even quieter.
The Serenity Mini is the quietest performance machine we’ve ever tested.
In performance, the Serenity Mini’s numbers are fair. They’re not benchmark chart-ripping scores, but they’re not bad either. Much of that is thanks to the Core i5-2500K chip. Its stock speed is 3.3GHz but Puget overclocks it to 4.5GHz. This helps the 2500K overcome the overclocked Core i7-920 in our zero-point system in most of our application benchmarks. The Serenity Mini also does reasonably well against the similarly priced CyberPower LAN Party EVO (reviewed in July), which features a stock-clocked 3.4GHz Core i7-2600K. The CyberPower outpaces the overclocked Puget Systems in our Lightroom 2.6 test, but even with its Hyper-Threading, loses to the Serenity Mini in the rest of our benchmarks.
When we get to gaming, though, the CyberPower’s GeForce GTX 580 shows who is in charge. It’s simply a beatdown, putting a passively cooled card up against the fastest single-GPU card available.
But let’s be honest, the Serenity Mini is not designed primarily as a gaming rig. Yes, a Radeon HD 5750 is certainly capable of some gaming duties at lower resolutions, say, 1680x1050, and even some games at 1920x1080, but it’s not a card you’d pick if you’re expecting to play Battlefield 3 on a 30-inch panel at 2560x1600. Instead, you want this GPU and this machine for its acoustics.
Is the Serenity Mini really that quiet? Yes. The rig is dead silent, which is more of a mind-bender than anything. You expect a system running at 4.5GHz to make some noise, but this is a black hole of silence.
We originally thought the CyberPower LAN Party EVO was quiet, but not in comparison to this. You move your head closer and closer to the machine in an effort to hear it until your head is against the case. Even then, you can still barely hear anything. That’s quite an achievement.
Puget really hit the mark in noise management, but there’s still that vexing question: Would a gamer give up the performance? We’re not totally sold on that point. If gaming was a factor in the machine’s life, we’d pass on the Serenity Mini in favor of something with more graphical heft, such as the aforementioned LAN Party EVO, which, while not as silent, is fast and also quite small.
But if you’re looking for a deadly quiet machine for your cave, and the primary purpose is either content creation or application use, we don’t think you can get a more peaceful machine than the Serenity Mini.
Two 80GB Intel 320 Series SSDs in RAID 0, WD 2TB Caviar Green
Asus 12x Blu-ray Burner
Customized Antec Mini P180 / Seasonic X-560 watt
Puget Systems Serenity Mini
Vegas Pro 9 (sec)
Lightroom 2.6 (sec)
ProShow 4 (sec)
Reference 1.6 (sec)
STALKER: CoP (fps)
Far Cry 2 (fps)
Our current desktop test bed consists of a quad-core 2.66GHz Core i7-920 overclocked to 3.5GHz, 6GB of Corsair DDR3/1333 overclocked to 1750MHz, on a Gigabyte X58 motherboard. We are running an ATI Radeon HD 5970 graphics card, a 160GB Intel X25-M SSD, and the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Ultimate.