Review: Serenity Gaming PC

system.serenity.jpgPuget Systems makes old-school boutique tower PCs for gamers. The last time I looked at one, it brought performance, heft, multiple video cards, and coolant tubing packed into a giant enclosure. It also came with something else: noise. Wired puts it so: performs like a Ferrari, sounds like a Mack Truck. Its latest, the Serenity gaming PC, fixes it for who hate the hum. On the outside, it's a classy, if nondescript Antec case. Inside, however, it's calmed with acoustic foam panels, dampered screws and other vibration-reducing handiwork. And while Puget's online configurator lets you change most components, it defaults to selections tested for quiet operation. The result is a pleasing murmur, if not complete silence -- the optical drive spinning up is by far the loudest thing in it.
But silence doesn't come cheap. Starting at $1,682, it's about $400-$500 more expensive than a standard, similarly-specced desktop from Dell or HP. And while buying boutique means you get better customer care (including a logbook of system construction, burn-in tests, gaming becnhmnarks, and even Robocop-vision thermographs of the completed system under load) it's also true that configuring the same stuff into Puget's own standard gaming PC configurator results in a similar discount, albeit on an AMD platform instead of Intel Quad Core. Tested at the base Serenity Gaming configuration, it has an i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM and an XFX Radeon HD 5770 video card with 1GB RAM. A fanless video card option is available, but those defaults are already as modest as most gamers will likely want to settle for. Heading in the other direction, a faster CPU or more RAM shouldn't result in more system noise, but moving to a top-shelf video card will. It performs well enough, and has a nice clean Windows 7 installation, but the real plus to buying from a boutique retailer is getting a reliable custom machine without having to put the damned thing together yourself. Noise reduction is as much a time sink as squeezing an extra FPS or two from marginal hardware ever was, but with the added irritation of it always being hands-on process involving pads, washers, glues, icky thermal pastes, heatsinks, incantations... Envisage the woe-pregnant nightmare of building your own computer, but where labor's diminishing returns lie not in easily-diagnosable config issues but in inexplicable vibrations and weird noises emanating from nowhere in particular. Finding that last whining component is like when you have a dying battery in a smoke alarm, but there are eight smoke alarms inside a box and each one must be individually unscrewed before you can figure out which is making the infernal squeak, and ... you get the idea. So you get the point of the Serenity PC, for those who care about these things. The pros being clear, the cons for Serenity are its price, its heavy case, and (for those of you who still buy games on disc and don't NOCD) the whirry default optical drive. Get it if you want quiet, custom, upgradeable gaming without the hassle, but not if budget performance--or preserving desktop space--is your real priority. Here's an account of buying from Puget from a paying customer. Serenity Gaming PC [Puget]


  1. It is a pity that the nicer KVM extenders are such niche products. A featureful one(this is representative but not specifically endorsed) will allow you to extend a bunch of USB ports and one or more DVI connections over either copper or fiber anywhere from a few hundred feet to multiple kilometers.

    With the video signals and some USB ports for peripherals, flash drives, a CDROM if you really need it, at your desk, all plugged into a completely silent KVM device, you could have the computer be arbitrarily noisy and located in a closet or basement somewhere.

    Unfortunately, since such hardware is almost exclusively the domain of either rugged environment signage or Real Serious(tm) specialty server administration, it is produced in modest quantities, and costs a bundle. To the best of my knowledge, there is no mass market equivalent.

    1. You weren’t the only one expecting Cap’n Tightpants, but it’s just as well- the primary buffer panel would probably fly off this thing.

  2. The definite place for all things silent in computing is . The forum is a treasure trove of user hacks and mods. I’ve tried a whole range of low budget noise reduction mods. In the end I found one change far superior to all such changes though: moving the computer to another room and getting some longer cables. My workplace is now utterly silent.

  3. I for one enjoy the fun (or horror) of sticking a bunch of brightly coloured PCBs together with some fans and a screen to make something that checks my emails and plays Crysis. Sure it’s a hassle to get it working sometimes but how else are you going to learn? Surely there’s an Instructable somewhere about soundproofing your box too.

    In fact it seems a bit odd to me that there’s many people that buy these high-end preconstructed PCs, most PC gamers I know take pride in their choice of hardware and have the nous to fix any problems they may have. Non-gamers really don’t need this kind of spec.

    I have to admit though, a quiet PC would be nice.

  4. The esoteric secret to quieting your PC: a slight *under* clock allowing a reduction of voltage! Yes, that’s right, under-clocking. Let’s face it, only about 0.1% of the population has reflexes fast enough to notice even a 10% underclock. But just about everyone is negatively affected by unpleasant noise. (And yes, there is real science that shows this manifesting physiologically.) And thanks to physics, the slight reduction in voltage this allows can result in a significant reduction in heat. (Heat goes up as the square of voltage.) This means your fans have to move a lot less air, and they become a *lot* quieter.

    Someone should try some double-blind tests with under-clocked gaming machines, and see if “typical” gamers notice! (Most of the time, that last few percent tweaking is really about someone’s e-peen, and not about something substantive.)

  5. phisrow,

    I’m really interested in what you’ve got there… I’ve been dreaming about a DVR/Music server/gaming machine/workstation setup recently, but those extenders are giving me some thoughts on different options. Removing the computer to a different room kills noise, may allow for a larger system… Thanks for the link. Got any more info?

  6. I have that same model case — Antec stock, not the mods. It comes with some nice sound-proofing touches standard such as vibration-isolating hard drive mounts. But the large cooling fan on the top emits noise, plain and simple. (It could be that the opening just allows the noise from the CPU fan out. Haven’t experimented to find out.)

    That said, I’ve got this thing right next to my desk, and it’s quieter than an old lug machine I’m working on that’s more than a meter away.

    The Antec noise is not objectionable. I can only hear it when I’m not playing music, and when the server room door is closed. (The Cisco core switches make a buncha noise, as do the 1L servers.)

  7. Interesting company, but it is still cheaper to DIY. A better system can be bought and built through…

    I can build a $2600USD serenity system for $1500CAD using better parts and still come out ahead using ncix

  8. I bought a new gaming computer from this company (it’s a local company for me) and I have no complaints. I did a piece by piece set-up for the type of system I wanted after which they reviewed and tweaked to a set-up that would give me more power and actually save me some money. I am not sure about their customer service because as of yet I haven’t had to use it. Also check out the mineral oil aquarium computers they have set-up in their office. Cool stuff.

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