General Hands-On Usage
Here's a CPU-Z screenshot showing some detailed specs of what's running under the Serenity's hood:
One of the most striking features of the Serenity is what's missing; namely, noise... of any kind. This machine is so silent that, were it not for the status light on the front of the chassis, you'd have a hard time knowing if it were on or off.
We didn't have a decibel meter on-hand when we were testing the Serenity, but let's put it this way; even with the Serenity sitting at ear-level on top of a desk, any noise the machine might have made was drowned-out by the humming of a refrigerator down the hallway. This held true even when stressing the system with intensive gaming and encoding tasks.
So what makes the Serenity so quiet? One factor is Puget's choice of chassis for the Serenity. The Antec P183's dual chamber design provides physical separation between the power supply and the rest of the internals, which helps prevent heat from the PSU from entering the upper chamber. Puget tops off the Serenity's nearly silent performance with layers of acoustic-dampening foam on the interior walls of the case. But as anyone who has ever tried to build a silent PC knows, dampening material will only get you so far.
The key to the Serenity's silence lies in proper design and proper component selection. Apart from hard drives, the noisiest components in a system are generally the video card and the cooling fans. With the Serenity, Puget has chosen components that don't require an excessive amount of airflow to remain cool; i.e. the passively cooled HD 5750. And, by choosing the quietest fans available, the necessary air flows across the internal components while maintaining the system's miniscule noise signature.
Furthermore, Puget wisely takes advantage of solid-state hard drive technology to compliment the system's design goals. As we've described previously, solid-state drives generate no sound, thereby removing another traditional source of mechanical noise.
We receive a second, and much appreciated benefit from the SSD that most other high-end hardware can't quite replicate. With greatly reduced read, write and seek times, an SSD does wonders for the performance of Windows 7. Windows 7 finally feels like the fast, responsive and powerful operating system that it should be, instead of the sluggish, bloated performance that we often experience with Windows 7 on a standard 7200RPM platter drive.
With that said, the Serenity takes a paltry 41 seconds to boot up (15 seconds of which was the BIOS POST). Again, we credit this in large part to the SSD.
Please note: At this point of the review it should be mentioned that we won't be comparing the Serenity to any other systems in today's benchmark results. We will, however, be retaining the results for comparison in all our future desktop gaming system reviews as we build up a database of comparatives using our standard benchmark charts.
Our system arrived with no bloat ware of any kind; not even an anti-virus trial (we prefer AVG's free software anyway). The only icons on the desktop upon first boot were the Recycle Bin and a shortcut to CyberLink PowerDVD 10.
Overall, the Serenity provided a quite enjoyable computing experience with everyday tasks. We experienced no crashes or hangs of any kind and programs opened and closed briskly.
We ran the Serenity through the standard media encoding test regime here at TweakTown, which includes music and video transcoding.
All systems are tested "as is", which means operating systems and drivers can and do vary and some come pre-installed with applications that may or may not affect performance.
Any anti-virus or security applications are disabled and uninstalled before any testing is started, as they can affect test numbers.
For the iTunes encoding test we took the White Stripes - Under Great White Northern Lights album in MP3 format and encode it to AAC format using iTunes and time the results with a stopwatch.
The Serenity performed this task in 72 seconds.
For the movie-encoding test, we took the Microsoft Magic of Flight VC-1 WMV (1080p HD) video with six-channel audio and transcode it to XviD (1080p HD) with LAME MP3 two-channel audio and an MP4 container using MediaCoder 0.7.3.4616 32-bit edition.
The Serenity took a mere 91 seconds to complete this, which is remarkably fast. The video itself is 122 seconds long, so we're getting better-than-real-time transcoding speed on this task. We chalk this excellent performance up to the Core i7's 64-bit, multi-threaded processing capability.
To test its Blu-ray playback, we hooked the Serenity into a home theater using the HD 5750's HDMI output. Though not in a traditional HTPC form-factor, the Serenity performed admirably in this context due to its silent operation. We watched a couple of scenes from Tropic Thunder using the included CyberLink PowerDVD 10 and the Serenity performed as it should.
The only glitch we encountered was a recurring message from CyberLink that a software update was available, even after we performed the update. However, this appears to be a glitch on CyberLink's end rather than Puget's.
Though we didn't test this, we'd like to point out that with its silent performance, multi-core processor, internal expandability and FireWire and eSATA connections, the Serenity would make an excellent machine for music recording and production.