Puget Delivers a Quiet Core Duo PC

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TESTING

The following tools were used during testing:

Because the system noise was more or less constant — the fans did not change speed, and drive seeks were not noticeable above the idle noise — most of our testing consisted of an examination of power and thermal dissipation. The CPU thermal diode was not calibrated, so thermal measurements should only be evaluated relative to each other, not in absolute terms.

Ambient temperature during testing was 23°C. Ambient noise level was 16 dBA/1m.

Puget Custom Computer
Activity State
CPU Temperature
GPU Temperature
AC Power Draw
Idle (EIST)
33°C
52°C
54W
Idle (no EIST)
40°C
53°C
61W
CPU Load (2x CPUBurn)
56°C
53°C
82W
Full Load (ATI Tool + 2x CPUBurn)
54°C
82°C
92W

In spite of our worries about airflow around its heatsink, the CPU was well cooled. The maximum temperature of 56°C was low enough to be perfectly safe, although we would not recommend pushing the system hard in 35°C ambient. The CPU temperature fell slightly when the graphics card was engaged.

The graphics card also showed no signs of overheating, although the thermal diode showed a much higher temperature than the CPU. It is widely accepted (if somewhat unsubstantiated) that nVidia's graphics cards can withstand reported temperatures of more than 100°C, so the 82°C peak that we saw seems fine.

One small gripe was that Puget did not enable EIST (Enhanced Intel SpeedStep) by default. This is as simple as selecting "Minimal Power Management" in the Control Panel, so there is no reason why it could not be enabled. The power savings from doing this were not large — only about 15% — but we had hoped that such a simple step would be a part of Puget's standard build procedure.

At full load, the system drew less than 100W from the wall. That's less than one fifth of the power supply's capacity (why so large?), and quite an impressive number for a system equipped with an separate graphics card.

The graphics card did not help the power consumption at idle. The 54W that the system drew at idle was modest, but it is higher than the <40W that can be achieved using integrated graphics.

SOUND TESTING

Puget Custom Computer: Noise Level
Activity State
SPL (dBA/1m)
Idle / Load
20
Hard Drive Spun Down
20

The noise measurements bear out our subjective impression of the system: It's quiet... very quiet. It may have missed the 18 dBA@1m level set by the fanless system that they sent us before, but it didn't miss by much. It required close listening to pick the system noise out from the background.

As mentioned, the noise did not change under use. This is hardly a surprise — the system fan is not thermally controlled, and the Seasonic power supply did not get louder until DC output reached 200W on our test bench when we tested a sample for our review. This is more than double the maximum load of the system reviewed here. Even the noise from the hard drive did not change, since the operating system was installed on the flash drive and did not produce seek noise.

This provoked a question: Why was the drive allowed to spin at all? It's the main source of noise, and can easily be disabled using the same window used to enable SpeedStep. We answered our own question by spinning down the drive using SeaTools to see what the system sounded like without it.

To our surprise, the measured noise level did not change, and the noise character was significantly worse. Without the drive, the bearing noise from the fans was more plainly audible and could be picked out from the background as a low buzz. When the drive was turned back on, the noise returned to the hushed whoosh from before, with no clear tones and no distinct character. Subjectively, it seemed quieter, even though a new source of noise had been added. Such is the nature of human sonic perception, which is why we always emphasize the importance of listening over measurements alone.

MP3 RECORDINGS

MP3: Puget Custom Computers Core Duo System: 20 dBA@1m

Comparables:

MP3: Shuttle SD11G5 with Nexus 92 fan, 920 rpm (any load): 20 dBA@1m

MP3: Zalman TNN-300 w/Seagate Momentus 7200.1 on Sorbothane: <20 dBA@1m

MP3: Arctic Cooling Silentium T2 at Idle, 23 dBA@1m

MP3: P180 "Hot Potato" Configuration 4: 25 dBA@1m

MP3: SilverStone Temjin TJ-07, Configuration 7 (Quiet Nexus Fans): 24 dBA@1m

HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE

These recordings were made with a high resolution studio quality digital recording system. The microphone was 3" from the front bezel of the case at a 45° angle, facing the intake side of the fan to avoid direct wind noise. It is best to download the sound files to your computer before listening.

To set the volume to a realistic level (similar to the original), try playing this Nexus 92mm case fan @ 5V (17 dBA/1m) recording and set the volume so that it is barely audible. Then don't reset the volume and play the other sound files. Of course, all tone controls and other effects should be turned off or set to neutral. For full details on how to calibrate your sound system playback level to get the most valid listening comparison, please see the yellow text box entitled Listen to the Fans on page four of the article SPCR's Test / Sound Lab: A Short Tour.

CONCLUSIONS

Once again, Puget Custom Computers has delivered an exceptionally quiet system — this time at a more reasonable price. As shipped, the system is as quiet as any system we've built on our own, and probably faster. There's not much here to complain about, but since it is an independent review, we feel compelled to make an effort. The only major omission that we found was that SpeedStep was disabled by default. Preinstalling and configuring Nero DriveSpeed would have been nice too, but that costs extra money, so it's not really a complaint.

Best of all, unlike the system we reviewed previously, you can actually buy this one — or close enough. Puget offers the complete system — without the solid state drive — for about US$1800. If you ask nicely, they can add that as well... if you can afford an extra US$550.

Even if you don't want the exact system reviewed here, the system that Puget built for us makes a statement: Puget is capable and willing to produce systems that are as quiet as any custom-built system. If you're willing to work with them (and the company prides itself on the level of interaction between its customers and the people who actually build the systems), it is possible to buy a system that is unique and quiet without getting your hands dirty. During the buying process, Puget will review the options you've chosen, communicate suggestions, and accept special requests. If you want a system like the one in this review, Puget will be happy to make it for you. If you want to tweak it for your own requirements, they will accommodate those just as happily.

Much thanks to Puget Custom Computers for building us this custom review sample.

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SPCR Articles of Related Interest

Puget Custom Pentium M Rig: A Silent WC System
17" Apple iMac - The Official SPCR Review
Fanless Ultra Powerhouse PC by EndPCNoise
Shuttle SD11G5: Pentium M SFF PC

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