The team at Tom's Hardware is here to help you make the best computer hardware purchase decisions and squeeze every last drop of power out of your rig. We want to know what you use all those precious processor cycles for, which is why we've started a new series: Power User Profiles. For our latest profile we sat down with expert builder and Puget Systems President Jon Bach to find out what it takes to build professional grade workstations.
1. Tell us a little about your background and what you do.
I founded Puget Systems 18 years ago with a mission to bring clarity to a PC industry full of hype and misinformation. Back in those days, I built a lot of gaming PCs for tech enthusiasts. Over time, we’ve homed in on a calling we’re even more passionate about--to build the world’s best workstations for content creators, engineers and scientists. Our entire world lives where hardware meets software. We have to be an expert in both in order to build the right workstations that get the job done for our customers. It is incredibly rewarding to see the great work our customers are doing on our PCs.
As the company has grown, I’ve worn just about every hat there is--building the PCs myself, tech support, sales, programming, process development, managing vendor relationships et cetera. These days, my job is mostly about making sure everyone in my company has the tools and freedom to do their job. We have amazing people at Puget Systems. My job is to set a course and get out of the way!
2. What kind of computer do you use for work?
I don’t update my computer very often, but when I do, I want to experience the newest platform and the same hardware our customers use. At home, I run one of our Serenity PCs. I like it because it is small and quiet, so I can have it right next to me on my desk. At work, it is more of a custom configuration, running Z370, 8700K, 64GB memory. I’m running an Intel 900P Optane SSD, not because I particularly need it, but because Optane is a product difficult to describe on paper. I wanted to experience it for myself, and it’s handled everything I've thrown at it.
3. What are the most demanding tasks you perform?
From a compute standpoint, it would be virtualization. I am our primary programmer for the company (one of the few hats I still carry alone). Our developer environment is a copy of our public servers, running in a virtual machine. Depending on the development work I am doing, that can get pretty demanding on my PC’s resources.
4. What apps do you run?
Notepad++ is hands-down my favorite app. As a programmer, I think I’m required to say that, right? I run VirtualBox for our development environment and for OS deployment testing. Beyond that, a lot has moved to the cloud. I moved our company to Google Apps a few years ago, so almost all our documents and spreadsheets live there now.
5. Which of those apps or tasks would choke a mainstream computer?
With the exception of the occasional large Excel sheet, my needs are actually pretty tame most of the time. Puget Labs, the room right next to me, is a different story. In that room, we have constant testing going on with the latest hardware and software, publishing all of our work for the world. It's common to find quad Titan-V systems or dual socket 56 core beasts benchmarking away. My computer is fairly tame, but the work our customers are doing with our computers is extreme and it is a blast to constantly have to push that envelope as we design our workstations.
6. What are the biggest bottlenecks on your current computer?
I’m pretty sure I’m the biggest bottleneck! I’m up to four monitors now, and the limit is now how far my neck will bend as I look across them.
7. How do you take advantage of your position to get the best computer hardware?
The best computer hardware tends to find its way to us without much asking on our part. We almost always have access to pre-release hardware, so when that hardware launches, we’ve had a chance to do our testing and know exactly what to recommend.
8. What considerations go into workstation development and design?
Workstations can be quite challenging to design! They tend to use server-grade hardware, and yet they sit at your desk just like a consumer PC. They have to be quiet and have all the I/O you would want at your desk, from audio, to USB 3.1, to Thunderbolt. Since workstation hardware often pulls from server product lines, we often have to do quite a bit of work to make both of those priorities happen. We work a lot with Intel, Nvidia, MSI, Gigabtye, Asus and Samsung to give them feedback and design suggestions that help meet the needs of our workstation customers. It is very rewarding when they take our feedback, and we all benefit from a better solution.
9. How do you get the most efficiency out of your cooling methods?
Don’t move air any further than you need to! Small form factor computers are actually quite easy to make cool and quiet because there is always an air intake and exhaust nearby. For larger workstations, it means putting the fans exactly where we need them and ONLY where we need them. We use thermal imaging to help guide exactly where we need to place our cooling and then use our in-house laser cutter to design the mounting brackets we need to put them in position.
10. Any general advice for PC builders?
Look beyond the technology! I know it is fun to work with the latest and greatest hardware, but don’t let that be an end in itself. Ask what you want to accomplish with that hardware. Technology is a tool to get work done for us, and whether that is gaming or science, focusing on building the PERFECT PC for getting that job done. That helps bring clarity to all the questions that come along the way with your build.
11. Any questions for the Tom's Hardware Community?
What work are YOU doing on your PCs? I LOVE to hear about how people are using technology. The absolute best part of my job is getting to hear about the amazing work going on in the world. Self-driving cars, cancer research, space exploration, professional VR, independent film artists--we have the greatest customers!