Spotlight On Puget System's Quiet Workstation
I thoroughly enjoy building my own PCs, upgrading parts, and reformatting my SSD to the glorious performance of a clean system. But I also have a lot of respect for the boutique system builders who were (and usually still are) enthusiasts themselves. They simply made selling PCs their work, too. Every so often, one of them sends along a bit about a recent project and I'll ask for the back-story for Tom's Hardware.
The last time Jon Bach, president of Puget Systems, told me about one of his projects was back in 2009, and we published What Does A $16,000+ PC Look Like, Anyway? That was four quad-core Opterons with 32 GB of memory, and something like six terabytes of mechanical storage. Sixteen grand. In 2009.
More recently, Jon sent over the details on a 16-core setup with 64 GB of DDR3-1600 for less than half as much ($7400). But the specs weren't even the highlight. Front and center was the fact that Jon was citing near-silent acoustic figures. As someone who has actually built workstations across several generations of processor architectures, I know this isn't easy. What follows is Jon's walk-through of Puget's Genesis II Quiet Edition.
Worldwide Editor-in-Chief, Tom's Hardware
Two Eight-Core Xeons In Near-Silence?
The Genesis II Quiet Edition is a relatively new offering from Puget Systems. It packs the most workstation-oriented power possible into a quiet package, which is something we've built our reputation on. It supports two eight-core Intel Xeon E5 CPUs (115 W each), with expected support for the upcoming Ivy Bridge-EP family that Chris previewed in Intel's 12-Core Xeon With 30 MB Of L3: The New Mac Pro's CPU? It can take up to 256 GB of registered ECC memory, supports up to eight hard drives, and as many as seven PCIe 3.0 x16 devices (three are electrically wired x8 in 16-lane slots).
We experimented with dozens of cooling permutations in the process of finalizing this layout; heat sinks and fans pointing up, pointing down, pointing back, pointing at each other, and away from each other. We used our laser cutter to build custom ducting, heat chambers, and airflow baffles. The configuration you see to the right is the best of everything we tested. With such quiet fans, a big and open airflow design performs best.
You'll notice that only the rear-top fan is blocked off. The front is left open. This is by design, too. When is comes to working with high-heat, low-airflow systems, it's very useful to direct and channel air this way. The video card is down in the board's third slot, allowing ample room for the processor heat sinks to operate efficiently. Smaller add-in cards, such as audio or networking, can still be used in the top two slots.
The Right Heat Sink For Two 115 W CPUs
We tested dozens of coolers in an effort to figure out which one would work best on 115 W CPUs. Gelid's Tranquillo gave us an excellent balance between performance, acoustics, and resiliency to the rigors of shipping. Our team built up a test rig and did a little drop-testing from eight feet up. There are very few large and quiet heat sinks able to withstand that kind of impact. Is that overkill? Take it from a builder; you'd be surprised at just how much of a beating heavy boxes take in transit. But by carefully picking out packaging and the products we use, we've all but eliminated shipping damage from our deliveries.
Building A Workstation With Fractal's Define XL R2
On the outside, this powerful configuration is simple and unassuming. But that's the way I like to do things. It fits our personality as a company.
How Fractal Design Helps Puget Keep Quiet
The front of the PC has a door with sound-dampening material, which is important for quiet systems. Line of sight plays a big part in keeping this configuration quiet. The door blocks a lot of the of the fan and hard drive noise, forcing them to bounce off of more surfaces and dissipating each time before reaching your ear.
Desktop Graphics In A Workstation? For Quiet, Yes
The chassis cooling is validated with the quickest video card that met our acoustic requirements at the time: Nvidia's GeForce GTX 670. Today we can get the GeForce GTX 780 in the same configuration. We've tested boards from MSI, Gigabyte, and Asus, having the best luck with Asus' offerings. The dual axial-flow fans are quiet, but as you know vent heat back into the chassis, making this an important consideration in a quiet PC. Nvidia's reference designs have less of an impact on chassis temperatures, but they're typically louder since they exhaust heat out of their I/O brackets.
Now, perhaps you're wondering why we're using a gaming card in a workstation. Roughly half of our customers choose GeForce cards, while the others go with Quadros (K4000 is the most popular model). We make it a point to ask about intended use, and some of our answers back include 4K video editing, post-production, 3ds Max, multi-gigabyte Excel calculations for weather analysis, bio-imaging, RF design work, and, by night, gaming.
Keeping Cool At Idle
At idle, thermal imaging demonstrates just how little power today's high-end hardware dissipates. This specific configuration pulls 115 W from the wall when it isn't doing anything. All fans scale back to their minimums and the system is almost too quiet to hear unless you're inches from the PC.
Not Bad Under Load, Either
We stress test under full load by running Prime95 across the CPUs and FurMark to stress the graphics card. This configuration pulls 632 W from the wall when we put those workloads through it. The fans do ramp up, but are still surprisingly quiet. Temperatures remain pretty reasonable too, compared to some of the setups we've seen.
A Number Of Familiar Components
The back of Fractal Design's Define XL R2 is simple and clean. Also visible are a Seasonic PSU, the Asus graphics card, and the motherboard's rear I/O panel.
Populating The Back With Headers And Ports
The motherboard comes with a plethora of headers and ports. This picture shows just how much is possible using the accessories bundled with the platform.
- 10 x USB 2.0 (with another two on the front panel)
- 4 x USB 3.0 (with another two on the front panel)
- 2 x Gigabit Ethernet
- 2 x COM ports
- 1 x FireWire
- 1 x eSATA
- Eight-channel sound (with headphone and microphone ports on the front of the chassis)
All Buttoned Up And Ready To Go
For dual graphics card configurations, a fan is added to the side panel to draw in fresh air. We only use the fan if it's needed. Otherwise, the priority remains quiet running.
Some of the other components in this configuration were a Samsung 840 Pro 256 GB, a Western Digital Caviar Green 3 TB, and an extra SilverStone USB 3.0 PCI Express card. And again, at $7427, that's less than half as much as the quad-processor Opteron-based platform we were showing off four years ago.