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Looking at the Exterior
We have had some really good experiences with Puget Systems pre-built PCs in the past and a little while ago, the company sent us a modestly priced HTPC based on the Serenity line of systems. Based on the Intel Core i5 Sandy Bridge platform, the Serenity has a lot of customizations that help keep the computer quiet that are unique.
With a cost hovering around $1800 though, does the Serenity offer enough to consumers?
The Serenity Home Theater PC
The Puget Systems Serenity line actually spans small form factor chassis, HTPC designs and even standard desktop ATX designs, one of which we have previously reviewed. Today we are going to be showing you the HTPC form factor that could fit in your home theater furniture (if you have some hefty space available). Let's look quickly at the specifications before we dive into the design.
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- Intel Core i5-2500K
- ASUS H67 Motherboard
- 4GB DDR3-1333 Memory
- 120GB Intel 320 SSD
- 1.5TB Western Digital Caviar Green HDD
- ASUS 12x Blu-Ray Burner
- Windows 7 Home Premium x64
The Alienware M17x Giveth
Mobile graphics cards are really a different beast than the desktop variants. Despite have similar names and model numbers, the specifications vary greatly as the GTX 580M isn't equivalent to the GTX 580 and the HD 6990M isn't even a dual-GPU product. Also, getting the capability to do a direct head-to-head is almost always a tougher task thanks to the notebook market's penchant for single-vendor SKUs.
Over the past week or two, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a pair of Alienware M17x notebooks, one sporting the new AMD Radeon HD 6990M discrete graphics solution and the other with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580M.
AMD Radeon HD 6990M on the left; NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580M on the right
Also unlike the desktop market - the time from announcement of a new mobile GPU product to when you can actually BUY a system including it tends to be pretty long. Take the two GPUs we are looking at today for example: the HD 6990M launched in July and we are only just now finally seeing machines ship in volume; the GTX 580M in June.
Well, problems be damned, we had the pair in our hands for a few short days and I decided to put them through the ringer in our GPU testing suite and added Battlefield 3 in for good measure as well. The goal was to determine which GPU was actually the "world's fastest" as both companies claimed to be.
A Pre-Built System in Your Budget
We all know that the majority of our readers enjoy building their own gaming systems - picking components, building the hardware, installing the software, etc. But as gamers get older and the amount of time they have to dedicate to their passion decreases, some might be willing to take the move to buying a pre-built gaming rig based on industry standard components. The benefits are definitely there: quicker turn around with just a couple days shipping, warranty and support for anything that should go wrong and the ability to upgrade and adapt your system in anyway you want.
AVADirect is a system builder that has been specializing in gaming PCs since 2003 and is based near Cleveland, Ohio. They offer a wide array of PC options including the most basic and inexpensive machines used for business computing as well as top-level gaming machines with overclocked settings and high-end water cooling configurations.
Recently AVADirect approached me with an interesting review idea: build a custom system for just around $1000 made for gaming and see if it could stand up to our testing. The result is a rig based on the P67 platform (though since our system shipped you can get Z68 motherboards for the same price) and the Core i5 Sandy Bridge processor, coupled with a Radeon HD 6950 that provides enough gaming power to tackle the best PC games.
Here is our video review of the AVADirect custom $1000 gaming machine, and check below for more images and thoughts!
RAGE is not as dependant on your graphics hardware as it is on your CPU and storage system (which may be an industry first); the reason for which we will discover when talking about the texture pop-up issue on the next page.
The first id Software designed game since the release of Doom 3 in August of 2004, RAGE has a lot riding on it. Not only is this the introduction of the idTech 5 game engine but also culminates more than 4 years of development and the first new IP from the developer since the creation of Quake. And since the first discussions and demonstrations of Carmack's new MegaTexture technology, gamers have been expecting a lot as well.
Would this game be impressive enough on the visuals to warrant all the delays we have seen? Would it push today's GPUs in a way that few games are capable of? It looks like we have answers to both of those questions and you might be a bit disappointed.
First, let's get to the heart of the performance question: will your hardware play RAGE? Chances are, very much so. I ran through some tests of RAGE on a variety of hardware including the GeForce GTX 580, 560 Ti, 460 1GB and the Radeon HD 6970, HD 6950, HD 6870 and HD 5850. The test bed included an Intel Core i7-965 Nehalem CPU, 6GB of DDR3-1333 memory running off of a 600GB VelociRaptor hard drive. Here are the results from our performance tests running at 1920x1080 resolution with 4x AA enabled in the game options:
If you have been visiting PC Perspective at all over the last week there is no doubt you have seen a lot of discussion about the currently running Battlefield 3 beta. We posted an article looking at performance of several different GPUs in the game and then followed it up with a look at older cards like the GeForce 9800 GT. We did a live stream of some PC Perspective staff playing BF3 with readers and fans, showed off and tested the locked Caspian Border map and even looked at multi-GPU scaling performance. It was a lot of testing and a lot of time, but now that we have completed it, we are ready to summarize our findings in a piece that many have been clamoring for - a Battlefield 3 system build guide.
The purpose of this article is simple: gather our many hours or testing and research and present the results in a way that simply says "here is the hardware we recommend." It is a the exact same philosophy that makes our PC Perspective Hardware Leaderboard so successful as it gives the reader all the information they need, all in one place.
A performance beast
Digital Storm continues to push boundaries as a boutique system builder, this time with a six-core Intel Core i7-980X overclocked to 4.4 GHz and a pair of GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB graphics cards in SLI to make up one of the fastest PCs we have ever tested here. Does the price warrant the performance though?
Shifting into gear
System reviews are interesting in that anyone can put some PC components in a case and call it a gaming rig. The real issue is not just the hardware specs but how the company presents itself and how it supports customers before, during and after the purchase process. Having a 6-core processor overclocked to 4.5 GHz and a pair of GTX 480s never hurts though.
VIA is always into tiny things
VIA Technologies provided us with a sample of their new V1100 pico-ITX DIY computer and we came away pretty impressed with what the tiny little machine could provide. If you think you could use a Nano-powered SFF device, check out our video review in here!
Puget Returns with a quiet option
Puget Systems is back with a gaming PC that is rated under 20db - and if you don't know how quiet that actually is...your breathing is probably louder. They are able to accomplish this with mostly off-the-shelf parts and careful selection of components. Stop in and learn by example on how quiet computing can be done!
The Puget Systems Experience
Puget Systems is a custom system builder based in the Washington area that promises a combination of the top PC components available with customer service oriented around keeping the user involved through parts selection, ordering, construction, testing and beyond delivery. Of course, it doesn't hurt that you can get a 4.0 GHz 6-core processor and water cooled GTX 480s.
It's time to DIY
As a holiday gift to myself, I decided to upgrade my own personal machine this Thanksgiving holiday and thought it would be a good idea to record the physical construction process to share with our readers.
Windows 7 and Touchscreen are here
Right before Windows 7 hits the streets this week, we take a look at a Dell Studio One touchscreen PC that implements the improved touch capabilities included with the new operating system. The Dell system is a 19-in wide screen multi-touch capable all-in-one computer that uses an Intel Pentium CPU (yes that name continues) and an NVIDIA ION chipset. Come see if this PC will make you yearn for a monitor with fingerprints on it.
A Sweet System
Even though Smooth Creations is a new to the boutique system builders game, they have started developing a name for creating incredibly artistic designs, as well impressively performing ones. Today we are taking a quick preview look at an all AMD-based system that uses a Phenom II processor and HD 4870 GPUs.
Unboxing and Preview
A pleasant surprise on this Tuesday afternoon, a package arrived on my doorstep from Israel. Perplexed by its origin I ripped open the bag to find a brand-spanking-new fit-PC2 nettop computer in my hands. This little guy has been getting a lot of attention recently for its incredibly small size (fits inside the area of DVD almost) and interesting hardware configuration.
Another win for NVIDIA with Apple
The MacWorld Expo starts this week and once again rumors are swirling about potential new products being announced at the show. We have some exclusive information on the new iMacs and Mac Mini that will be announced as well as the potential for a new 28" iMac model and a new Mac Pro machine.
Introduction and Specifications
AVADirect is a relatively unknown system builder in the boutique world and is a small company that has a lot to offer. For a much lower price than you can get comparatively fast Alienware or Voodoo systems, AVADirect can build you a top-of-the-line gaming PC for a reasonable cost while also offering the tech support that many gamers really want.
Introduction and Specifications
Alienware is the most well known name in the world of boutique system builders and they have a wide following of users consider the size of pre-built enthusiast PCs. Today we are looking a new Area-51 system configuration that sports some impressively fast components including a QX9770, VelociRaptor drives and CrossFire X graphics cards.
The Voodoo and HP Merger
The combination of HP and Voodoo PC has its first fruits in the form of the very sexy Blackbird 002 gaming PC. With what might be the best designed case we have seen and some industry-standard hardware that is upgradeable, the Blackbird might be the best boutique PC yet.
Introduction and Specifications
Digital Storm sent us a complete system that features a liquid cooled and overclocked QX6850 Intel processor, two RAID arrays and of course three 8800 Ultras configured for 3-Way SLI. Sure it's expensive, but that doesn't make it any less impressive as a boutique system!
Introduction and Specifications
The Apple TV claims to be able to bridge the gap between all that media being stored on your computer and move it to your high definition television. Can it survive without support for HD video though?