By Brady Betzel
With so many companies building custom Windows-based PCs these days, what really makes for a great build? What would make me want to pay someone to build me a PC versus building it myself? In this review, I will be going through a custom-built PC sent to me to review by Puget Systems. In my opinion, besides the physical components, Puget Systems is the cream of the crop of custom -built PCs. Over the next few paragraphs I will focus on how Puget Systems identified the right custom-built PC solution for me (specifically for post), how my experience was before, during and after receiving the system and, finally, specs and benchmarks of the system itself.
While quality components are definitely a high priority when building a new workstation, the big thing that sets Puget Systems’ apart from the rest of the custom-built PC pack is the personal and highly thorough support. I usually don’t get the full customer experience when reviewing custom builds. Typically, I am sent a workstation and maybe a one-sheet to accompany the system. To Puget System’s credit they went from top to tail when helping me put together the system I would test. Not only did I receive a completely newly built and tested system, but I talked to a customer service rep, Jeff Stubbers, who followed up with me along the way.
First, I spoke with Jeff over the phone. We talked about my price range and what I was looking to do with the system. I usually get told what I should buy — by the way, I am not a person that likes to be told what I want. I have a lot of experience not only working on high-end workstations but have been building and supporting them essentially my entire life. I actively research the latest and greatest technology. Jeff from Puget Systems definitely took the correct approach; he started by asking which apps I use and how I use them. When using After Effects, am I doing more 3D work or simple lower thirds and titles. Do I use and do I plan to continue using Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro or Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve the most?
Essentially, my answers were that I use After Effects sparingly, but I do use it. I use Avid Media Composer professionally more than Premiere, but I see more and more Premiere projects coming my way. However, I think Resolve is the future, so I would love to tailor my system toward that. Oh and I dabble in Maxon Cinema 4D as well. So in theory, I need a system that does everything, which is kind of a tall order.
I told Jeff that I would love to stay below $10,000, but need the system to last a few years. Essentially, I was taking the angle of a freelance editor/colorist buying an above mid-range system. After we configured the system, Jeff continued to detail benchmarks that Puget Systems performs on a continuing basis and why two GTX 1080ti cards are going to benefit me instead of just one, as well as why an Intel i9 processor would specifically benefit my work in Resolve.
After we finished on the phone I received an email from Jeff that contained a link to webpage that continually would update me on the details and how my workstation was being built — complete with pictures of my actual system. There are also some links to very interesting articles and benchmarks on the Puget System’s website. They perform more pertinent benchmarks for post production pros than I have seen from any other company. Usually you see a few generic Premiere or Resolve benchmarks, but nothing like Puget System’s, even if you don’t buy a system from them you should read their benchmarks.
While my system went through the build and ship process, I saw pictures and comments about who did what in the process over at Puget Systems. Beth was my installer. She finished and sent the system to Kyle who ran benchmarks. Kyle then sent it to Josh for quality control. Josh discovered the second GTX 1080ti was installed in a reduced bandwidth PCIe slot and would be sent back to Beth for correction. I love seeing this transparency! It not only gives me the feeling that Puget Systems is telling me the truth, but that they have nothing to hide. This really goes a long way with me. Once my system was run through a second quality control pass, it was shipped to me in four days. From start to finish, I received my system in 12 days. Not a short amount of time, but for what Puget Systems put the system through, it was worth it.
Opening the Box
I received the Genesis I workstation in a double box. A nice large box with sturdy foam corners encasing the Fractal Design case box. There was also an accessories box. Within the accessories box were a few cables and an awesome three-ring binder filled with details of my system, the same pictures of my system, including thermal imaging pictures from the website, all of the benchmarks performed on my system (real-world benchmarks like Cinebench and even processing in Adobe Premiere) and a recovery USB 3.0 drive. Something I really appreciated was that I wasn’t given all of the third-party manuals and cables I didn’t need, only what I needed. I’ve received other custom-built PCs where the company just threw all of the manuals and cables into a Ziploc and called it a day.
I immediately hooked the system up and turned it on… it was silent. Incredibly silent. The Fractal Design Define R5 Titanium case was lined with a sound-deadening material that took whatever little sound was there and made it zero.
Here are the specs of the Puget System’s Genesis I I was sent:
– Gigabyte X299 Designare EX motherboard
– Intel Core i9 7940X 3.1GHz 14 Core 19.25MB 165W CPU
– Eight Crucial DDR4-2666 16GB RAM
– EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 TI 11GB gaming video card
– Onboard sound card
– Integrated WiFi+Bluetooth networking
– Samsung 860 Pro 512GB SATA3 2.5-inch SSD hard drive — primary drive
– Samsung 970 Pro 1TB M.2 SSD hard drive — secondary drive.
– Asus 24x DVD-RW SATA (Black) CD / DVD-ROM
– Fractal Design Define R5 titanium case
– EVGA SuperNova 1200W P2 power supply
– Noctua NH-U12DX i4 CPU cooling
– Arctic Cooling MX-2 thermal compound
– Windows 10 Pro 64-bit operating system
– Warranty: Lifetime labor and tech support, one-year parts warranty
– LibreOffice software: courtesy install
– Chrome software: courtesy install
– Adobe Creative Cloud Desktop App software: courtesy Install
– Resolve 1-3 GPU
System subtotal: $8,358.38. The price is right in my opinion, and mixed with the support and build detail it’s a bargain.
I ran some system benchmarks and tests that I find helpful as a video editor and colorist who uses plugins and other tools on a daily basis. I am becoming a big fan of Resolve, so I knew I needed to test this system inside of Blackmagic’s Resolve 15. I used a similar sequence between Adobe Premiere and Resolve 15: a 10-minute, 23.98fps, UHD/3840×2160 sequence with mixed format footage from 4K and 8K Red, ARRI Raw UHD and ProRes4444. I added some Temporal Noise Reduction to half of the clips, including the 8K Red footage, resizes to all clips, all on top of a simple base grade.
First, I did a simple Smart User cache test by enabling the User Cache at DNxHR HQX 10-bit to the secondary Samsung 1TB drive. It took about four minutes and 34 seconds. From there I tried to playback the media un-cached, and I was able to playback everything except the 8K media in realtime. I was able to playback the 8K Red media at Quarter Res Good (Half Res would go between 18-20fps playback). The sequence played back well. I also wanted to test the export speeds. The first test was an H.264 export without cache on the same sequence. I set the H.264 output in Resolve to 23.98fps, UHD, auto-quality, no frame reordering, force highest quality debayer/resizes and encoding profile: main. The file took 11 minutes and 57 seconds. The second test was a DNxHR HQX 10-bit QuickTime with the same sequence, it took seven minutes and 44 seconds.
To compare these numbers I recently ran a similar test on an Intel i9-based MacBook Pro and with the Blackmagic eGPU with Radeon Pro 580 attached, the H.264 export took 16 minutes and 21 seconds, while a ProRes4444 took 22 minutes and 57 seconds. While not comparing apples to apples, this is still a good comparison in terms of a speed increase you can have with a desktop system and a pair of Nvidia GTX 1080ti graphics cards. With the impending release of the Nvidia GTX 2080 cards, you may want to consider getting those instead.
While in Premiere I ran similar tests with a very similar sequence. To export an H.264 (23.98fps, UHD, no cache used during export, VBR 10Mb/s target rate, no frame reordering) it took nine minutes and 15 seconds. Going a step further it took 47 minutes to export an H.265. Similarly, doing a DNxHR HQX 10-bit QuickTime export took 24 minutes.
I also ran the AJA System test on the 1TB spare drive (UHD, 16GB test file size, ProRes HQ). The read speed was 2951MB/sec and the write speed was 2569MB/sec. Those are some very respectable drive speeds, especially for a cache or project drive. If possible you would probably want to add another drive for exports or to have your RAW media stored on in order to maximize input/output speeds.
Up next was Cinebench R15: OpenGL — 153.02fps, Ref. Match 99.6%, CPU — 2905 cb, CPU (single core) — 193cb and MP Ratio 15.03x. Lastly, I ran a test that I recently stumbled upon: the Superposition Benchmark from Unigine. While it is more of a gaming benchmark, I think a lot of people use this and might glean some useful information from it. The overall score was 7653 (fps: min 45.58, avg 57.24, max 72.11, GPU degrees Celsius: min 36, max 85, GPU use: max 98%.
In the end, I am very skeptical of custom-build PC shops. Typically, I don’t see the value in the premium they set when you can probably build it yourself with parts you choose from PCpartpicker.com. However, Puget Systems is the exception — their support and build-quality are top notch. From the initial phone conversation to the up-to-the minute images and custom-build updates online, to the final delivery, and even follow-up conversations, Puget Systems is by far the most thorough and worthwhile custom-build PC maker I have encountered.
Check out their high-end custom build PCs and tons of benchmark testing and recommendations on their website.
Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.