The performance of this system was, in a word, spectacular.

Looking for the fastest workstation in the world? The safe bet is to go with an established manufacturer, taking advantage of seasoned design teams, combined experience of thousands of customers, and the serious buying power of a gigantic multinational corporation. Or, you could find a smaller boutique shop like Puget Systems, which will give you a world-class custom workstation such as its Genesis II, accompanied by personal service and hand-picked components, that might result in surprising performance.
We were wondering how this workstation would measure up, especially since it cost $2,784 less than the similarly-equipped $10,787 HP Z800 workstation we reviewed here few months ago. If time is money, you want the fastest workstation, right? At the same time, money is money, so if you could get the workstation for less, could you suffer with slightly slower speed? Is it, say, 80% as good? We put it to the test to find out.
You don’t get a fancy case with this Puget Systems Genesis II workstation. However, you do get the highly capable yet cost-effective Antec P193 enclosure, in which our test system was assembled, a massive 35.8-pound case that measures a whopping 20.25 inches tall and 23.25 inches deep. The Antec P193 sells for around $165 empty. Installed inside this Puget Systems Genesis II is a pair of Intel’s fastest Xeon W5580 processors, each running at 3.2GHz in all four cores of speedy goodness. Our test machine was loaded up with the 64-bit Windows Vista Ultimate, giving us the ability to address all 12 gigs of Kingston RAM.

Peering inside the Genesis II, we saw immediate justification for the large case. The benefit of all that space? Significant room for expansion, with 11 drive bays. In our test machine, one of the three-drive cages was eliminated to make room for one of the two the liquid cooling fans. That leaves room for three 3.5-inch hard drives in one cage, and four 5.25-inch optical drives with access to the outside up top, along with another 3.5-inch drive there. So if you wanted to, you could still mount beaucoups de terabytes of drive space inside this voluminous case. In our test machine, the 300GB Western Digital VelociRaptor drive-along with a 1TB Western Digital Caviar Black drive-seemed almost lonely in their cage inside the relatively cavernous space. The only thing missing was a 1394 port up front, a format that seems to be fading away lately (although there is a 1394 port in the back). In its place is a SATA port in front, which might come in handy if you want to quickly plug in a fast external drive.

The downside of that case? We’re spoiled by the tool-less design of HP and Dell workstations, letting us disassemble the entire PC with our bare hands. Hard drives slide out, graphics cards snap in and out, and it’s as easy to open as a car door. Not so with the Genesis II. You’ll need a screwdriver to put drives into their conventional cages, and it takes some finesse to replace a graphics card, because the mounting screws are hard to get to. If you’re one who likes to tinker with your workstation’s innards, this will feel primitive and awkward. If you don’t even bother to crack open the case, it won’t matter at all.

We started up this beast, immediately noticing that it was unusually silent. We content creators like our workstations quiet, and the Genesis II does not disappoint. Helping things out tremendously is its liquid cooling system, streaming its oily coolness to the two Xeon chips, and eschewing those noisy processor fans. Another testament to extreme ventilation is the unusually large “Big Boy 200” mounted on the door, a 200mm fan whose casing sticks out over an inch. The result of this large and slow-spinning fan and all the other extreme efforts at airflow is an exceedingly cool, yet quiet PC. At 45dB, it’s not the most silent one we’ve tested, though. That honor would go to the quietest machine we’ve ever heard here, the air-cooled HP Z800, registering a 40.1 dB level in our unscientific metering. Still the Genesis II ‘s faint whir was barely unnoticeable, even when it was sitting there right next to us.

Overall, the appearance of the gunmetal and black case, and the basic accessibility of its conventional drive cages were not overly impressive. But video editors, compositors and animators who might spring for this tricked-out $8,003 Genesis II won’t be buying it for its looks. They’ll like its generous expandability and supreme cooling system. That’s just the beginning. The true test of this hot rod’s mettle is one factor: raw speed. Be prepared to be amazed as you take a look at the results of our benchmarks tests below:

HP Z800 workstation, Dual Quad Core 3.2GHz (“Nehalem”) Puget Systems Genesis II workstation, Dual Quad Core 3.2GHz (“Nehalem”) Speedup %
Total Benchmark 292 Seconds 216 10.6%
Night Flight Vector 5:18 4:16 19.49%
Data Comp :19 :16 15.7%
“Source Shapes” Vector graphics :35 :19 45.7%
Virtual Set :30 :17 43.3%
Maxon CineBench Rendering R10 29,035, multiprocessor speedup 7.01x 30,504, multiprocessor speedup, 6.39x 5.05%
Our jaws dropped at we watched the results piling up as we ran our various After Effects-based benchmarks. The surprising numbers kept piling up, starting with those vector-based tests such as “Night Flight” and “Source Shapes” comps in After Effects. Equally shocking was the performance on the Virtual Set comp, running 43.3% faster than the fastest machine we’ve ever tested, the HP Z800 using the same processors. We ran the tests again just to confirm, and sure enough, this machine is a whole lot faster than the Z800. The only benchmark in which the two machines were even close was the 64-bit Maxon CineBench Rendering R10 test, where the Genesis II was a mere 5.05% faster. That’s not all. Beyond the benchmarks, the workstation just feels a whole lot faster than any other we’ve ever used.