Heart of high tech beats in Auburn
By SHAWN SKAGER
Auburn Reporter Sports Reporter
July 21, 2010 · Updated 3:44 PM
Nestled in a nondescript cluster of warehouses off West Valley Highway in Auburn lies Puget Systems, a custom personal computer company that is pushing the boundaries of computer performance.
One of the first things you notice when you walk into the offices is a pair of liquid-cooled computers, with hardware components immersed in mineral oil inside of ordinary fish aquariums.
The founder of Puget Systems, Jon Bach, motions toward one of the computers, explaining the genesis of the company’s liquid-cooled systems, which Bach says allows the computers to run at a higher performance level.
“We saw online someone building a computer like this,” Bach said. “They were building it in an acrylic case, then sealing it all up with epoxy and putting vegetable oil in, which after a couple of weeks goes all rancid and you have to throw it out. So we thought, ‘Why not put it in an aquarium and put mineral oil in it which never goes bad’. This one has been running for about two years now, and as you can see, the oil is fine and it’s running fine.”
Although the liquid-cooled systems are flashy and garner much attention for the company online, the real bread and butter of the company is its high-quality personal systems.
According to Bach, he first began working on computers and building his own machines in the 1990s, helping his uncle’s printing shop move into the computer age.
“They needed computers for the company and someone to manage those, so I started off doing that,” he said. “Then I went on to building their Web site. Really, it was those two elements, building their computers and their Web site that gave me all the experience and knowledge that I needed to start this company.”
Initially, Bach built his first computer from scratch as a sophomore in high school, with less than spectacular results.
“The fun story with that is that the first one caught on fire,” Bach said. “Although it wasn’t really my fault, there was a short in there somewhere.”
After graduation from high school and moving on to the University of Washington, Bach said he started Puget Systems, first working out of his parents basement and building high-end computers for his customers.
Bach said that around 2002 the company was big enough that he was forced to quit college to concentrate full time on his business.
“Soon after that I hired my first employee,” he said. “After that, I’ve added an employee about every six months, it’s been very slow and steady. We’re up to 18 employees now.”
After moving out of the basement, Puget Systems operated out of spaces in Redmond and Kent, before purchasing its warehouse in Auburn about a year and a half ago.
“We were looking for the building that fit us, and it happened to be in Auburn,” Bach said. “We’re happy to be here, Auburn does seem pretty business friendly and there seems to be a lot of possibilities here.”
Emphasis on quality
Bach explains that although there are many computer manufacturers out there plying the custom computer market, Puget Systems is different because of its emphasis on quality and customer satisfaction.
According to Bach, it all starts at the company’s Web site, where customers lay out what they are looking for in a computer.
“Then our sales representatives work with them to build the computer that fulfills their budget and needs,” he said. “It’s all online. Once they place their order, we’re very transparent with the process. You can actually sit on our Web site and in real time watch as we go through a 96-point checklist … as we do benchmarks on the computer and test it.”
At the core of the company’s philosophy is the emphasis on quality.
“You can think of us as the BMW of the industry,” Bach said. “It’s all about that precision engineering and the quality components. That might not be enough for some people to purchase a machine like that, but for the type of enthusiasts looking for quality computers, that’s the market we serve.”
“We can make our computers 50 to 100 times more reliable using quality computers,” Bach added.
Coupling quality components with precision manufacturing has allowed the company to carve out a niche with consumers interested in the most reliable systems they can find.
“We end up being most attractive with home users, tech enthusiasts, overclockers and liquid cooling enthusiasts at home,” Bach said. “But we also see a healthy business from small businesses and corporations. The experience we gain building those extreme gaming systems translates very well to building extreme workstations.”
Bach said Puget Systems is launching its Serenity computer, a machine so quiet that it’s hard to measure.
“We designed it to be quiet and sent it up to a sound lab in Canada, which rated it at 14 decibels from one-meter away,” he said. “Just to demonstrate how quiet that is, we have to turn off our monitors off because they drown out our computers. We can’t tell how loud they are. That’s attractive to university labs where they have sensitive experiments that they are doing, but they need to be quiet so they don’t corrupt the tests. It’s fun to be able to do things like that.”
Bach says it’s also fun to dabble in the liquid-cooled computer phenomena.
“After our first (submerged) PC got so many views we decided to build one bigger and better,” Bach said, as he shows off the company’s newest behemoth, a $9,000 machine submerged in a 500-gallon aquarium.
“We’re hoping that we can break some world records with this thing,”he said.
When finished, Bach says, he hopes to be able to cool the mineral oil to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
“That will allow us to overclock the computer to be two to three times faster,” he said. “And if we can achieve that, we think we can get some world records.”
For more information on Puget Systems, visit www.pugetsystems.com.Contact Auburn Reporter Sports Reporter Shawn Skager at firstname.lastname@example.org or (253) 833-0218, ext. 5054.