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Power! I need Power!

 
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 09, 2011 8:25 pm Post subject: No icon Power! I need Power! Reply with quote

I decided to handle power supplies next because it is often the least understood part in a PC and perhaps, in many ways, the most important. It is fair to say that most of us have a budget when we start a new build and most of us look for ways to get the most machine for our money. While we spend so much time comparing video cards and motherboards, many people don't even consider the power supply at all. Also, it is often the first place a lot of people look to save money on. In the best case scenario this can end up costing us more in the long run and in a worst case scenario ruin our expensive parts. So read on and I will explain what you need to know.  For those who are total novices, you may want to first read the article I am linking below on how a power supply actually works. It is by and far the best article on the subject I have ever read and I couldn't do it better.

Anatomy of a switching power supply


Watts and more Watts

What most people know about power supplies can be summed up in one word. Watts. While having a power supply of the proper wattage is important, it is by no means the most important. And to a lot of people watts is just a number and ofter these people just understand that bigger is better. Well sometimes. However, sometimes bigger isn't better, just more expensive. Watts can be summed up easily. It is Volts times Amps. A power supply takes your wall power, 110v, and converts it to the three voltages that your computer needs. 12v, 5v and 3.3v. For this article we will mainly focus on 12v as this is the voltage that is in question when the wrong power supply is used. Power hungry video cards, fans, hard drives and CD/DVD drives all require 12v. It is fairly common for a power supply in a gaming rig to have enough Watts but fall short on 12v. I see it nearly every day.

Amps, not just for breakfast anymore!

While I see countless people looking at Watts when choosing a power supply, I almost never hear the word Amps. Amps are simple. Amps is a measurement of current and current is the actual power drawn for a given voltage. With the advances in power hungry video cards came greatly increased demand for 12v power needs. The power supply industry answered this by offering power supplies with multiple 12v amp rails. But as with everything in computers, you need to understand the numbers. A power supply with 4 12v rails at 18 amps each, does not equal 72 amps. To start, 4 or more 12v rail power supplies don't really have 4 rails. They have 2 and use a circuit board to "split" the rails. Now this isn't exactly a bad thing, it just makes understanding what your buying a little harder. Add to this the fact that when you split rails, you loose a little on each rail due to leakage and heat. If you really want to know the amount of 12v amps, just reverse the equation I gave you above. On the side of the power supply is wattage for 12v alone. Divide that by 12(v) and you know exactly how many 12v amps your getting. So lets say for argument sake that you have a power supply that delivers 600 watts on 12v. 600 divided by 12 is 50. You can draw a maximum of 50 amps on 12v. Some power supplies with these specs will advertise 18 amps per rail. But with the math we used above we know it can't deliver 72 amps, only 50. Is this fair or legal? Technically yes. Each of those 4 rails can deliver 18 amps, just not all at the same time. To further complicate matters, some of the bigger, more power hungry video cards can require more power than can be delivered on a single rail. Lets say that your video card needs 38 amps. Take note that some video cards need this much and some even more. You may have to make sure each of the 2 power lines from the power supply is from a separate rail. Lastly, things have come full circle. the trend these days for higher end power supplies is single rail 12v power. It's cleaner and you don't have to worry about leakage or math.

PFC, he ain't no private!

PFC is an acronym that stands for Power Factor Correction. The full definition of PFC will put you to sleep and unless you have a degree in electrical engineering, you'll never really understand it. Put very simply PFC monitors, adjusts and essentially cleans the power from the wall and into you PC. While this sounds great, it is a bit of overkill in almost any PC. There is no need for PFC until you start drawing VERY large amounts of power. until recently, you only saw PFC in industrial settings, but again with the advent of big, power hungry PCs came power supplies with PFC. While you are comparing power supplies, you will see that there are 2 types of PFC. Active and passive. I am not going to get into the differences because it really doesn't matter. While active IS better than passive, you can't build a PC that will draw enough power to make a difference. Look at PFC as a nice added feature and don't let it be a big part of your buying decision.

Efficiency? What's in a number

Another recent addition to the power supply market is the 80+ Efficiency rating. the 80 Plus rating was developed by two companies. EPRI and Ecos Consulting. To get an 80 plus rating sticker and certification a power supply must be 80% efficient at 20, 50 and 100% load. What all this means is that an 80 Plus certified power supply will use 80% of the power it pulls from the wall. Also meaning it will waste less tha 20%. This is a big deal. I have seen cheap power supplies that test 30% efficient. That means that 70% of the power it pulls out of the wall is wasted. Mostly in heat and leakage. With the electric this power supply wasted in a year, you could have bought 20 high end power supplies. It is absolutely insane to buy a non 80 plus rated power supply. Unless that is, if you REALLY want to make the power company happy and buy it's CEO a new BMW. Since it's 2005 debut, the 80 plus certification has now added bronze, silver, gold and Platinum ratings. In addition to 80% for 80 plus you can now get 82% for Bronze, 85% for silver, 87% for gold and 90% for platinum.

A word to the wise about certifications. There has been news and rumors of late that call into question the validity of some of the cheaper 80 plus certified power supplies. It has been reported that in order to get 80 plus certification, some power supply makers have tested at lower operating temps than is widely accepted. Since efficiency goes down as heat goes up, measuring efficiency at lower temps will get you better results and in some of these cases the test temps are lower than what that power supply will see in real use. A good power supply efficiency test is done at between 40-50C. I have seen some tested at 15-25C. As with everything in life, if the price seems too good to be true... it is.

It's modular baby!

The last subject i am going to discuss is modular power supplies. A recent addition to the world of power supplies is the modular power supply. A modular power supply has detachable power connectors for your devices. This is a great addition to the PC power supply as it lets you use only the cables you need and makes cable management and keeping the inside of your PC clean and clutter free. Most modular power supplies have a few perm, non-detachable connectors such as 20/24 pin power, 4/8 pin aux power and 1 or 2 6/8 pin video card power connectors. Some power supplies such as Corsair's AX Pro series are completely modular. All of the connectors are detachable. Personally that doesn't' matter because you are never going to NOT use those connectors.


So, we finally come to the end. Thank you for reading all of this. I know it's a bit long but I had to weigh keeping it non-geek friendly and still touch on the subjects that needed to be touched. Personally, what I look for in a power supply is below.

1. modular. Not 100% needed but it makes life easy
2. 80 plus certification. ABSOLUTE MUST. I am not putting the CEO of PEPCO's kids through college.
3. Plenty of 12v amps to power my gear, give me a minimum of 10% headroom and as much over as I can afford to keep me through upgrades. My current power supply is 4 years old and has been through 3 rebuilds.
4. Enough Watts to do all the things described in #3 above




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PostPosted: Fri Apr 15, 2011 3:29 am Post subject: No icon Re: Power! I need Power! Reply with quote

Hi Necro,

Hey thanks for the explanation on power supplies and what to look for when selecting one.  The simple explanations are clear and allow us non techie types to have a clue about what our computers are up to in those mysterious black or blah white boxes . Please keep the info coming !

Best Regards
Baron Von Evil
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 15, 2011 4:34 pm Post subject: No icon Re: Power! I need Power! Reply with quote

Barron_Von_Evil wrote (View Post):
Hi Necro,

Hey thanks for the explanation on power supplies and what to look for when selecting one.  The simple explanations are clear and allow us non techie types to have a clue about what our computers are up to in those mysterious black or blah white boxes . Please keep the info coming !

Best Regards
Baron Von Evil




You're more than welcome. Bear with me. Time is in short supply these days




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PostPosted: Fri Apr 15, 2011 9:33 pm Post subject: No icon Re: Power! I need Power! Reply with quote

Keep the Tech help coming when you have the time Necro...Awesome info!! Thanks for explaining the finer points in detail...I'm not saying I understand it all but I have saved everything you have posted so far for future reference..

Everyone needs a "Necro's Tech Help" folder on their desktop like I do!!







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