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PC Power Supplies

By Matt Simpson - Friday, December 09, 2011

You’ve just built your dream game rig. Or maybe you just built a super silent Home Theater PC that will play your Blu-Ray’s along with all of your PC based media. But what will you use to supply power to this new PC? All too often, people take the easy way out and go with the cheapest power supply they can get away with.

This is an odd oversight on the part of many. After spending a large amount of money on the components, you would think that the component that supplies power to all of the other components would be given a place of special consideration, but it is all too often the absolute last thought.

That’s a shame, because the power supply that lies at the heart of all computers does so much. Besides the obvious feature of providing power to the rest of the computer, the power supply also aides in cooling and in many cases it will actually stabilize the incoming power supply. Some of the hardest to diagnose PC problems come from unstable components leading back to a poor quality power supply.

Job of the Power Supply

Let’s face it; most of us don’t have the cleanest, highest quality power running through our houses.  Powerful, complex microelectronics like those in your computer don’t react too well to fluctuations in the power they receive. Too much of that will turn that new i7 into an expensive paper weight in short order. The power supply must first be able to supply clean power to the computer.  The obvious job is simpler, it most convert the alternating current at 110 volts (in the US) to the 12 and 5 volt DC current that is used within the PC.

What Makes a Good Power Supply?

The size of the power supply should be ample for all of the components you are running. With mainstream power supplies exceeding a Kilowatt in available power, this won’t be a problem. You should find a power supply with enough connectors and of the right type for the type of computer you are building. If you are using multiple video cards for example, you will need to find a power supply that has an adequate number of connectors and that supply enough power. Since some video cards use 2 PCI-E power connectors each, a triple video card setup would require 6 of these connectors to be available.

A related feature offered by many power supplies is a modular design. This allows you to remove any cables that you are not going to be using for your computer. This allows for not only a cleaner look inside the case, but aides in cooling as there are less cables to block the flow of air within the computer. This combined with a large, slow spinning or speed controlled fan, can improve the cooling of the PC significantly just through the use of a better power supply.

What Is 80+?

80+ has been one of the greatest steps forward in PC power supplies since their inception. This is a standard that requires certified products to run at 80% efficiency over the whole load range. This is vitally important to power savings. In the past, if you had a 500 watt power supply, it may be able to provide 500 watts of power, but require 1000 watts of input power to do so. Even worse, at lower power draws, many poorly made power supplies performed at as low as 20-25% efficiency. This is no longer a concern with the 80+ certification.

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