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Tom's Hardware Compares Power Supplies 317

Some guy wrote in to say "Tom's Hardware Guide takes a hard look at power supplies to find out if we are getting what we paid for. The results of the testing were very surprising." Very useful to anyone who has built their own machine from scratch or burned out a cheap power supply.
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Tom's Hardware Compares Power Supplies

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  • Power Supplies (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LordYUK ( 552359 ) <jeffwright821@NoSpAm.gmail.com> on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:15PM (#4498127)
    My friend and I set fire to quite a few power supplies, mostly of the cheap variety... one was in an emachine (gah, they SUCK) after sticking a G4 ti4200 in it...

    that was an accident..

    the other was when he flipped the voltage on a system that wouldnt power on... that was an interesting smell, let me tell you...
    • These are NOTORIOUS for their tendency to burn out at the drop of a hat. However, both Sparkle and PC Power And Cooling make 145W and 180W (the latter is AMD certified) power supplies that are direct replacements for the SFX-L power supply included in the system.

      EMachines are not necessarily bad machines. They just have cheap-ass power supplies and also cheap-ass hard drives. Replacing both when the machine is brand-new is a must if you want one to last for more than a few months.
  • by Prince_Ali ( 614163 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:17PM (#4498136) Journal
    I hope a few of those people who pay $400 for the latest and greatest video card and $15 for a power supply read this.
  • Fireworks (Score:4, Funny)

    by RobPiano ( 471698 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:17PM (#4498140)
    I had my computer for 3 years. Never once had a problem with it. My dad decided to install extra memory on it. It literally caught on fire.

    I know you're thinking novice... But he's a software engineer, and has worked with a computer since the transitor moving days.

    Lesson to be learned:
    Buy cheap powersupplies, and give them to your eniemes as presents.

    Rob(ert) #3
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:28PM (#4498252)

      I know you're thinking novice... But he's a software engineer

      You learned the wrong lesson.

      Lesson to be learned:
      Never, Never, Never let a software engineer touch the hardware.
      • by ewhac ( 5844 )

        Lesson to be learned:
        Never, Never, Never let a software engineer touch the hardware.

        The software guys at NTG -- myself included -- had this habit of wandering into the hardware lab and taking up space just to kill time and/or clear their thoughts, sometimes idly frobbing tools. Drove the HW guys mad.

        Actual overheard statement, delivered to wandering SW guy from head HW lab tech in police officer-voice: "DROP THE SCREWDRIVER! PUT DOWN THE SCREWDRIVER AND WALK AWAY!"


    • by ngoy ( 551435 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:47PM (#4498405)
      Since I am from the old school of computing technology (where off is actually off, none of this soft-on/off crap) it surprised me when I was putting in some dimms into a friend's HP that the RAM slots were powered for some reason (no, it was not in sleep mode). I pushed on the dimm and suddenly saw a bright point of light and little puff of smoke. I yanked the dimm out, only to find that one of the gold traces on the dim got so hot it melted the epoxy (or whatever holds it onto the pcb) that held it on and soldered itself to the dimm slot on the pc. So I ended up using a twice as large dimm in the other slot.

      Moral of the story is unplug the power cable (we all do that don't we). Nothing gets your heart going like electricity! Like the time I was putting in a gable fan in my attic and cut a live wire with my T-Cutter's. THAT was a bigger spark, and burnt a nice big hole in the cutters. At least I got to exchange them at Home Depot

      (I'm still alive! Darwin ain't got nothin' on me!)
      • That's the one thing I like about when I occasionally work on old AT computers. The damn power supplies go ON and OFF when you want them to, none of this crap with the power button connected to the motherboard and holding it for 6 seconds to make it turn off.

      • Re:Fireworks (Score:5, Informative)

        by Neon Spiral Injector ( 21234 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @04:04PM (#4498539)
        Yeah, the new ATX specs have power going to the board as long as the cord is in the wall. I was from the AT crowd too, I had actually been taught that a power supply plugged into a grounded socket was a good thing to leave when working inside the computer.

        Luckly my surprise with the new ATX stuff wasn't as bad, I just had a machine power up when inserting a video card. No damage done.

        To keep this a bit more on topic too, most good power supplies have a hard switch (as opposed to the soft one that the ATX power button triggers) on the back that will keep all current out of the motherboard.
        • Re:Fireworks (Score:2, Informative)

          by ed1park ( 100777 )
          I used to leave the power supply plugged in to for that same reason on my ATX Abit board.

          Then I dropped a screw onto the motherboard and the computer came to life! Scared the hell out of me I tell ya.

          Rather than reaching for the screw and causing a short-circuit or fire destroying my brand new mb, i unplugged the machine and thanked God that my system was fine afterwards. whew...

          I guess that experience is closest to working on a dead person in a morgue and have them move/come to life. hehe...
    • Hmmm ... I'm going to be throwing a Age of Mythology LAN party next month ....

      I was having a hard time deciding what to give the winners of the tournament .... ya know, the little bastards that have nothing better to do that play games all day (* ok, I'm jellous *)

      Maybe I'll give away marsh mellows and PC cases with really crappy, Maxtron power supplies ...

      A 400+ watt fire should be pretty cool :)
    • But he's a software engineer, and has worked with a computer since the transitor moving days.

      Well, that explains it. Some of the dust bunnies must've been shaken loose from his pullover.

      And I bet you forgot to warn him that these days you're not supposed to pre-warm the vacuum tubes with a cigarette lighter, before cranking the big power lever.
  • by mackstann ( 586043 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:17PM (#4498141) Homepage
    i use sparkle power supplies. they are second only to pc power & cooling, and they dont cost an arm and a leg (pcp&c do!)

    i buy them at newegg [newegg.com]. highly recommended.

    • by NetFu ( 155538 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:30PM (#4498269) Homepage Journal
      I'm sorry, but I work for the number one power supply distributor in the USA (we're not a direct reseller, though) and Sparkle power supplies are the BIGGEST pieces of sh*t I've ever had the misfortune of touching. They are extremely prone to failure -- as high as 10-25% out of the 20-25 we've bought for I.T. use (I'm the Director of I.S.) and we have lots of manufacturers who replace failed Sparkle power supplies with others that we sell.

      Yes, they're cheap, BUT you'd better buy two for every machine you use them in (one for backup) just to save you the trip to your local Fry's (or whatever your local computer hardware reseller is) for a replacement WHEN it fails.

      And to top it all off, most Chinese power supply companies (like Sparkle) feel that 10-20% failure rates are ACCEPTABLE! This is in an industry where a 1% failure rate usually sends the engineers back to the drawing boards. Sparkle Power is a huge joke in our industry...
      • You've never dealt with Deer (aka L&C, Allied, etc), have you? I've seen Deers destroy motherboards when they go.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 21, 2002 @04:15PM (#4498649)
        I've been running a small computer store for almost three years, and we started out using nothing but Sparkle power supplies, and out of the several hundred systems we built with them, only one died - when a storm knocked over a tree, which fell into a power line, which, well I'm not sure of all the details, but end result was that anything plugged in to an outlet in half of the customer's house was completely fried. Satellite receiver, stereo, TV's, etc, and computer; most of this stuff was plugged into cheap "surge-protectors" too. In any case, none of the components in the computer were damaged - swapped PSU's and it was up and running.

        We briefly switched to Deer, mostly because we got a really good deal on some cheap generic cases that came with the Deer supplies. No kidding the failure rate was over ten percent, but we only sold about 120 of these, so it's maybe not a great sample. But friends at another, larger store across town said that at least half of the supplies in the first batch of cases they ordered died within four months. Needless to say that was also the last batch of those cases.

        Another thing - one customer who lived in an upstairs apartment in an older house had problems from day one - crashes, freezes, you name it. Every time he brought it in for service, though, it worked great. Right away we suspected PSU, and so we swapped in a Sparkle on his second visit - I talked to him a couple of months later and he hadn't had a single problem since. Similar things happened to a lot of rural users as well.

        Why trust Sparkle? If I remember correctly, they make power supplies that are used in hospital equipment such as Dialysis machines and "Iron Lungs." These, obviously, have to be reliable, so the company definitely has the know-how, even though the PC PSU's are undoubtedly held to lower standards. They aren't cheap, but they aren't the most expensive on the market, either.

        In the end, we settled on Antec equipment, not for any problems with Sparkle, but because it was difficult to get a decent case sans-PSU to put the Sparkle's into. We've yet to see one of these come back dead, either - since we started using them, we've sold over three hundred. That's a pretty good record for both companies, if you ask me.
      • I second this - If I open up a 'white box' and I find a Sparkle in there - it gets replaced then and there. No sense in having to replace it later.

        Perhaps Sparkle has gotten better, I don't know or care. Their past reputation with me has earned them a permenent spot in my 'shitty hardware/software list'.

        Sparkle is right above MS BOB, and right below IOMEGA in the list.

    • by Verteiron ( 224042 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @04:09PM (#4498590) Homepage
      I've had excellent luck with Antec PSUs. I've got the 420W one in my system with 5 IDE HDDs, 2 cd-roms and a zip drive. One of the things I really like about it is that it comes with two special extra connectors for fans. Any fan hooked up to them will be speed-regulated like the units internal exhaust fans. This can really make your whole system a lot quieter. Antec costs a little more than average, but they are constructed well and come with excellent documentation.

    • I second the recommendation for PC Power and Cooling [pcpowercooling.com]. I got tired of going through a PS every 6 months, having themburn-up or worse; the bushings would start to fail and it would sound like a turbine engine until it warmed up. As far a price goes; it's a matter of perspective. I think I paid around $200 for my high-perf 350W supply about 5 years ago. To date, it's the only piece that I haven't upgraded or replaced in my system (including the case). Spend twice that amount for the latest bleeding-edge graphics card and see if you still have it half for half as long.
    • by person-0.9a ( 161545 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:21PM (#4499199)
      Kind of a bummer name they picked. The top three things things I do not want my Power Supply to do:

      - Flame
      - Smoke
      - Sparkle
    • see the fsp in the model number of the winners? fsp = fortron source power. fortron source power owns sparkle.

      http://www.newegg.com/app/ViewProduct.asp?submit =m anufactory&manufactory=1389&catalog=58&DEPA=1&sort by=14&order=1

      click 'see picture' on the 300w/$27 unit and you'll see the EXACT SAME model number as the winner.
  • dead toms. (Score:5, Funny)

    by lamp77 ( 147098 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:19PM (#4498161) Homepage
    Wow, we killed tomshardware, maybe his power supply went!
  • Good and QUIET! (Score:5, Informative)

    by xanadu-xtroot.com ( 450073 ) <.xanadu. .at. .inorbit.com.> on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:19PM (#4498162) Homepage Journal
    I bought this power supply [quietpcusa.com] about a year ago. Not only is it as quiet as they tout, it's been a real work horse for me. I have a Lian-Li case [lian-li.com], all drive bays filled (from time to time, not constanly ALL hooked up, but...), this thing keeps on running.

    I highly recomend checking these folks out. [quietpc.com]
  • I've been looking for a solid Power Supply review for a few days now. Thanks Tom.

    From the article:

    Fortron FSP, Verax and Herolchi

    With its generous maximum output of 390 watts (at which point it powers down in an orderly fashion), the Verax FSP300-60ATV is an impressive performer. Thanks to its quiet fan, the Verax is practically inaudible in use. Also recommended is the Fortron FSP. This model achieved a maximum output of 450 watts - and it was quiet. The Herolchi HEC-300LR-PT was one of the least expensive units in our test. Despite its low price of about $50, this 300-watt power supply performed well. It also addressed safety issues adequately with a built-in safety cutout.

    For those looking for a more readily available solution, we recommend the Antec True Power 380P. Antec has done a good job in making their products available from a variety of sources including many local retailers. Chances are that you will have no problems being able to find the Ture Power 380P. The True Power 380P offers a good balance of performance for the money, but expect to pay a little more for this unit, but you will get excellent packaging and a manual that is ahead of the others.

    To sum up: More support for consumers

    Our comparative power supply test indicates, beyond question, that some manufacturers need to make serious quality and accuracy improvements in the information provided with their products and with the performance statistics claimed in order to make these products perform as represented. Time and time again, our lab measurements were unable to verify the output figures represented on the model identification sticker. And how, exactly, is a computer purchaser supposed to check the output of a power supply? This kind of feature marketing is not possible with other hardware components, such as processors or graphics chips, because the user can check for performance using benchmark-testing software.

    Here are some of the salient facts from our lab test. The 520-watt rating of the Maxtron TOP520P4 was overly optimistic. In our test, it burned out well before this, when it reached a combined load of 446 watts. The Leadman LP-6100E also performed well below its manufacturer's specification; the specification claimed a 500-watt rating, but in practice it only delivered 426 watts. On the other hand, the power supplies from Conrad, TSP and Verax were able to provide stable voltages, even when stressed in excess of their specification. With a measured peak output of 454 watts, the Fortron FSP exceeded its specification by 23%. The 300-watt Verax was able to deliver an astonishing 390 watts.

    We do not recommend the models we tested from Noise Magic, PC-World and Maxtron, as none of these models offer any safety overload protection (auto cutout) and their capacitors explode with an audible "bang!" well short of their maximum rated output.

    There are a few surprises for the potential power supply customer in the area of price. With the exception of the SCS, retailing at approximately $30, all of the other test models retail for at least $50. The highest priced example is from Engelking, with its 300-watt model retailing at about $235.

    • Thanks Tom! To show my appreciation, I'll post your copyrighted work on Slashdot so people don't give you any page views.

      Copyright of all documents and scripts belonging to this site by Tom's Guides Publishing LLC 1996 - 2002. Most of the information contained on this site is copyrighted material. It is illegal to copy or redistribute this information in any way without the expressed written consent of Tom's Guides Publishing. This site is NOT responsible for any damage that the information on this site may cause to your system.
    • We do not recommend the models we tested from Noise Magic, PC-World and Maxtron, as none of these models offer any safety overload protection (auto cutout) and their capacitors explode with an audible "bang!" well short of their maximum rated output.

      I don't know if this is the case with these power supplies or not, but some transformers are loaded to go "bang!" when they exceed tolerances so that they don't melt and fuse shut and start a fire.
    • I've been looking for a solid Power Supply review for a few days now. Thanks Tom.

      That's very informative information. I always wanted to know that you were looking for a solid Power Supply review.

      Geez, that's incredibly dishonest and disrespectful thing to do. Sure, you made sure that we knew it was from the article, but did you ever notice the copyright disclaimer at the bottom of their pages? They aren't making money if we read the article from another source.

      I can almost understand this when a site is slashdotted, but that rarely happens to THG.

      Any person that read the parent post and decided not to go to Tom's Hardware web site as a result, please do so anyways. They're surviving on advertising revenue.
  • by Rob Parkhill ( 1444 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:22PM (#4498186) Homepage
    It sounds as if power supply makers are taking a marketing lesson from audio amplifier companies... bigger is better, and no-one ever actually verifies those numbers.

    My favorite was a $25 amp car audio amp I bought about 10 years ago. I kid you not, this thing is about 2x the size of a deck of cards, and is rated at 500W per channel. Ha ha ha ha! No, I didn't buy it for it's amazing power, I bought it because it was $25 and I needed a cheap amp for some tinkering!

    • They might not be lying, peak to peak for one cycle it might be able to output 500W (just before it explodes). Of course most respectable amp manufacturers will list the RMS watage number tested by an independant lab. I think it was funny one time when a friend was laughed at by some rice boys because he had a 100W amp, what those kids didn't realize was that this was a competition quality amp and that 100W was a true 100W RMS with a peak to peak measurement of well over 1000W!
    • and it's ratings were accurate.

      It was more than likely rated at 500watts Peak and did not mention a THD rating at that wattage.

      Car audio is usually marketed at truthful levels. Pyramid (I think that's how they spelled it) amps were usually rated at thousands of watts. but if you look it is rated as peak not RMS and it's THD was at 5%.

      now an amp that sounds great is rated at 0.05%THD at RMS watts. a 100watt RMS at 0.05%THD will knock your socks off with a pair of 15" woofers in an isobarik enclosure.

      the moral? read and UNDERSTAND the specs... car audio makers bank on the fact that the large number of cunsumers are too dim to understand the markings on the box.
  • by ohboy-sleep ( 601567 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:23PM (#4498189) Homepage
    Users who stand to fare the worst are those who have purchased their computer from a computer super store and/or discount retailer. These systems are generally fitted with cheaply made, low-cost power supplies, which often can sustain damage even under minimal loads.

    I realize that me and the half of my friends and family that are not hardware-savvy only make up a small sampling. But none of the people that I know that have bought pre-built machines have had a problem with power supplies. Whereas at work, where my office is filled with machines constructed from the parts of other machines, we've had two instances of power supply failure.

    Of course the machines at the office are older and are used more often than the home-based ones, but I figured I'd put in my 2 cents.
    • Well I think this comes back to the fact that most people only use their machine to surf the web and read email. I think it is a fair guess that most of these people have onboard video or an otherwise anemic card, along with a 5400rpm HD, etc. Also, unlike business machines which are usually on 24 hours a day for their entire lifespans, I would say most home computers are not on as much and maybe more importantly- recieve less use as they get older and get relegated as a secondary machine in a house. I would say very few home machines get used for much more than word, websurfing and file sharing nowadays, which is a breeze for todays, yesterday's and even two years ago processors. This is a bit of a stretch, but I worked for a company that regularly made use of upgrades to extend the life of a machine... adding second disk drives, upgrading the processor, ram, etc... but of course never even thinking about upgrading the PS. I can not say how prevalent this is in other companies, but if it is, that could be another reason the PS's are overloaded and thus fail.
    • by Tailhook ( 98486 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @04:14PM (#4498641)
      It's a question of usage patterns and necessary capacity. The common Best Buy PC used in a typical manner does not tax a garden variety Chinese PSU enough to ruin it.

      A SMP box with a Gig or more of RAM, used to compile kernels, run FPSs at high resolution, host a couple extra drives of various sorts, get frequently booted between multiple OSes (startup loads are extraordinary,) run benchmarks, and basically do a bunch of other crap, will need a LOT more power. I fried an Antec 300W PSU in 3 months like this. Give yourself a fright and watch the case temperature during a FreeBSD "makeworld" sometime.

      Tom's caters to people that push high end hardware to it's limit. You're basically reading hotrod magazine and wondering what's wrong with your Accord.
  • by CMiYC ( 6473 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:23PM (#4498197) Homepage
    I don't think these were fair tests. I would have liked to seen some oscilloscope measurements of what the voltages/waveforms looked like under full load. Being that we expect our DC power supply to delivery a DC voltage, even a novice can tell a "bad" output from a "good" output. Take two power supplies for example. A 300W and a 500W supply. (For numbers sake, let's say they only deliver 5V to the load. No +12v, -12v, etc). If I max load the 300W supply and it is delivering a clean 5volts, that's a great supply. But if the 500W supply is spiking or has considerable noise with a 300W load, who cares if it runs up to 500W?

    To me that's almost more important than if the supply shuts itself down or not. Which, by the way, is still a nice FEATURE.
    • By noise, I mean noise on the supply line. Ripples, Spikes, dropouts, etc. Not, "how loud is the fan."
    • by mark_anderson ( 60733 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @06:18PM (#4499610)
      CMiYC has an important point. There's a lot more to a power supply than simply providing lots of DC current. Tom's Hardware used a constant load. Computers, especially CPUs do not form a constant load. A cpu may increase its consumption by a factor of 10 almost instantaneously. This can happen everytime the scheduler goes from the idle loop to running a cpu intensive task. The motherboard regulation will absorb some of this, but not all. The PSU must be able to respond to these surges without significant ripple or spikes. This requires good capacitors, and may require tuning the switcher frequency to improve the response.
  • by Pedrito ( 94783 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:23PM (#4498198)
    This applies particularly to power supplies. Sure, CPUs and memory, but the prices aren't nearly as fixed as they are for power supplies. Really, with power supplies, the price range doesn't vary much and the good ones tend to cost (though there are some decent ones for decent prices).

    Before I came to my company, they bought a bunch of no-name PCs. There must have been a motherboard flaw that caused them to burn out power supplies and they kept replacing them with cheap supplies which couldn't handle whatever the motherboard was doing, and they would burn out too. Out of about 8 machines, I think we went through 14 power supplies in two years.

    You'd always hear, "What's that burning smell?" "Did you check the back of your machine? I think that's smoke from your power supply."

    I ALWAYS get a decent supply and have NEVER had problems, even when I lived in Mexico and had pretty questionable electricity.
    • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @04:40PM (#4498858)
      > This applies particularly to power supplies. Sure, CPUs and memory, but the prices aren't nearly as fixed as they are for power supplies. Really, with power supplies, the price range doesn't vary much and the good ones tend to cost (though there are some decent ones for decent prices).

      Very true. The problem's one of brand differentiation.

      At the low end (vast majority), there's Joe Sixpack, who doesn't know anything about what's inside his box, and who doesn't even think there are modular components in it. "Dude! I got a Dell!"

      At the midrange (20%), there's most of us. "It's an ASUS or ABit mobo, an AMD/Intel CPU, and an nVIDIA or ATI card. Umm, and a power supply that came with the box."

      At the high end (5%), there's folks who know that no-name power supplies suck (IMHO) and Enermax rox (IMHO). But only because we've read from...

      ...the really high end (1%), which are the folks who know why one brand/design beats another - say, under-rated capacitors, or a design flaw that results in the switchmode transistor getting shorted in the event of a failure of the +12V or the +5V standby line, and is typically present on the $15 fly-by-night power supplies but not on most of the $50+ brand names.

      Unlike ATI-vs-nVIDIA, where the midrange and high-end folks can plunk in an "upgraded" video card and immediately see the difference between "good" brands and "shitty" card manufacturers, brand names in power supplies have trouble gaining traction, because while they're working, they're indistinguishable from each other.

      And of course, when they stop working, it's too late. For that reason, always keep a spare supply handy. Even a "free" no-name supply ($5 bucks from a surplus store) will last you a week until your "real" power supply arrives from the web merchant.

      Rule of thumb: Put your hand over the PS's exhaust fan. If the air's significantly warmer than the air in the PC's case, get a bigger power supply.

      (I learned it the easy way - a d00d at work got a dual Athlon mobo and just tossed it into his old case, and wondered why it was so warm under his desk while his CPU temperatures were normal. Answer: 2-year old 300W supply + dual athlon + two 7200 RPM disks = one massively overloaded P/S. We threw in a 365W "spare" for the weekend and ordered a 450W that got there by Monday. Air flow out the back was much cooler. Frankly, I'm amazed the 300W supply was even able to boot before blowing itself to hell.)

  • by TheGreenGoogler ( 618700 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:24PM (#4498201) Journal
    Over at "The PC Guide," there is a comprehensive look at issues related to the output power capacity and ratings of power supplies. I found it to be very informative... The link can be found here... [pcguide.com]
  • Antec Power Supply (Score:5, Informative)

    by delta407 ( 518868 ) <slashdot@lerfMOSCOWjhax.com minus city> on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:24PM (#4498212) Homepage
    I recently bought a 430-watt Antec power supply [antec-inc.com], and it is a beast. It has two temperature-sensitive fans, gold plated connectors, and weighs about four or five times more than the one it was replacing. It was well worth the money, especially given the system it powers -- two CPUs, a GeForce 4 Ti, two optical drives, and a handful of modern hard disks.

    On the plus side, my system is more stable, runs cooler, and is quieter than it was before. I greatly favor my premium power supply over the one that came with my case, and I strongly recommend anyone with a downed PSU to pay the extra dollar.
    • by Neon Spiral Injector ( 21234 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:39PM (#4498340)
      I was wondering why Tom didn't review any Antec PSes. That is all I use these days, and have been very happy with them.

      Not only do they have varible speed fans in them, but they have a 2 wire lead to run 3 case fans (I only have 2) at varible speed.

      With the front fans of the Lian-Li case that blow over the hard drives that are variable on their own, my machine is pretty quiet when doing nothing, but comes up to a nice wurr when compiling the newest glibc with "make -j2" (yes, I know it isn't parallel safe, but you only have to do it twice to catch the one file that hangs things up).
      • Actually they did review one Antec powersupply (the True380 I think). It came in just behind the leaders, though not for any reason I could tell from their spec's. Seems to have performed at manufavctures specification and was reasonably quite. Maybe they didn't think it was quite as good a deal. It was nice to see one of the readily availible brands come in near the top though.

        Actually, I was curious, if you're using a lot of Antec supplies could you tell me what the practical difference, if any, is between Antec's True power supply line and their Sl line? Is it just that the tolerances on the voltages are a little tighter?
        • I believe that the SLs don't have ATX12V and the Trues do. Since I deal mostly with dual CPU motherboards the ATX12V is what I need.

          The TruePower series also have "bling-bling gold grills" as my co-worker put it.
    • Just a couple weeks ago I finally got the money together and stuck an Antec 300W power supply in my machine (ASUS P5A, K6-II/500, Geforce 2 MX400, etc., etc.). It had been unstable ever since I put in the Geforce, in both Linux and Windows. Unplugging a couple of peripherals (a CD-RW and a floppy drive) seemed to help.

      Since the 300W one went in (replacing an old 235W) it's been rock solid, even with the CDRW and floppy reattached. Now if I only had time to play games...

    • I've been a big fan of Antec. Never had one of their power supplies go bad. Very reliable.

      Side note: I'm also a big fan of Antec's computer cases. High quality, sturdy, well designed. Antec's cases also have Antec's power supplies. You can't go wrong with Antec.

      I'm not employed by Antec, but simply a satisfied customer.
    • I also recently purchased an antec power supply.

      I purchased the SL350 [antec-inc.com] power supply, from their solution series.

      For a little less money than the True series, it has dual temperature sensitive fans, with plenty of power for a fully loaded system, yet runs quietly.

      I payed about $50 for it from googlegear, and I have been very impressed with the noise/heat/performance.

  • by mikers ( 137971 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:27PM (#4498234)
    Inadequate and Deceptive Product Labeling:
    Comparison of 21 Power Supplies

    [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    Full Load and Overload - Power Supply Units Pushed to the Limits


  • by Arcturax ( 454188 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:28PM (#4498250)
    I bet it was so much fun, they do reviews like this a lot more often. I know I would if I got paid to try to blow something up.

    I remember blowing a power supply on an Apple IIe once as I turned it on. Scared the shit out of me too! Since then I've never had any more trouble with the supplies in Apple's Macintosh computers (which weren't reviewed here, but seem fairly solid nonetheless). I did once get a nice big fucking jolt off of one of their monitors though, numbed my right arm to the elbow and left my right side sore for a couple days from the violent muscle spasm it caused. Had it been my left arm, I probably wouldn't be typing this right now...
    • Your lucky that's all you got from the monitor. I was working on a Sun LC2 workstation (kind of like an old mac with the motherboard and monitor all in one). I did not have all plastic tools but thought I would be fine using plastic handled screwdrivers to adjust the focus boy was I wrong. I bumped the main cap with one of the screwdrivers I was using and the voltage jumped the gap between the two by going through me! I was thrown back about 3 feet by the convulsion, hit a wall and knocked me out for several minutes. When I came too the TA who's lab I was working in had the most worried face I have ever seen. Since then I have decided that I will never work inside a crt again.
  • Tomshardware (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:30PM (#4498267)
    A single floppy connector, as supplied by Engelking and Coba, is not enough. You will need at least two of these.

    Haven't given them a thought in over a year. All their "reviews" tend to shine highly on the products that fit "their" personal views. I mean jesus, any place that thinks you should have 2 (two) floppy drive power connectors is a little behind the times. Most people don't even use 1 floppy, let alone 2. And for all you people who weren't aware, a reviewer is supposed to enter a situation unbiased. Tom's hasn't started a review unbiased in easily 2 years.
    • Re:Tomshardware (Score:2, Informative)

      "Tom's hasn't started a review unbiased in easily 2 years."

      While I generally think that Tom's is biased in some respects, this example isn't the best one. (Not that I'm trying to create havoc or anything, or disagree totally with the Anonymous Coward's opinion, I'll just present my own opinion.) Realistically, most people still use a floppy drive. Although you can burn a bootable CD, CD's are still rather impractical for transferring small files to another computer. You say, why not transfer it over the network, well, if you're trying to get the newest NIC drivers to a computer that you just put the NIC into, then well you have a problem.

      Next problem, the reason that 2 power connecters was suggested, was for the Radeon 9700. If you take a look at the card, you'll see that it requires an external power source, as the AGP bus isn't quite powerful enough to give it ample power. This external power connector is a Floppy Power connector. You'll probably start seeing more graphics cards like this in the coming years, unless they drastically increase the voltage supplied to the AGP slot.

    • Re:Tomshardware (Score:3, Informative)

      by Dynedain ( 141758 )
      Other devices do use floppy power connectors.

      For instance, the head unit for my Creative SBLive 5.1 Platinum and various casemod toys like temperature monitors, fan speed indicators, etc.
    • Radeon 9700 (Score:4, Informative)

      by nuxx ( 10153 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:56PM (#4499454) Homepage
      You know the nice brand new ATI Radeon 9700 that most people here lust over? I put one in a friend's machine recently... I was really glad for the second floppy power connector becuase then I didn't have to use the included Y cable and add more bulk inside the case. There's lots more devices that want a power connection like this, too. CF Readers, audio break out boxes, VU meters, LCD displays, etc. More connectors is generally a good thing, not a bad thing. You don't always have to use them, and cable ties are cheap.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:31PM (#4498274)
    I use a lot of Enermax psu's in the machines I build, mostly > 400W units. I find them to be very well made, quiet, and robust. I don't understand why Tom only gave them a "satisfactory" rating and not good or excellent. I also use a lot of the Antec "TrueXXX" series psu's and generally consider the Enermax units to be equal or in some models, slightly more premium than the comparable Antec unit.
    • I was also puzzled with their rating of Enermax. When you look at their individual ratings, the Enermax power supply scored in the middle of the pack in all tests except noise, where it scored slightly high (as in too much noise.) They also mentioned that Enermax's power supplies come with a variable fan speed control which does help with the noise. Why, then, did the Enermax power supply score rock bottom overall except for the three power supplies that burned out? Especially since the factor that was their number 1 complaint, the power supply meeting the manufacturer's spec, was exceeded by the Enermax power supply?
  • by LordNimon ( 85072 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:37PM (#4498327)
    The only decent third-party manufacturer of power supplies that I (and I presume most people) have every heard of is PC Power and Cooling [pcpowercooling.com]. It doesn't appear that this article covers any of their products. Am I missing something?
    • Nope, didn't miss anything. PC Power and Cooling wasn't represented in the review.

      I have one of their PSUs and three of their Silencer fans in my PC. Works great and is very quiet. Sure, they're more expensive, but I'd rather pay for high quality instead of a burned out PC.

      • Not everyone is so sweet on PCP&C as you would expect. I personally just had one of theirs murder my KT7A-RAID, along with all 3 DIMMS that were installed. I'm just glad the proc, cards, and drive all lived. Along with a couple of other bad experiences, my $250 upgrade is up to about $600 now. At least I may be able to get a refund, but we'll see. I've got an RMA and I'm shipping it today.

        I was wary of even using it in the first place, and there're two things I didn't like. There was no switch, and there was no vent on the bottom. I know a switch isn't technically necessary, but I really like the idea of switching off my PSU and leaving it plugged in while I tinker (grounding...). And the vent is kind of important, since the proc sits right under it...

        And yes, I took all due precaution, and no, there is no obvious indicator that it is for a Dell (which are wired differently). Try a Google groups search for more experiences. No link, no time. Sorry.

    • you are not missing anything, unfortunately.

      this review is pretty lame IMO, they failed to review: both sparkle and pc power & cooling, probably two of the highest regarded names in power supplies, while at the same time they reviewed such no-name junk as "engelking", "coba", "channel well", "scs", "task", and "levicom".

      and the summary is also quite worthless. basically they recommend 3 no-name brands as the "winners", no one is going to buy these due to availability and/or fear of no-name brands, while THG also recommends antec psu's to those who cannot find the others, which is also stupid because people already buy antecs in droves.

      also we have the issue of rebranding. many power supplies on the market are simply rebranded no-name power supplies, how do we know that just because one "herolchi" power supply tested well, all others will also be top quality? the different herolchi models could be from completely different manufacturers!

    • Good question. My "came with the case" Antec PSU died and I replaced it with a PCP&C unit, 450W. The machine is dual P3, .5GB RAM, dual HDDs, SCSI, GForce, etc. Uses its share of power.

      The most useful part of the Tom's Hardware writeup is the breakdown of estimated power consumption for a "high end" machine. Based on that, I figure the 450W part I have is just a bit over the necessary capacity. Maybe 15% or so, assuming the rating is accurate.

      Anyhow, like you, I was disappointed to see Tom skip PCP&C in a rare PSU test. Sometimes I wonder a lot about Tom's. The AMD bias is obvious to me. OTOH, it's possible PCP&C wouldn't play ball and submit units for testing. Not unheard of. It's an American company, possibly with enough lawyers employed to govern a State.
  • by f97tosc ( 578893 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:38PM (#4498330)
    That is not a very large sample. I wonder how much specs vary between individual units of the same make and model.

    In particular, it would not surprise me if there are unit-to-unit variations in noise and the power at which they give up.

  • often overlooked... (Score:4, Informative)

    by jaredcoleman ( 616268 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:38PM (#4498331)
    The #1 reason that I have seen for hardware failure was that the PS fan had stopped working and no one noticed. Most PC's (bought or built) are designed to pull air in the front of the machine because of the vaccuum created by the PS exhaust fan. No air flow = stagnant hot air = hot heatsinks = hot chips = CRASH. This is a very important component that is often overlooked.
  • by Hayzeus ( 596826 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:41PM (#4498354) Homepage
    On a slightly unrelated note, I've noticed that I've continually had problems with CPU fans (usually of the cheaper variety) dying a fairly early death. However, even on the cheapest of PSUs this has never been an issue for me. Does this jibe with anyone else's experience? If so, why might this be the case? Does the smaller CPU fan size somehow increase the expense of providing decent bearings?
  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:43PM (#4498370) Homepage
    Something I've been ranting about for years: It's not just that power supplies are rated in "music watts." It's also that basic engineering apparently went out the window when micros came in--and has never come back.

    Why isn't every board and component clearly marked with its power consumption?

    Why isn't every system clearly marked with the amount of power available to devices on the bus (power supply minus consumption of preinstalled components?)

    Why isn't there some kind of built-in INDICATOR that WARNS you when the drain is approaching the power supply capability?

    None of this is rocket science. It requires fourth grade arithmetic, a multimeter, and a little honesty.

    On minicomputers, the power supply was sized for the worst-case set of boards that could be installed in it. That's probably too much to expect from PC vendors, but at the very least there should be an easy way to TELL.

    "This is a real good power supply and it should be OK unless you put in an awful lot of boards that take a lot of power" just isn't the way to do things.

    We expect this stuff to be clearly marked on our light bulbs, our vacuum cleaners, and our fuse boxes. Why shouldn't we expect it in our computers?

    • Yes, does anyone know of a way to determine what your power needs are?

      Why buy a beast of a 500W supply if all you're using is 300W, much better to invest it in a quality 300W.

  • Dual PSU's (Score:4, Interesting)

    by twoslice ( 457793 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:46PM (#4498399)
    Actually, I wish more case designs supported dual PSU's as the power supplies these days are relatively cheap and I could use the redundancy and extra oumph.

    • What I really like to see is a PSU with an builtin Uninteruptable Power Supply!

      It's really scary to get downtime just because somebody steps on the chord or something. Shit happens when you do important work, that's a corollary to Murphy's law.

      It doesn't need to last very long, just so that you get the time to put the chord in again, and take the box down gracefully.

      I know it has been done, but I couldn't find the link right now, but AFAIR, it didn't have the output you need nowadays.

      I bet that the reason why it hasn't taken off is that most people use an OS that crashes so much, some downtime due to powerfailure isn't much of a deal... :-)

      • In a cost/benefit analysis, you would find that a combo unit would be a bad thing. Kind of like a tv/vcr combo, or a scan/copy/fax/printer.

        Although the integration of the components makes it cheaper for the manufacturer to produce (to a certain extent) what happens to you when one part fails? You are screwed! PSU dead with working UPS = useless. Likewise the inverse. At least if they are separate you can repair one or the other and not have both sent out. If you have a tv/vcr combo and the vcr goes out, you are out of tv until it gets fixed. If the TV goes out, well, doesn't do any good to have a vcr, plus you won't have it anyways since it will be out for service.

        But the corporations love selling people this integrated crap, because they know that you will sooner buy a new one than wait for it be replaced or repaired. Have you seen the cost of repairing electronics recently?

    • Actually, I wish more case designs supported dual PSU's as the power supplies these days are relatively cheap and I could use the redundancy and extra oumph

      Some folks make redundant supplies that fit into an ATX compliant sizefactor. Thus they'll fit any case. They range from 250W all the way to 500W [amtrade.com] Antec used to make one I thought. Maybe Enermax. But they aren't cheap.

  • by antdude ( 79039 )
    How is Enlight power supply unit (340 watts) in a gaming and workstation machine? I know they're a bit loud, but how's the performance and reliability?

  • PS Diagonistics? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Masem ( 1171 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:48PM (#4498417)
    I'm surprised that in this day and age, where your power supply is becoming one of the more critical components to keep track of (along with the CPU and GPU temperatures), that there's yet to be a way to monitor the performance of the PS with hardware/software monitors, short of wiring your own. That is, just like you can monitor temperatures and fan speeds with most modern mobos, the power supply is completely independant of this. Yes, it would require some standardization of how that info is sent and a plug on the mobo (most likely situated near where most USB/KB/M cutouts are as to avoid a 20ft wire to get it to the northbridge site), but it would seem to me to be really useful information to determine the PS health beyond the current hope-n-pray methods...
  • I think.... (Score:2, Funny)

    by crumbz ( 41803 )
    ....Tom's Hardware is on fire...slashdotted already :)
  • by KC7GR ( 473279 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @03:57PM (#4498483) Homepage Journal
    For my part, I would have liked to have seen THG use a true electronic load for their testing. Something from Transistor Devices [tdi.com] 'Dynaload' line would, I think, have been a much more accurate (if more expensive) choice than a box full of power resistors.

    They should also have used a good O-scope to take a look at the power output waveforms while under load. I've seen a number of cases where a switching supply will look perfectly clean under low-to-medium loads, and then start to spike and freak out under higher loads. 'Tis a nasty thing to behold, and it can cause problems that can drive techs who don't know what to look for absolutely batty.

    Also, others have mentioned that PC Power and Cooling was left out of the review for reasons unknown. I would guess that it was price. If so, all I can say is "How highly do you value your hardware?"

    Clean and adequate power is the ONE factor that can cause more woes than any other. You can have the slickest quad-processor-super-Linux-cluster-RAID-whatever on the planet, and it won't do you one whit of good if you've got dirty power feeding it.

  • A PSU comparison that doesn't include something from PC Power & Cooling is about as ridiculous as an ATA RAID comparison that doesn't include something from 3ware.

    Oh...wait. *sigh*
  • I bought a Enermax and noticed it had the largest cables on a powersupply I've ever seen! After reading Toms review, they really are longer. Looks like 55/50/50 are the average, and some are even smaller 30/30/30'ish. Enermax ATX/ATX 12V/AUX is 68/70/70 cm.

    Really nice on a towercase, but a midtower, I have to roll up the power cables. Nice quite powersupply too.

  • by Raedwald ( 567500 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @04:12PM (#4498612)

    I'm currently planning my second own-built PC, and I must echo the article's request for more (precise) electrical information from manufacturers. It is outrageous that the peak current at 12V drawn by a HDD, or the maximum current at 12V provided by a PSU, is missing from documents that call themselves 'technical specifications'.

    This information is vital: it only takes a high-end PC with 3 modern HDDs (what you might use for RAID or for other multi-disk performance tricks [tldp.org] to overload a 400W PSU. Not because it draws 400W during normal operation, but because on startup the disks draw too much current at 12V.

  • One of the tests that many techs seem to like for power supplies is weight. While it doesn't really indicate the quality as per will-it-fry-my-components basis, it does seem a somewhat good indicated as to whether a supply will dish out near the indicated wattage on a regular basis (as opposed to a once-on-a-blue-moon basis).

    My newest power supply really dishes it out. I can't remember the brand name offhand, but I will repost with it when I get home. My previous power supply didn't come near to giving out its supposed "350 W", which gave me a lot of issues while running DVD-ROM and CDRW etc at the same time. When I swapped the supplies I noticed that the newest one was about 1.5 to 2 times heavier.
    Again, this isn't to say that all heavy power supplies are good, but if your supply is feather-light, it may be an indicator that it's not so powerful as stated.
  • EMI is a problem too (Score:4, Informative)

    by John Jorsett ( 171560 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @04:21PM (#4498729)
    I bought a case with a built-in 400-watt power supply that swamped a nearby AM radio with a buzzsaw noise. Replacing it got rid of the problem. Power supplies aren't that expensive, so save yourself some headaches and buy a good one.
  • I put an Antec TruePower 480w (about $90) in my CoolerMaster 200 case. I'm running an AMD 1800 XP on a Asus A7V333 w/ RAID option, Radeon 128MB (non-LE), 4 120GB WD w/ 8MB cache, and a total of 7 80mm fans. Toss in a CDRW and DVD-ROM and that's my PC in a nutshell. I've been happy with it but I haven't stressed it much either.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @04:46PM (#4498892) Homepage
    Power supplies that blow up or catch fire should be reported to Underwriters's Laboratories [ul.com] and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. [cpsc.gov] These are online forms, but I'd suggest certified mail as well, with pictures. This is inexcusable.

    The relevant safety standard is UL 60950 (or the identical EU 60590 in Europe), "Safety of Information Technology Equipment". One of the required tests is a full-load worst-case temperature test. No way should those units have received UL or CSA certification.

    UL's certification search engine is broken today, so I can't check the power supplies listed to see if they really passed. But those certifications are public information; you can check.

    Current CPSC product recalls in the computer area include PowDec power supplies for NextLevel DSL modems [cpsc.gov] and several batteries for laptops. Sounds like that list needs some additions.

  • by ewhac ( 5844 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @04:49PM (#4498898) Homepage Journal

    If anyone from Tom's is looking in, perhaps they may want to try out this test rig we developed for testing power supplies.

    Back when I was working for NTG (later acquired by 3DO), our chief hardware designer, Dave Needle, assigned one of the engineers to test power supplies. It had to supply 5V at some large number of Amps, absolutely flat, and do it on continuous duty. Dave informed me -- to my utter, youthfully naive astonishment -- that the specs on power supplies couldn't be trusted.

    The test rig the engineer came up with was several low-Ohm high-wattage resistors wired in parallel, submerged in a pan of distilled water. He then turned on the juice and watched the output on a 'scope. The room where these tests were carried out came to be known as The Steam Room.

    I think he went through about a dozen prospective supplies before he found one that was acceptable.


  • by alue ( 253363 ) <alan.lue@PASCALgmail.com minus language> on Monday October 21, 2002 @04:54PM (#4498938)
    Just where can you buy one of these? Who has ever heard of Verax or Herolchi, anyway? I searched on google [google.com], pricewatch [pricewatch.com], and newegg [newegg.com]; and I couldn't find anything but a single Fortron offering.

    I've always had a really hard time finding these "secret" premium low-noise components. I would love to make my desktop quieter, and I would love to believe that these products will do the job. But if they're so awesome, why doesn't anybody sell them?
  • by ink ( 4325 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:55PM (#4499444) Homepage
    Am I the only person who is sick of computers requiring such obscene amounts of power? Newer machines have fscking radiators on them for $DIETY's sake; what's next? A heat-pump that sits outside my house to keep the environment nice and warm? In 1995, 250W was a nice, big power supply. Then, 300W, and now 500W comes along -- other consumer electronics are becomming more efficient (monitors, televisions, refridgerators, air conditioners, etc.), but computers just keep wasting more and more power.
    • Am I the only person who is sick of computers requiring such obscene amounts of power?

      You have a choice in the matter. If you want top of the line performance, get an Athlon or a Pentium 4 (50 - 70 W) with power-hungry components. Otherwise, you can get a Celeron (25 W), a K6-III+ (20 W), or a C3 (10 W) with one hard drive and a video card that doesn't require active cooling.

      I bought a little FlexATX bare-bones system that's a little smaller than a bread box. I put in a 5,400 RPM drive and a Celeron 850. The only fan is in the 100 W power supply.

  • by honold ( 152273 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @06:13PM (#4499573)
    see the fsp in the model number of the winners? fsp = fortron source power. fortron source power owns sparkle.

    http://www.newegg.com/app/ViewProduct.asp?submit =m anufactory&manufactory=1389&catalog=58&DEPA=1&sort by=14&order=1

    click 'see picture' on the 300w/$27 unit and you'll see the EXACT SAME model number as the winner.

    source: reparations on the storagereview.com forums
  • by bogie ( 31020 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @07:07PM (#4500003) Journal
    Seriously, besides saving your data you need a good UPS with AVR to feed your Power supply.

    If you have power that sags or has other problems, even a high quality power supply is not going to save you.

    I still can't believe there was ever a time when I didn't use a UPS at home. You really will add time to the life of your computer with a good UPS. Your PC will still become outdated, but at least it will be less likely to fail.

  • by Shanep ( 68243 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @10:54PM (#4501336) Homepage
    There is no mention in this article of ripple performance for these PSU's under their rated loads.

    Ripple is the amount of AC left in the DC output of a DC power supply. Real engineers and technicians measure this and take it into consideration to assure the reliable and healthy operation of the equipment being powered. There is no point in having a PSU that can deliver the required amount of power if it is also delivering the parts in the computer noisy power that may lead to instabilities.

    The PSU's that actually were able to deliver more than their rated power, may have in fact been designed so that they actually deliver low ripple power at their rated levels. With power beyond that starting to show what the designers would deem, unsatisfactory ripple levels (Ripple becomes more apparent with higher loads).

    A quiet (electrical) supply is a good thing for computers of any size and seeing an article at Tom's omit this amongst pages and pages of a "test" comparison does not surprise me.

    Blah blah blah. People who know better, don't read Tom's, they "do it" themselves, properly. But the chance to test 21 different PSU's is something few geeks can do, so Tom ought to get things done correctly if he is to pass his site off as a valuable technical hardware resource.

    But what I think is the real killer, is that Tom tests the noise levels of these PSU's, but not the electrical noise, the audible! Which kinda shows in a glaring manner the level of technical prowess his site staff and readership posses. Hell, they had multimeters, how hard was it to at least set them to AC and read the amplitude of the ripple!

    "Test results in detail" my arse.

    I'm not being picky BTW, ripple testing is a must do in PSU design and testing for most applications of a DC supply. Proper "test results in detail" would have included oscilloscope printouts of the ripple, IMHO.

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