Choosing The Right Parts For Your Build (Part 4) - Picking the right PSU

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Picking the right PSU

Because the PSU does not contribute directly to the performance on your system, all too many users decide to purchase the cheapest supply they can get away with. This is not a sensible policy, as an inadequate supply is far more likely to fail and will contribute significantly to your system’s noise and power consumption. A common misconception is that a more powerful PSU will use more energy. This is not the case; if your system uses 300W it will only pull the power it actually requires whether you use a 300W PSU or a 1,000W model.

Description: the PSU

Many cheaper power supplies do not provide the levels of wattage they claim to. For this reason you should be very wary of buying a power supply that is priced at a level too good to be true. It’s easy to buy ‘850W’ PSUs from online retailers that cost less than $30, but these supplies will certainly not be capable of delivering this kind of power output. Modern PCs require that most of the power is capable of being delivered over the 12V rail, the most powerful of the three voltages delivered by PC power supplies. All too many manufacturers bump up their ratings by claiming the majority of the power their supplies deliver is over the 3.3V or 5V rails. In actually, the PSU’s ratings are simply fabricated.

An easy way to ensure that you get a PSU with a realistic rating is to ensure you only buy models that are 80 Plus certified. This means that you will be buying a product that has been independently tested to ensure that it firstly is capable of its quoted output, and secondly is at least 80% efficient, which will reduce your electricity bills and heat output compared to cheaper entry-level units.

If you’re using a system that only uses integrated video, then you do not need a hugely powerful PSU. Aim instead for a modestly specified unit from a high-quality manufacturer like Corsair, Enermax or OCZ. Each of these manufacturers offers good quality 400-500W PSUs with 80 Plus certification that often cost less than PSUs without certification citing unrealistic wattages.

Description: 80 Plus PSU

80 Plus PSU

If your system has a mid-ranged video card, then you should aim to feed it a little more juice. Something in the 500-600W range should be ideal, and once again you should stick to a reliable manufacturer. Again, Corsair and Enermax have suitable models, but Thermaltake also offers some competitively priced 80 Plus certified models that are worthy of consideration.

High-end single GPU systems, or those with hefty overclocks will need a 650-750W PSU. This is a popular wattage range and there is a wide selection of products available. As usual you should always look for the 80 Plus certification logo on your prospective purchase, and don’t just take the manufacturer’s word for it that they have a certificate; you can look them all up on the If you can’t find the PSU you want to buy, it probably isn’t actually 80 Plus certified after all.

The only systems needing more than 750W are those equipped with monstrously powerful dual GPU video cards or an unusual number of drives. For these systems, premium 800-850W PSUs are available. A good 850W PSU will cost you in excess of $150, with some 80 Plus Gold (>90%) certified models from Enermax and Antec costing over $225 each!

There are, of course, even higher-rated models on the market, some of which are capable of outputting 1,000-1,200W of power. These are needed for so-called ‘dream PCs’ that combine three video cards in SLI or CrossFire, or two dual-GPU cards for quad GPU support. If you have the cash to splash over $1,500 on video cards alone, you probably won’t balk at the $300-plus price of these immensely capable PSUs.

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