The SMPS or power supply falls in the same boat as the motherboard. It’s absolutely essential to PC. However, people just tend to make do with the cheapest power supply that they can get. Thus, committing a mistake that will result in a component going up in smoke. Yes, a cheap power supply can completely wreck your system. On the other hand, a proper power supply can live past multiple generations. It’s ordinary to see a good PSU last for more than a decade. In fact, most good quality PC SMPS come with 5-10 year warranties. If you’ve paid close attention, then we’ve used the terms SMPS, PSU and Power Supply in the preceding sentences, and they’re all correct. Here’s what you need to keep in mind while getting your next power supply.
What to consider
- Efficiency – There’s no point wasting power, and that’s exactly what you are doing with a cheap power supply. Also, you end up paying a lot more at the end of the day. If you were to extrapolate your expenditure over time, that works out to a large amount. So keeping that large amount that you’re going to end up spending if you buy a cheap power supply, it is wiser that you invest in a more efficient power supply now by paying far less money. That’s why you need to get an efficient power supply. Now a lot of companies carry the 80+ certification and we’ve come to hear that not all of them are properly vetted. 80+ is a series of certifications that rank power supplies based on how efficient they are and efficiency is calculated based on how much the power supply provides to your PC vs how much it draws from the wall socket. Under 80+, you have the plain jane 80+ rank, then there’s 80+ Bronze, 80+ Silver, Gold, Platinum and Titanium in order of increasing efficiency. Ideally, anything that’s 80+ Silver or above is what you should be looking at.
- PFC – Power Factor Correction is an often ignored aspect of power supplies that can come around to bite you in the rear later on. Before we get into PFC, here’s a primer on Power Factor. It’s defined as the ratio of real power flowing in an AC electrical system to the apparent power in the circuit. Its value ranges from -1 to 1. A PF of less than 1 means that the voltage and current waveforms are out of phase and that results in power flowing back to the source i.e. to your wall socket. This means, you need to use thicker wires and there is energy wastage as well.
With Power Factor Correction, this power that flows back i.e. the reactive power is minimised and the power supply operates at a higher efficiency. There are two types of PFC – Active PFC and Passive PFC. While having either in your power supply is good, you should know that Active PFC uses a separate controller and is more efficient while passive just uses an array of capacitors.
- Cooling – Since for the last two parameters, the key aspect that we’ve been harping on is the power supply’s efficiency, it was expected that this would be along the same lines. Power supplies, like all circuits, are sensitive to heat. As there’s more heat generated, the individual components of the power supply get affected and the overall efficiency drops. So even if you pay a lot and get a good power supply, it’s absolutely silly if you end up not getting the benefit of the higher efficiency simply because you’ve stuck it in a case with poor cooling. So yes, the fans and the orientation of the power supply within the cabinet are contributing factors. Ensure that the case you are using can keep a steady flow of air towards the power supply and your power supply should keep chugging on well.
- Cables – A good power supply will come with a tonne of cables and connectors. It’s unlikely that you’ll need to use them all on your PC. So a modular power supply helps with reducing the cable clutter. However, you should be more concerned about the cable quality and cable lengths. Any connector that’s drawing more power needs to have thicker cables. This is measured in American Wire Gauge (AWG). Based on your power draw, the manufacturers will always choose proper cables of the right AWG. You should be worried about cable thickness only in cases of cheap power supplies. The other thing would be cable length. Based on your PC cabinet and how you will be wiring your motherboard, you should calculate the length of each cable. For example, the ATX 12X connector for your CPU runs along the back of the motherboard plate and has to go the farthest within the system. So that cable has to be really long. Being a subjective parameter, you should take your case into consideration while checking which power supply to get.
What not to consider
- Modularity – Modularity certainly helps with reducing cable clutter in the system but the same can be achieved with a cable tie. That way you can not worry about blocking air-flow. And in turn, cause heating.
- Rails – The concept of rails is a luxury. It really comes down to how rails are implemented within the system. By branching out the 12V power supply across multiple rails, you do reduce the load on the DC-to-DC power connector, however, the benefits are marginal. In fact, there have been power supplies which require all rails to be connected i.e. loaded for the PSU to turn on. It’s best to steer clear from multi-rail systems.
- Passive components – Almost every motherboard manufacturer uses high-grade solid state capacitors and chokes. However, when you’re looking at the budget segment then there will definitely be a few cutbacks so you might end up with non-insulated chokes which vibrate under heavy load. So you will have coil whine when that happens. That doesn’t mean that you have crappy components, it’s just that you aren’t at the luxury of getting high-quality components and have to make do with average quality passive components.
- Fancy lights – Any sort of bling is completely useless from a performance perspective, especially on a PSU which is hardly visible. If and only if you wish for all of the lighting systems within your PC to communicate with each other should you consider RGB lighting in your power supply. We’ll admit that some of these lighting systems do seem quite impressive. Mostly, you’d find the fan illuminated with RGB around the perimeter and that’s all.
The best place to get it
- Mumbai – Lamington Road
- Kolkata – Chandni Chowk
- Bangalore – SP Road
- Delhi – Nehru Place
- Pan-India – Amazon / Flipkart
Always check the lemon-list before buying a new PSU. It lists all the
models that have failed tests and also indulge in false advertising.