How to choose a power supply for your PC

A guide to buying the best PSU for your computer

Apart from quality and efficiency certifications, the next major consideration when choosing a power supply is the maximum power output. Power requirements for modern PCs can vary greatly. Entry-level machines with integrated graphics can consume as little as 200W, whereas high-end gaming PCs with multiple graphics cards and multiple HDD setups can require as much as 1000W or more to run them.

A basic way of determining your PC power supply requirements is to add the power requirements of the components it contains. CPU and graphics card manufacturers publish power draw figures for their products. CPUs generally range between 45-95W. Graphics cards vary widely in power draw, with entry-level cards suitable for home theatre use consuming as little as 25W, whereas high-end gaming cards can draw a whopping 300W or even more for some of the recently released dual chip cards such as the Geforce GTX 590 and the Radeon 6990.

Mechanical HDDs draw approx 20W each, Solid-state drives as little as 3W. Don’t forget to factor in the efficiency rating of the PSU you are intending to use. An 80 PLUS certified 500W PSU will only deliver 80% of its rated output; in this case, 400W. It's always a good thing to add a little more than you think you need, just for good measure. If your anticipated power draw figure is 380W, for example, I would be inclined to go up a level or two to a 550W or 600W 80 PLUS certified or higher PSU. This also covers you should you wish to add another HDD down the track, or upgrade your graphics card a level or two. Just remember, a power supply will only output as much power as the components in your PC are drawing, so having a higher rated PSU does not mean that you will be using more electricity.

The final decision to consider is whether to pay a little extra and purchase a modular power supply. Most high-end PSUs are modular as standard.

A modular power supply has a collection of cables that plug in to the body of the PSU, and only need to be added as required. A traditional power supply has a large collection of cables, with a range of different end plugs, all hard wired into the body of the PSU. This can often create a large spaghetti-like mess of unused cables cluttering the inside of your PC. A good technician will usually try to tidy all the excess cabling, as it can impede air flow through the PC case and restrict cooling, or even worse, loose cabling can lodge in cooling fans, jamming them completely, and leading to overheating issues. A modular power supply helps solve these problems by letting you plug in and use the minimum number of cables necessary to power the components inside a PC.

Hopefully the information presented here will empower you make an informed decision, when next it comes time to consider the purchase of this most critical system component. A good quality power supply is the first building block of a good quality PC.

Glenn Howlett is the general manager of DCA Computer Technologies a computer retailer and support provider. Read more articles at the DCA Computers blog, follow DCA Computers on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Glenn Howlett

PC World
Topics: pc components, power supplies

Comments

Gordon Drennan

1

There are a number of errors in this article.

The writers says mains power is 240V in Australia. It is in fact 230V.

The writer says that a PSU with an 80% efficiency can only deliver 80% of its rated output. This is wrong. A PSU rated at 400W, but if it only has an 80% efficiency to do that it will have to draw 500W from the power point.

PC World should find someone who knows the subject better to write advice for its readers. Perhaps someone who isn't the manager of a retailer that benefits if customers buy higher spec'd and higher priced products than they actually need.

Pete

2

Gordon, Australia may well be a 230V country now, but mine and my friends places still put out 240V. What do you get at home? Either way, one of the things i looked for when buying a PSU is a 240V rating (not a 230V one).

Grant

3

You are mistaken Gordon. The domestic mains power supply in Australia is 240V AC, 50Hz. Any sparky knows this:
http://www.accesscomms.com.au/reference/powerplug.htm

As for your other comments. Well you are wrong again.

What do you think the 'Plus 80' system is all about? The writer is spot on. You need to check your facts before you burst into print.

Patrick

4

@Gordon... Everyone knows that Australian outlets are 240v, any electrician will tell you that to.

Ben

5

Gordon.

Don't you know that Australian outlets are 240v??

Gordan???

Hello?

Gordy...........

Back in your hole mate

Ben

6

I think the only error in this article may well just be the first comment

mattgenton

7

hi to all at www.pcworld.idg.com.au i thought i had sent this newyears eve but it didnt send so i have sent it again all the best for new year to every one
- matt-gent

mr tired

8

Gordon gordon grodon If you are in fact a MALE then you are an idiot. THIS IS SPARTA Know what thats from

Hello

Hells kitchen

Wheres my cat

wheres my dog

wheres my FACE

MT

9

Gordon is 100% correct on the efficiency aspect of the article. A simple look at Wikipedia will already give the correct definition of PSU efficiency. Try to claim a 500W 80% efficiency PSU can only supply 400W on any PC enthusiast website and you will have people laughing their heads off.

Comments are now closed.

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