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Power Supply Group Test 2006

An occupational hazard of my chosen line of work, and potentially anyone who is known as “a bit of a geek” is that friends, family and most annoyingly people you’ve only just met, can’t wait to pick your brain on what particular products they should be purchasing. Every now and then I’ll get an instant message with links to E-tailers showing what products they are thinking of buying. They total the cost, usually pushing their budget right to the limit and then give me a confused look (thanks to the power of emoticons) when I ask them what power supply they intend on using with their new beast. More often than not, this will be a dust-coated 27W power supply circa 1988.

Ok, I’m exaggerating a little, but the point is that the power supply is severely overlooked when considering an upgrade or a fresh PC build. For many, it’s the same state of confusion as the day you first walk into Starbucks to discover there are 192 different ways of ordering coffee. Gone are the days of “just a coffee”, so equally, say goodbye to the concept of “just a power supply”.

Unlike making a poor decision on which coffee to have with your cheesecake, choosing the wrong power supply can increase your electricity bill, contribute to global warming and cause a whole host of other problems. It can potentially cause random crashes and resets, restrict overclocking, or in the very worst case scenario - kill every component in your machine – not to mention the possibility of an electrical fire. If your machine merely refuses to boot, which is also quite likely I would consider your venture into cheap power supplies a very lucky one.

With processors now having multiple cores and graphics cards being run in SLI or CrossFire configuration, a decent PSU has never been more necessary. Unfortunately, deciding what is and what isn’t a decent power supply is actually a lot harder than just finding the highest wattage for the least cost. In fact, that’s a surefire way of buying an expensive paper weight.

So how do you choose a decent power supply? Generally speaking, price is actually a pretty good starting point. If a PSU looks too good to be true – it probably is. A decent power supply is costly to produce. It is usually quite heavy too, which makes them expensive to ship, adding a little bit more on to the cost. These two factors tend to account for the price gap between a poorly made power supply and a good one and this definitely helps to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

Most power supplies conform to an ATX specification of some sort, which is an open standard maintained by Intel. On www.formfactors.org you can read the full specifications should you have the time or inclination to do so. The specifications are guidelines as to what ratings each rail should be, their tolerances and other things such as over-voltage protection. The two main standards that you need to know about are ATX12V 1.3 and ATX12V 2.2.

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