Building Three Sample Systems

Okay, so far we have some basic power guidelines in place. Let's put these figures into practice and look at some actual system power requirements. We've selected components for three different systems, so let's examine how much power each one requires.

System 1:
Intel Core 2 Duo E4500, 4GB Memory, P35 chipset motherboard, ATI Radeon HD 3650, an optical drive, and one hard drive. Outside of perhaps the memory, this is representative of your modern entry-level computer system. At idle, this computer requires around 90W of power. Even when we put the pedal to the metal and put a full load on the graphics card, processor, and optical drive, we still have a total power consumption of only 140W.

System 2:
AMD Phenom X4 9850 BE, 4GB Memory, AMD 790X Chipset, ATI Radeon HD 3870X2, an optical drive, and two hard drives. Our midrange system roughly doubles our power requirements, and depending on the benchmark it will offer more than twice the performance of our entry-level machine. At idle with Cool & Quiet enabled, this system uses almost 168W of power, while it needs at most 341W when fully loaded.

System 3:
Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6850, 4GB Memory, NVIDIA 780i Chipset, NVIDIA GeForce 8800 Ultra SLI, an optical drive, and four hard drives. For our third example, we chose some of the most demanding products for testing. In particular, the 780i Chipset from NVIDIA has the highest power consumption of all chipsets we've tested so far, drawing a constant 69W. (There is of course some variation in power consumption even from chips of the same family, and the features and extra chips on each motherboard differ from manufacturer to manufacturer. Our particular 780i is an EVGA motherboard.) The idle power consumption for this setup is around 310W, and once we place of full load on everything power consumption increases to 544W.

Worth mention is that the second graphics card in an SLI/CrossFire setup never actually uses 100% of the theoretical maximum power consumption. We estimate power consumption based on the figures on page one, and the second GPU only runs at around 50% power at the desktop (i.e. half the idle power draw); adding a third GPU would result in an even lower load, since the third card is frequently underutilized. Likewise getting a full load on quad-core CPUs and multiple GPUs is not a typical scenario. It may be possible to draw slightly more power, but the above guidelines should suffice.

Do these numbers help clarify the situation? The first system has very low demands, and yet if we look at the PC market as a whole 90% of current shipping systems don't even provide the same level of hardware as system one. Even with that fact accepted, the question remains: what sort of power supply should you choose for such a system?

That's the next topic of discussion, and we want to show some simple ways to help you choose the correct power supply for your needs. For the moment will put aside other important factors like DC output stability, ripple and noise, and overall quality and focus on choosing an appropriate power supply. Key factors in this decision will be the efficiency curves and noise levels.

Index Efficiency Explained
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  • Christoph Katzer - Monday, September 22, 2008 - link

    Yes I guess that was the problem. Thanks for pointing that out! Reply
  • ViRGE - Monday, September 22, 2008 - link

    Christoph, thanks for the excellent article. There is one thing I noticed however that has me a bit confused. In a few of your video card tests, you have the cards pulling upwards of 100 watts from the PCIe slot. It has been my understanding, and is mentioned in AT's X38 chipset article*, that the limit for a PCIe slot is 75W. Your results put this value in contention, so I'm not sure what to believe at this point.

    Is it that I am mistaken that the limit is 75W, or are your video cards pulling too much power from the slot, or is there a problem with the data?
    Reply
  • Christoph Katzer - Monday, September 22, 2008 - link

    Thanks. The data is correct since the cards draw power through the PCIE slot and the additional PEG connectors (6-pin or 8-pin). Towards the end of the article you will find a list which card drew how much power from the PCIE slot and the PEG connector. 75 watts is however correct for the older PCIE slots, PCIE2.0 can draw up to 150 watts. Reply
  • mobutu - Monday, September 22, 2008 - link

    Where is AMD 4850?
    Also almost all the graph cards used are kind of old, previous generation.
    Reply
  • Dobs - Monday, September 22, 2008 - link

    Here is a link to a comprehensive list of all graphics cards.

    Reply
  • Dobs - Monday, September 22, 2008 - link

    damn... link didn't work

    Copy and paste :)

    http://archive.atomicmpc.com.au/forums.asp?s=2&...">http://archive.atomicmpc.com.au/forums.asp?s=2&...
    Reply
  • Clauzii - Monday, September 22, 2008 - link

    Nice lists, thanks :) Reply
  • Christoph Katzer - Monday, September 22, 2008 - link

    As stated I didn't have all of the new stuff here and this article anyway focuses primarily on power supplies and how to choose them and not the power consumption of the components... but it might come soon, who knows. Reply
  • LTG - Monday, September 22, 2008 - link

    >>our labs don't have the latest GPUs available for testing

    Isn't this kind of a bad thing for a site with so many enthusiast readers?

    First two caveats:

    1) There are a lot of article bashers out there who nit-pick, give rude feedback, or are just plain wrong, I don't support these guys or want to be one.

    2) The article written was very good and helpful, thank you.

    However it doesn't matter that the article "primarily focused on how to choose power supplies".

    - Leaving out a GTX 280 was a big omission. Even better to have an stock OC'd product.

    - Leaving out very basic overclock numbers was a big omission. For example it's very common for readers to have an Intel QC clocked at 3.6Ghz since it's so doable.

    Having the last two data points would be very helpful for those building top systems, and would even be interesting for those who are not.



    Reply
  • 7Enigma - Monday, September 22, 2008 - link

    As mentioned, the article is about the myth that we all need 1k PSU's for the "best experience". Bottom line this article shows that the vast majority of people do not need more than a 500-600w psu. How is leaving out any stock product an omission? Just look at the TDP of the product and go from there. All stock products will fall within a narrow range.

    Once you get to OC'ing I also think this is a difficult thing to do. Individual chips, even from the same batch can have very different properties and require different voltages to reach the same speeds. I'm sure if the author had put that his Intel quad drew 120w at 3.6GHz, someone would have complained that their's took 135w, and someone else only 110w...Once you go above stock, it is not cut and dry and as the article states you should have a 20-30% extra buffer if you wish to OC.

    I feel the scope of the article just doesn't require these extra requests. Sure it would be nice to see just how crazy of a system you can make (if I remember correctly they did that a while ago to actually use the >1000w supplies), but this article was to show what a normal base, mid-grade, and high-end setup would require.

    I've complained in the past about articles, but this one I don't see any serious faults.
    Reply

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