Best PC Power Supplies: Holiday 2017by E. Fylladitakis on November 17, 2017 10:00 AM EST
Now that you've picked out your CPU, it's time to start picking out the rest of your system components. And perhaps the most humble but overlooked of these components is the power supply unit (PSU). Available in a wide range of sizes and power capacities, there are a number of great PSUs out there, but choosing between them can be a challenge. So today we're bringing you our annual PC power supply guide, to help you sort figure out what the best options are, be it a low-wattage unit for a small form factor PC, or a hulking kilowatt unit for the most powerful PC.
|AnandTech PC Power Supply Recommendations: 2017
(Prices are Nov-17 or MSRP)
|Output Range||Performance Option||Value Option|
|Under 400 Watts||Seasonic SS-400FL2||$100||Seasonic SSP-300ST||$35|
|400-600 Watts||Seasonic SS-520FL2||$120||Corsair CX550||$30*|
|600-800 Watts||Corsair HX750||$116||Riotoro Onyx 750W||$80|
|800-1000 Watts||Seasonic PRIME Titanium 1000W||$260||BitFenix Whisper M 850W||$94|
|Over 1000 Watts||Corsair AX1500i||$414||Cougar GX1050V3||$138|
We've split our recommendations into five main wattage categories with at least two units for each. One selection will be based on the maximum possible value (e.g. bang for the buck) and one will focus on the best overall performance. The following paragraphs expand on the proper selection of a PSU and details on why these units are our recommendations.
How Much Power Do I Really Need?
When shopping for a PSU, it is very important to be aware of your system’s power consumption and to consider of any forthcoming planned upgrades. All current computer PSUs are designed to deliver optimal performance at (or almost at) half load. It is a common misconception that a more powerful PSU will be a better choice, as the power quality and efficiency of all modern PSUs dwindles at very low loads. This is especially true at the low-end of the loading curve – usually below 15% of the unit's rated capacity – where efficiency outright plummets.
As a result, using too powerful of a PSU will result poor power efficiency, which could very well be significantly worse than what a product at a fraction of the price would deliver. It is wise to remember that the advertised performance of a PSU is within the nominal load range (20% to 100% of its rated capacity) and the manufacturer is not obliged to include information on how much the performance degrades at sub-20% load conditions. Only the 80Plus Titanium guidelines dictate an efficiency requirement of 90% at 10% load. Therefore, the selection of a severely oversized PSU is both economically and practically senseless.
Overall, the best way to select a PSU is based on both objective (e.g. wattage, performance) and subjective (e.g. design, modular cables) parameters. This admittedly does require every builder to be capable of making at least an educated guess about the power requirements of the system. However this is where our guide and advice come in.
Perhaps the biggest mistake that many users make in selecting PSUs is overrating the power requirements of their systems. It is not uncommon for people – even store salespersons and experienced builders – to recommend a 1kW unit to a user with just two (or even one) high performance GPUs. A system with a single CPU and a single GPU rarely requires more than 300 Watts. A modern Intel Coffee Lake-based system with a single AMD RX 570/NVIDIA GTX 1060 card will hardly reach up to 220-230 Watts, while it usually idles at 45-55 Watts.
Meanwhile "wattage calculators", though an improvement from blindly guessing, are usually simple tools that get their numbers from the design power (TDP) specifications of components. The TDP of a component does not represent the actual power requirements of a component - it's at best a broad guideline - and it also is next to impossible to place every single component of a system under maximum stress simultaneously. However, keep in mind that a PSU needs to operate at half load for optimal performance. With that in mind, while the recommendations of the online tools and calculators may be overestimated, they're not overly so. Selecting a unit of the wattage they recommend is not usually a bad idea, as the recommendation usually is twice the actual power requirements of the system. The common mistake is that users usually seek to buy a significantly more powerful unit, thinking that having extra power helps, and end up with a severely oversized PSU for their system that will be both more expensive to purchase and unable to perform as it should.
If you can measure the actual power requirements of your system, keep in mind that you should not buy a unit that will frequently operate near its maximum capacity. Just as you would not run your car constantly near the red line, a PSU should not be under maximum stress for prolonged periods. A high quality PSU can withstand it, but just because it can does not mean it should. Again, all switching PSUs deliver their maximum efficiency at roughly 50% of their rated capacity. Running a PSU at over 90% capacity for prolonged periods of time will not only reduce its performance but it will also make it hotter, louder, and decrease its expected lifespan.
Although it is unlikely that most enthusiasts will even look at products rated at or under 400 Watts, the truth is that these are the ideal products for modern low-energy PC with a mainstream CPU and an average gaming GPU (or no GPU). Sadly, it is not a very popular segment of the market and there is little competition, meaning that there is not a very wide selection of products for the users.
For a low-cost product of reasonable quality that is backed up with a warranty from a reputable manufacturer, our recommendation would be the Seasonic SSP-300ST. Although it looks far too simplistic, with an unpainted chassis and bare color-coded wires, the SSP-300ST is one of the very few <400W units that is based on a relatively modern platform and not a design that is over a decade old. It has an 80Plus Bronze efficiency certification and Seasonic covers it with a 3-year warranty. $37 will not get you anything better than that.
If you found the Seasonic SSP-300ST is a little too simple, a reasonable recommendation would be the PC Power & Cooling Silencer 400W. It is an aged design and performs about as well as the SSP-300ST, but $76 will get you an attractive semi-modular PSU. With only a handful of companies offering high performance PSUs in this segment of the market, modern designs are but a handful and very expensive. Seasonic currently offers the best 400W PSU available, the passively cooled SS-400FL2 Platinum, but its $100 price tag will drive all but the most demanding users away.
Unlike the ostracized <400 Watt range, there is a great demand for 400 to 600 Watt PSUs and, therefore, a vast selection of products available. This is the sensible power range for a typical home entertainment/gaming PC with a single GPU card.
There are many interesting options in this power range but our best value recommendation this year goes to the Corsair CX550. It is based on a relatively old platform and only has an 80Plus Bronze efficiency certification, but is currently on sale for just $30 after rebate. For users who want a reliable PSU that will get the job done, we could not find a better deal than this.
Most top performance units in this power range are at or above the $100 mark. The one that stands out is the fanless Seasonic SS-520FL2 that currently retails for $120. It definitely is an expensive unit but is 80Plus Platinum certified, fully modular, entirely fanless, and covered by a 7-year warranty. If you are going to spend $100 for a high performance PSU, you might as well go the extra mile and spend $120 for a top-quality fanless unit.
PSUs with an output between 600 and 800 Watts are very popular amongst gamers and overclockers. They are powerful enough for dual GPU gaming systems and provide enough overhead for serious overclocking and mods. This power band is also popular among users that will be using just one GPU, as the power overhead frequently creates a feeling of security.
Our recommendation for those seeking to combine performance with value is the new Riotoro Onyx 750W PSU, as it offers a great balance between aesthetics, performance, and quality. It is based on a recent Great Wall platform and is unexpectedly efficient despite its mediocre rating. It currently retails for $80 including shipping, which is a reasonable price for a quality 750W PSU.
There are many contenders in this power range that we could recommend based solely on their electrical performance. If we are to take into account the value of the product however, our recommendation surely is the Corsair HX750. The latest revision has exceptional electrical performance and is of outstanding quality, yet its retail price is a very reasonable $116 including shipping. The HX750i with the Corsair Link interface will cost $40 higher and we do not recommend it unless some specific application makes the constant software monitoring of the PSU a necessity.
This power range should be reserved for users that want to power high-end dual GPU computers. We cannot go very cheap in this power range because we believe that long-term reliability is an absolute must whether we are considering a high-end gaming system or a professional workstation.
The new BitFenix Whisper M 850 Watt PSU is a relatively inexpensive but highly effective choice in this power range. It is a bit aesthetically blunt but $94 will get you a fully modular 80Plus Gold certified PSU that is based on a modern Channel-Well Technologies platform. There are no other units retailing for less than $100 that we could easily recommend.
For those that seek top electrical performance regardless of the cost, Seasonic has you covered. The new PRIME Titanium units have mythical performance but also equally unreal price tags. The SSR-1000TD PRIME Titanium 1000W unit currently retails for $260 but its electrical performance is undoubtedly unmatched by any other product currently in the market.
If you require a PSU with this kind of output, chances are that you have at least two extensively overclocked high-end GPUs and/or a seriously powerful dual-CPU system with a lot of devices. These PSUs also find use in advanced servers and cryptocurrency mining systems. That being said, the PSU is going to be powering a rather expensive system, the function of which is frequently very important.
Considering the above, the selection of a "value" PSU within this power band is a complex procedure, as the PSU has to meet high reliability standards. It is very difficult to find any quality units that cost less the $200 in this power range. Possibly the sole exception is the new Cougar GX1050V3, a modern 80Plus Gold certified unit that retails for $138 + shipping. There is currently no other unit matching its performance and/or its quality anywhere near this price range.
For users that want the absolute best and cost is not an issue, the Corsair AX1500i has been the undisputed performance champion over the past several years. Seasonic and their new PRIME Titanium series are serious competition against Corsair’s flagships, but Seasonic does not have any relevant units with a power output as high as the AX1500i does. There is virtually no other >1200 Watt PSU available today that combines the quality, performance, efficiency, and features of the AX1500i. The only problem is that the AX1500i currently retails for $400, which is enough to buy a complete mainstream system.