Check a Power Supply Unit’s Efficiency

Here’s a tip for people looking to build a new computer or upgrade their existing one.

Most things inside the computer will require power measured in “watts”. To put it simply, this measures the rate at which electricity moves through a circuit. One watt (1W) is equal to one joule of energy consumed in one second. As the number of joules consumed per second increases so does the measured wattage.

So what are the notable mentions that consume energy inside a computer?

  • Video cards (anywhere up to 400W each for high end cards),
  • CPUs (modern CPUs such as the i7 top out around 130W),
  • Hard drives (up to 30W on start up and 10 – 20W when in operation),
  • Optical drives (up to 10W).
Most components will list their maximum power draw in watts which will help you determine the size of your required power supply (if you are buying a new one) or if your current power supply will cope with new components. Just add up all of the wattages to work out the power consumption under full load.
Now, you could be forgiven for thinking that getting a power supply unit that comes in just above the maximum power draw will do the trick but you should bear in mind that PSUs are not 100% efficient. In particular, cheap or generic units may only be around 60% efficient. This means that a 600W PSU with 60% efficiency could only deliver 360W (600W * 0.6 = 360W). More expensive or brand name units can be 80% or 90% efficient. These days, the efficiency is marked on the box and the PSU so you shouldn’t have too many issues working out how much headroom you have to adequately power the computer.
Certainly, it’s not advisable to cut it fine as you may end up some weird side effects such as video glitches, crashes or data corruption if there isn’t enough power to go around. You could also check to see if you can upgrade existing components with more power efficient ones that offer the same or increased performance.
So don’t skimp on a PSU as it forms the basis of a reliable computing experience.

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