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Eight power supply units encounter The Beast

700-1000W enthusiast power supplies compared
— 11:30 PM on February 6, 2008

There was a time when the power supply was the most neglected component inside the PC. The PSU was an afterthought for most, usually a generic unit that came bundled with a case. And there it would sit, often not-so-quietly, entrusted with the important task of supplying power to other components that were usually chosen with far more consideration and deliberation. Over time, the odds that a generic PSU's voltage lines would start sagging were pretty good. If you were lucky, this would only cause system instability. However, in more serious cases, other system components could be damaged.

Thankfully, the enthusiast community has taken power supply units more seriously as it has matured. We know there's much more to the equation than simply a wattage rating; we're looking for consistent DC voltages, minimal AC ripple content, high efficiency, low noise levels, and effective cooling—and those are just the basics.

Manufacturers have picked up on enthusiast, er, enthusiasm for quality power supply units, promising to deliver cleaner and quieter power more efficiently as wattage ratings scale skyward. Some have even developed unique features, including monitoring and control software, adjustable voltage lines, integrated USB hubs, and modular cabling solutions in attempts to differentiate their products in an increasingly crowded market.

To help make sense of the wide selection of power supply units available, we've rounded up eight contenders between 700 and 1000 watts from Antec, Corsair, Gigabyte, Hiper, PC Power & Cooling, Super Talent, Tagan, and Ultra. Keep reading to see how they compare in the real world and when pushed to their limits by our beastly test rig.

Lining up the competition
There are many metrics to consider when selecting a power supply. To get things started, we've summarized a few of the basics in a handy chart comparing the competitors we'll be looking at today.

Wattage Cooling Modular? 80 Plus? Warranty Price
Antec TruePower Quattro 1000W 1000W 80mm rear Yes Yes 5 years
Corsair TX 750W 750W 140mm bottom No Yes 5 years
Gigabyte Odin GT 800W 800W 140mm bottom Yes Yes 3 years
Hiper Type R Mk II 880W 880W 140mm bottom No No 3 years $198.99
PC Power & Cooling Turbo-Cool 860W 860W 80mm rear No No 7 years $270
Super Talent Atomic Juice 700W 700W 120mm bottom No No 5 years $125
Tagan BZ 800W 800W 140mm bottom Yes Yes 3 years $219.99
Ultra X2 750W 750W 120mm bottom Yes No Lifetime

As you can see, we have units between 700 and 1000 watts. This is certainly pushing the upper range of what's necessary for most PCs, but it's easy to build a high-end system that demands this much juice. Even as processors display admirable restraint in their power consumption, each new crop of graphics chips seems to be more power-hungry than the last. With both AMD and Nvidia expanding their respective CrossFire and SLI multi-GPU schemes with additional cards, there's certainly a place in the market for high-wattage PSUs.

Of the units we've assembled today, Antec's TruePower Quattro has the highest output rating, nailing the kilowatt mark. Behind it, we have four units spanning 800-880W and three bridging the gap between 700 and 750W. Our test suite is designed to be largely independent of wattage, so PSUs with lower output ratings won't be unfairly penalized when compared with beefier competitors.

You'll notice that there are no generic units listed in the chart above. As we discovered in our last PSU comparo, it's difficult to find generic PSUs above 500W. We couldn't find anything appropriate in the 700-1000W range to which we've narrowed our focus for this round-up.

A power supply's output wattage is important, but that output capacity is ultimately tempered by how efficiently a PSU converts AC power from the wall outlet to DC power for use by system components. Efficiency isn't just for tree-hugging ecomentalists, either. Inefficient PSUs expel wasted energy in the form of heat, which requires more cooling that in turn leads to higher noise levels.

To help single out more efficient PSUs, the industry has come up with an "80 Plus" certification recognizing models that are—you guessed it—at least 80% efficient. Interestingly, only four of the PSUs we have on the bench today carry the 80 Plus badge. Of those that don't, two claim efficiencies higher than 80%. Hiper says its Type R is over 85% efficient, and PC Power & Cooling indicates that the Turbo-Cool is 84% efficient. Super Talent's Atomic Juice PSU pulls up just shy of 80 Plus with a claimed efficiency of 79%, while Ultra's X2 looks to be the gas guzzler of the lot with an efficiency rating of just 72%. There's no need to rely on manufacturer claims, though. We'll be probing efficiency in a number of different tests to get a better idea of how these ratings pan out in the real world.

Unfortunately, it's not so easy to test the reliability of a power supply, so we're left evaluating each manufacturer's warranty coverage. Three years is the norm for enthusiast-class PSUs, but judging from the models we have lined up today, five-year warranties are just as popular. Notable exceptions include PC Power & Cooling's seven-year warranty for the Turbo-Cool and the lifetime pact that covers Ultra's X2. You have to register online to activate the X2's lifetime warranty, otherwise coverage stalls at three years.

Elsewhere, our PSUs differentiate themselves in terms of cabling and cooling. Cabling gets a little complicated, so we'll dive into that subject in more detail in a moment. Cooling is relatively simple, with PSUs differing in terms of fan placement and size. Larger fans are generally capable of moving more air at slower speeds, generating less noise in the process. This isn't always the case, however, so we have a full suite of temperature and noise level tests to measure the actual impact of each PSU's cooling scheme.

Getting a grip on cabling
Exactly half of the power supply units on the bench today are modular, allowing cables to be added or removed as required by a given system configuration. Each PSU also offers a unique mix of connectors that we've outlined below.

Main power Aux 12V PCIe 4-pin peripheral SATA 4-pin floppy
Antec TruePower Quattro 1000W 20/24-pin 4-pin, 8-pin 2 x 6/8-pin,
2 x 6-pin
9 8 2
Corsair TX 750W 20/24-pin 4/8-pin 4 x 6/8-pin 8 8 2
Gigabyte Odin GT 800W 24-pin 4-pin, 8-pin 4 x 6/8-pin 5 6 1
Hiper Type R Mk II 880W 24-pin 4-pin, 8-pin 2 x 6/8-pin,
2 x 6-pin
7 4 2
PC Power & Cooling Turbo-Cool 860W 24-pin 4-pin, 8-pin 2 x 6/8-pin,
2 x 6-pin
8 6 1
Super Talent Atomic Juice 700W 20/24-pin 4/8-pin 6-pin, 6/8-pin 6 6 2
Tagan BZ 800W 20/24-pin 4-pin, 8-pin 2 x 6/8-pin,
2 x 6-pin
7 8 2
Ultra X2 750W 20/24-pin 4-pin, 8-pin 2 x 6-pin 6 3 2

The connector counts above reflect the total number of plugs available with each PSU. However, with most modular units, the total number of SATA, four-pin peripheral, and floppy connectors offered is actually greater than the maximum number that can be used at a given time. The Tagan and Ultra units are notable exceptions, with both including only as many cables as can be used at once. This approach simplifies gauging connector capacity, but it also misses some of the point behind a modular PSU. For many, the benefit of a modular design is the ability to remove unneeded cables to reduce clutter inside an enclosure. However, when enough cables are provided, modular designs can also give users flexibility in how they bias their PSU's connector payload. The ability to juggle connector counts should become increasingly handy as devices that use standard four-pin power connectors become scarce.

Modular considerations aside, note that three of these units have 24-pin primary power connectors that may not be compatible with motherboards that employ 20-pin plugs. To guarantee compatibility with 20-pin motherboards, you'll want a PSU with a hybrid 20/24-pin primary power connector.

A hybrid 8/6-pin PCIe connector next to a standard 6-pin plug

Hybrid connectors can also be found on the auxiliary 12V line. Here, each of the PSUs we've rounded up offers four-pin and eight-pin options. Some do so with a single hybrid connector, while others opt for individual lines for each connector type.

PCI Express connectors give us more hybrid options, as well. Of the eight models in question, only the Corsair TX and Gigabyte Odin serve up four eight-pin PCIe connectors. Most of the rest of the pack makes do with a pair of 8-pin PCIe connectors alongside a couple of 6-pin plugs. Ultra and Super Talent are exceptions, with each providing only two PCIe power connectors. The Ultra is in worse shape, stuck with a pair of 6-pin plugs. Atomic Juice fares better with at least one PCIe connector capable of supplying eight-pin power.