I’ve been toying around with updating my computer lately, and one of the topics I wanted to look at was the choice of power supply. For the most part, we’ve long since moved beyond the days where power supplies that cost under $60 are garbage. There are plenty of decent power supplies available, particularly if you don’t mind taking a step down from the latest and greatest in terms of efficiency. Anyway, I was helping a friend put together a new PC the other day and it got me curious.

First, let’s start with the system build he put together, with some input from me. Note that many of the parts were selected based on price and availability on Amazon.com, as that’s where he wanted to purchase the parts (with his Amazon Prime account). In some cases, prices have changed since the purchase a week ago, so shop around as needed. Also note that he used a GTX 780, but I’ve also run some power use tests with just the iGPU as well as with a low-end Radeon HD 7750.

Custom-Built Intel Haswell PC
Component Description Price
Processor Intel Core i5-4670K
(Quad-core 3.4-3.8GHz, 6MB L3, 22nm, 84W)
$220
Motherboard ASRock Z87M PRO4 (mATX) $135
Memory Corsair Vengeance 2x8GB DDR3-1866
(9-10-9-27, CMY16GX3M2A1866C9)
$190
NVIDIA Graphics EVGA GeForce GTX 780 3GB
(2304 CUDA Cores at 967-1020MHz, 6GHz GDDR5)
$520
AMD Graphics Sapphire Radeon HD 7750 1GB (Alternative GPU)
(512 Cores at 800MHz, 4.5GHz GDDR5)
$85
Integrated Graphics Intel HD Graphics 4600
(20 EUs at 350-1200MHz)
N/A
SSD Corsair Neutron 256GB $187
HDD Western Digital 2TB Mainstream (WDBH2D0020HNC) $80
Optical Drive ASUS 24X DVDRW SATA (DRW-24B1ST) $22
Case Silverstone PS07B (mATX) $79
Power Supply Antec EA-450 Platinum (450W) $70
Power Supply Cooler Master GX-450 (450W Bronze) (Alternative) $49
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (OEM) $89
Total Price (not including tax or shipping, with GTX 780 and Platinum PSU) $1592

Now I’m not equipped to tell you about the quality of voltage regulation, ripple, or anything like that, but I happened to have a 450W 80 Plus Bronze PSU that I could use as a comparison point, so I asked if I could take some quick measurements once the system was put together. He agreed, and I ran through a few typical scenarios, summarized in the table below. (Note that I had to use a Molex to 8-pin PEG power adapter in order to run the GTX 780 on the old Thermaltake PSU; everything worked, but that wouldn’t be a solution I’d be comfortable with long-term.)

Bronze vs. Platinum System Power Draw (Kill-A-Watt)
Test Load Thermaltake
Litepower 450W
Antec EA-450
EarthWatts Platinum
24/7 Yearly Savings
iGPU – Idle 34 27 61.4 kWh (~$7.68)
iGPU – Cinebench Single-Core 63 55 70.1 kWh (~$8.76)
iGPU – Cinebench Multi-Core 96 86 87.7 kWh (~$10.96)
iGPU – Cinebench OpenGL 103 92 96.4 kWh (~$12.05)
AMD 7750 – Idle 45 38 61.4 kWh (~$7.68)
AMD 7750 – 3DMark 131 121 87.7 kWh (~$10.96)
NVIDIA 780 – Idle 48 41 61.4 kWh (~$7.68)
NVIDIA 780 – 3DMark 348 325 201.6 kWh (~$25.20)

For power costs, we’re looking at the worst-case scenario of leaving a system on 24/7, which really isn’t realistic unless you’re talking about a server. For a typical PC that’s on eight hours a day, using the US national average price for electricity ($0.125 per kWh), we’re looking at electrical savings of anywhere from $2.56 to $8.40 per year. That may not seem like much, but considering any decent power supply should last five years and you’re looking at $12.80 to $42 in savings. That’s for a $21 difference in upfront costs, which is much smaller than what we’ve seen in the past for the most efficient power supplies – and note that the price difference tends to grow substantially when you’re shopping for 800-1200W PSUs, though that’s perhaps a topic for another day.

For a system that mostly sits idle, you won’t quite break even by going with an 80 Plus Platinum power supply. However, if there’s a graphics card installed and you do a moderate amount of gaming you should eventually come out ahead. More extreme use cases (e.g. 24/7 Folding@Home) start to rapidly recover the initial investment in a quality power supply, and when you consider the reduced heat and noise that comes with having a more efficient PSU, it’s definitely a worthwhile upgrade. Not all 80 Plus Platinum power supplies are created equal, of course, but generally speaking the electronics and engineering required to get that certification also come with a higher level of quality than what you’ll find in lower efficiency PSUs.

As far as the above system build is concerned, I like most of the component selections, but I’m not totally sold on the case. The Silverstone PS07B looks nice enough, but getting all of the wires connected can be a bit difficult at times. The SSD location on the bottom in particular is a bit of a pain, and the power supply location at the top has some silliness to go with it. The PSU location appears designed to work with the PSU upside down (i.e. fan facing upwards and drawing in fresh air), but the manual for the case notes that if you have a PSU with a 120mm or larger fan, they recommend installing it with the fan facing down. I'm not sure that I've ever seen a PSU with a fan smaller than 120mm where you have ventilation through the bottom, but whatever. If you follow the manual’s instructions, that means the ventilation holes in the top of the case along with the magnetic dust filter are completely pointless. I ignored the instructions and installed the power supply in the most sensible manner for the case, but my advice is to look at some of the other good mATX cases.

The Silverstone PS07B isn’t a bad case, but it’s not perfect either, and for the price I think you can do better. (Apologies to my friend for his taste in cases….) For mATX, I’d at least give the BitFenix Prodigy M or Corsair’s Obsidian 350D a look. If you want a larger case, there are tons of options to sort through, depending on what you're after. Other changes you might consider include sticking with 8GB RAM (2x4GB) initially, going with a midrange GPU like a GeForce GTX 770 or Radeon R9 280X, and there are quite a few motherboard options to consider as well. The i5-4670K still strikes a nice balance between price and performance, and with a bit of overclocking you can stretch its legs a bit further.

Anyway, that’s my little two-for-one special for the day: a quick look at the difference in power use you can expect from 80 Plus Bronze vs. Platinum (obviously 80 Plus Silver and Gold will be closer in power use, but they’re also closer in price), along with a list of parts that I’ve recently used in a friend’s PC. If you have any recommendations or complaints with the build, sound off in the comments.

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  • Death666Angel - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    I ahve ~0.22€/kWh or ~0.30USD/kWh here in Germany. Some pay more, others pay a bit less. Reply
  • Mr Perfect - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    Speaking of electricity rate, the quoted electricity supply rate on my bill is 0.10 to 0.11, much like the article. However, if you read further through your bill there are taxes, service charges and administrative fees that are charged per KWH(for me at least). Taking the final bill and dividing it by KWHs used shows it's actually costing me around 0.21.

    The savings Jarred is seeing could easily be doubled if he's not looking at the total cost per KWH.
    Reply
  • dishayu - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    To read this the other way round, people trying to save 30-40$ on a PSU are usually the ones that are on edge of their purchase budgets. For these people, buying a bronze power supply looks 100% wiser choice given that they it will take them about 4-5 years to break even. And even after that the penalty would be a small and steady trickle of ~1$ per month which would go un-noticed.

    Of course i'm not thinking from the saving the environment angle, but from an individual's perspective, bronze is just fine.
    Reply
  • ShieTar - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    Well, you're also thinking from a cheap electricity point of view. German prices are about 3 times as high as the 0.12$ used in this article, but obviously even in the US a large percentage of people will actually pay more than the national average.

    There is also a potential additional impact: If you are cooling your house/apartment/whatever with an AC, for every kWh of warm that your PC dumps into the room, you add another ~25% of electricity need to remove the heat that your PSU has produced. And then again, electricity prices are rising year by year, so for a 5 year use of the PSU you can probably add another factor of 1.05 to 1.1 for average price corrections.
    Reply
  • celltech1 - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    I think the more important thing here is that even a good 350W power supply would run this system. People are too stuck on having 800+ watts and running it in an efficient manner. Reply
  • A5 - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    Yeah. I built a system similar to this one this summer (just with the 4770K and a 770) and the highest number I've seen on my Kill-A-Watt was in the 320 range. That was with Furmark and Linpack running, too. Reply
  • celltech1 - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    I meant to say inefficient manner...grrr These 80+ ratings don't even apply until you have loaded up the power supply sufficiently. Reply
  • creed3020 - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    Thanks for the quick and dirty analysis Jarred. I think your cost savings are great validaiton for purchasing a high quality PSU. My thought it that because of the better quality PSU that component itself is nowadays likely to last through multiple builds. Extrapolate this out to perhaps a 5-6-7 window and the cost savings in power will pay for the difference no problem.

    Coming from a SeaSonic SS-560KM 80Plus Gold user.
    Reply
  • marc1000 - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    I am amazed that a decent i5 + gtx 780 only eats 350W at the wall. the components must be consuming even less, around 280/290W. for single-GPU systems with anything but Titan/R9-290's, it seems any good 400w would be enough.

    This makes me more comfortable with my current system: i5-2500 + gtx660 (non-ti). I'm using a mid-range 350w PSU (no bronze, but good) that I planned to update (due to age), but now I will stick to it for a longer time. as long as I don't start to get any BSODs, I won't touch it.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    3d mark probably isn't maxing everything out completely. The CPU's TDP is 84W and the card 250W; everything redlined at once is probably 50-100W more than what was measured here. Reply

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