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Sub-$75 Mainstream Power Supply Roundup

Sub-$75 Mainstream Power Supply Roundup
By , Patrick Afschar

In our last PSU article, we reviewed a bunch of relatively expensive high-performance devices suitable for powerful gaming computers and workstations. The average user typically prefers something a little bit more affordable, though, which is why today we're reviewing a handful of PSUs that can be found for around $75.

The potential reasons for buying a new PSU are many. Perhaps you've added a new graphics card, upgraded to a high-performance CPU, or are just replacing a faulty unit. A normal system usually doesn't require a high-end PSU. In most cases, the consumer is simply on the lookout for a cheap (and at the same time reliable) power supply at a reasonable price, so that's precisely what we decided to look at here.

The request we sent to manufacturers was simple: send us PSUs with a maximum street price of $75, regardless of wattage, features, or 80 PLUS certifications. What do you get in this price range?

Unexpected Early Goodbye

Our first test was originally made up of nine PSUs ranging from 400 to 500 W. We say "originally," because the AXP 500P12P died just as testing was getting started. With a load of 380 W, the 500 W PSU gave out a loud bang, sent sparks flying, and finally vanished in a smoky death. Since we were not expecting something like that at such an early phase in the testing, we'll give AXP the chance in a later article to prove that this was an isolated incident.

Then There Were Eight

Eight test candidates ultimately made it through the tests performed in our laboratory. Antec, Chieftec, Corsair, Enermax, FSP, Huntkey, Xigmatek, and a new AXP 500P12P were all included at capacity points between 380 to 500 W. That's enough power for most office and home entertainment computers. Despite a low street price of roughly $75, six of the PSUs even managed to achieve coveted 80 PLUS certifications. Antec, Chieftec, Corsair, Enermax, Xigmatek, and Huntkey all step things up with a Bronze-level cert. In order to earn that badge, PSUs must reach the following efficiency goals at 115 V: 82% at 20% of maximum power, 85% at 50% of maximum power, and 82% at 100% of the maximum power.

The AXP PSU can only do that under 230 V and thus cannot get certification. Similarly, the FSP PSU is only intended for 230 V applications and thus cannot receive the certification either. The pair of PSUs is completely useless here in the US. Nevertheless, our measurements will show whether they can still impress the European crowd.

Noticeable Differences In Quality

While we wanted to stay impartial before the testing, we couldn't help but notice the differences in quality during the unboxing process. Manufacturers tried to keep costs under control by skimping on the number of connectors, as well including shorter, lower-quality cables. None of these models feature a modular cabling design. Even the packaging is rather stripped-down. Further, the low weight of some PSUs at least suggests the use of cheaper components. This may not reflect immediately in testing. However, the power supplies might not last for as many years or support the same load strain as PSUs with higher caliber components.

Unfortunately, we did not get to see whether the PSU from AXP could hold its own against the other supplies, despite its lack of 80 PLUS approval. As with our first sample from the company, the second never even made it past the warm-up phase of testing. At a load of around 420 W (mind you, this is a 500 W PSU), several of the voltages rapidly dropped, the PSU produced some banging noises, sparks flew, and eventually the unit went up in smoke. After that, it wouldn't operate anymore and smelled like, well, fire. This video documents the failure of the PSU quite impressively. Check it out if you dig things going "pop."

AXP Netzteil

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Top Comments
  • 13 Hide
    RazberyBandit , October 6, 2010 11:17 AM
    cloudwanPatrick u sure the antec blows the hot air into the case?
    Looking at the picture and the fan alignment it seems otherwise.
    Agreed. The pics at Newegg show that the bends in the fan blades are aligned to evacuate air from the PSU, not blow into it.

    While your tests show that these PSU's perform up to or even above their power output specs, that's not the whole story. You say you have an oscilloscope, but where are it's readings across all those load tests? What about voltage fluctuation measurements across them as well?

    I just think you're capable of providing more thorough tests and results.

    Quote:
    Further, the low weight of some PSUs at least suggests the use of cheaper components.
    I'm curious why you choose not to open them up and examine the parts used to build them. Doing so would allow you to actually see if they're constructed from quality parts, rather than make a guess based on the unit's weight. Wouldn't it be beneficial to know what's actually inside the unit? To see where each unit went the extra mile or cut corners? Is it really a matter of voiding the warranty that prevents you from doing so?
Other Comments
  • 7 Hide
    jupiter optimus maximus , October 6, 2010 6:35 AM
    That was scary seeing the AXP PSU blow up...
  • 5 Hide
    eddieroolz , October 6, 2010 6:39 AM
    I still remember buying my Corsair VX550W for $91CAD just a year and half ago. Amazing how prices have come down for cheap, capable and yet quality PSUs over time.

    Oh, and it was interesting to see a real PSU blow up :D 
  • 8 Hide
    Anonymous , October 6, 2010 7:44 AM
    Patrick u sure the antec blows the hot air into the case?
    Looking at the picture and the fan alignment it seems otherwise.
  • 0 Hide
    jestersage , October 6, 2010 8:42 AM
    I wish the Xigmatek was available here. All we have are expensive 750w and 850w versions.
  • 0 Hide
    jabbrun , October 6, 2010 8:43 AM
    How come there's no Silverstone strider 400W...
  • 0 Hide
    bmadd , October 6, 2010 8:49 AM
    Im glad to see that the Antec 380D won. I have bought 5 for family and friends have been solid units to date.
  • 0 Hide
    youssef 2010 , October 6, 2010 9:18 AM
    I don't think the Xigmatek PSU can keep the 650W load reliable or else Xigmatek would've rated it to be 650W
  • 1 Hide
    dragon5677 , October 6, 2010 9:24 AM
    Antec is awesome as always
  • 7 Hide
    feeddagoat , October 6, 2010 9:45 AM
    Is there no way to measure how stable the power on each rail is? Some PSU's Ive seen are very efficient but their rails drops below recommended power delivery meaning components are starved. Some even fluxuate which can damage components over time. The only other thing I feel is missing is capacitor aging. Is there any way to simulate 2-3 years use? Most PSU's I use in my main machine get handed down to another rig or sold. 2nd hand PSU's could be false economy!

    great video, Ive always wanted to see a PSU explode lol.
  • 0 Hide
    dEAne , October 6, 2010 10:41 AM
    All these keeps me updated.
  • 13 Hide
    RazberyBandit , October 6, 2010 11:17 AM
    cloudwanPatrick u sure the antec blows the hot air into the case?
    Looking at the picture and the fan alignment it seems otherwise.
    Agreed. The pics at Newegg show that the bends in the fan blades are aligned to evacuate air from the PSU, not blow into it.

    While your tests show that these PSU's perform up to or even above their power output specs, that's not the whole story. You say you have an oscilloscope, but where are it's readings across all those load tests? What about voltage fluctuation measurements across them as well?

    I just think you're capable of providing more thorough tests and results.

    Quote:
    Further, the low weight of some PSUs at least suggests the use of cheaper components.
    I'm curious why you choose not to open them up and examine the parts used to build them. Doing so would allow you to actually see if they're constructed from quality parts, rather than make a guess based on the unit's weight. Wouldn't it be beneficial to know what's actually inside the unit? To see where each unit went the extra mile or cut corners? Is it really a matter of voiding the warranty that prevents you from doing so?
  • 2 Hide
    Onus , October 6, 2010 11:36 AM
    I've bought a number of EA-380 PSUs, both the older one and the "D" model; I'm pretty sure that fan is an exhaust.
    The initial request makes me think these were cherry-picked, rather than selected from a Retail source. That bodes particularly poorly for AXP; looks like they should not be legal for sale.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , October 6, 2010 12:45 PM
    when it comes to temperature intake and outake, "less is better" is total BS. Temperature is a unit of density not a unit of energy. less is not necessarly better.
  • 1 Hide
    jomofro39 , October 6, 2010 1:00 PM
    Oh man, I must have gotten a helluva deal when I got my Corsair 650TX for 70 bucks then. Nice review.
  • 1 Hide
    altoidman85 , October 6, 2010 1:18 PM
    My company supplied our custom built computers to a local hospital for several years. We had a span while we used Antec cases where every one of their 350W power supplies that came bundled with the case failed just like the one in the video. Sparks, bright flashes and smoke. Ultimately it lost us the contract with the hospital for the computers. Personally I will never buy or recommend an Antec power supply or product to anyone. Even after dealing directly with the company and proving a design flaw with the power supply the refused to do anything to fix the issues for us. Because of that roughly 100 power supplies were replaced at my companies expense. Now I use thermaltake 430W power supplies and while they are not the most efficient I have never had a single failure with these. It would have been nice to see how they stack up against the power supplies used in this article tho.
  • 3 Hide
    Arguggi , October 6, 2010 1:25 PM
    Why no noise comparison? Some PSU I've tried sounded like a jet fighter under load, i guess it isn't these PSU case, but anyway an idea of the SPL they produce would have been nice.
  • 1 Hide
    cknobman , October 6, 2010 1:36 PM
    The antec earthwatts is an unbelievable power supply at an unreached price point. I picked mine up on the egg for only $29.99 after rebate!!!!
  • 0 Hide
    tipoo , October 6, 2010 1:37 PM
    Still too big, IMHO. A mainstream user generally would not use more than 250 watts, these are more for low-mid end gamers or high performance users.
  • 0 Hide
    tipoo , October 6, 2010 1:41 PM
    tipooStill too big, IMHO. A mainstream user generally would not use more than 250 watts, these are more for low-mid end gamers or high performance users.


    If you doubt this, try using a kill-a-watt meter or equivalent. Most mainstream PC's idle lower than 100, and max lower than 250.
  • 2 Hide
    tom thumb , October 6, 2010 1:45 PM
    If you're in the sub-500W range and you want something silent, just grab a passive PSU.
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