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Tom's Explains: What Do 80 PLUS Bronze, Silver, Gold & Titanium Signify?

In the world of power supply units (PSUs), the 80 PLUS program is not a new phenomenon. But its relevance--or at least the relevance of power conservation--has increased as the years have gone by.

80 PLUS was initially launched in 2004 by Ecos Consulting. It's a voluntary efficiency-certification program, with an emphasis on the "voluntary"--nobody actually forces manufacturers or brands to certify their PSUs under the 80 PLUS standards. The program got its name from the 80% minimum efficiency that a power supply needs to exhibit for its first level at 20% load, 50% load, and its full rated load, along with a power factor (PF) of at least 0.9 with full load.

The Evolution of 80 PLUS

This program has helped many users realize the importance of recognizing efficiency in power supplies, and it has also helped make active power factor correction (APFC) converters popular. Indeed, these days, most desktop PSUs feature such a converter. In 2007, Energy Star adopted the 80 PLUS program, and despite its shortcomings, it's currently the most popular efficiency-certification program.

As we mentioned, the 80 PLUS program initially required efficiencies higher than only 80% at three different load levels, along with a single PF reading, to qualify for its certification. However, as years passed and the technology in PSUs evolved (allowing for higher efficiency levels), new certification levels inevitably had to be worked into this program. Moreover, at first, non-redundant power supplies were certified exclusively with 115V input, with redundant units being certified with 230V. Later, though, a 230V certification program was introduced for PSUs used in desktop, workstation, and server applications in non-redundant configurations.

This new 230V program has proved to be not as popular as the 115V one. Basically, with 230V input, the overall efficiency difference, compared to 115V input, is around 1% to 1.5%. (Thus, the overall efficiency difference between two PSUs will remain the same if both of them are tested with 115V or with 230V.) In addition, an 80 PLUS certification program exists for 115V in PSUs used in industrial applications, with no restriction on their physical format. This program, so far, has had very few takers.

"Efficiency" Expertise

Before we proceed further into the details on the 80 PLUS levels, we should explain what "efficiency" means. Let's assume that our power supply delivers 300W to the system but actually draws 375W from the wall. This means that its efficiency is 375W/300W, which equals 0.8 or 80%. Those additional 75W produce nothing but heat.

The more efficient a PSU is, the less heat it produces internally, and of course the lower its energy consumption. The amount of heat produced is key, because it affects the performance of the PSU and the lifetime of all of its parts inside. On top of that, the higher the thermal load, the tougher the job for the PSU's cooling system. High-efficiency PSUs, then, have a head start compared to lower-efficiency units when it comes to reliability and performance, all else being equal. They can run quieter, as well.

The Current 80 PLUS Levels

115 Volts Input

80 PLUS Certification 115V Internal Non-Redundant 115V Industrial
% of Rated Load 10% 20% 50% 100% 10% 25% 50% 100%
80 PLUS---80%80%80% / PFC .90---
80 PLUS Bronze---82%85% / PFC .9082%---
80 PLUS Silver---85%88% / PFC .9085%80%85% / PFC .9088%85%
80 PLUS Gold---87%90% / PFC .9087%82%87% / PFC .9090%87%
80 PLUS Platinum---90%92% / PFC .9589%85%90% / PFC .9592%90%
80 PLUS Titanium90%92% / PFC .9594%90%---

As consumers, we mostly care about the "115V Internal Non-Redundant" levels. There are six 80 PLUS levels in total for non-redundant (desktop) PSUs:

  • 80 PLUS
  • 80 PLUS Bronze
  • 80 PLUS Silver
  • 80 PLUS Gold
  • 80 PLUS Platinum
  • 80 PLUS Titanium

Currently, you'll hardly find any PSU on the market with the plain-old 80 PLUS certification, and usually the best efficiency-per-dollar score is delivered by Gold units. The 80 PLUS Silver certification hasn't been very popular, because most manufacturers prefer to flog either the Bronze (budget-minded) or Gold (premium-minded) levels. Finally, the prices of Platinum-certified PSUs fell significantly once Titanium units made their appearance. (Of course, the latter tend to be pricey at a given level of specs.)

Indeed, the introduction of the 80 PLUS Titanium standard brought a fourth measurement into the certification mixture: efficiency at 10% rated load. Also, with Titanium, PF needs to be at least 0.95 at a lower load level (20% of the PSU's max-rated capacity). Note that the lower the load in a PSU, the tougher it is for its APFC converter to keep the power factor high.

In our opinion, the Titanium level is the most significant of the 80 PLUS certifications, because it's the first to take into account the efficiency under such a light load level. To this point, manufacturers easily could tune their PSUs to perform better with 20% load and not weigh efficiency at lighter loads so heavily. However, given the power consumption levels of modern GPUs and CPUs (especially under light loads, thanks to their advanced energy-saving features), it is imperative for a power supply to offer high efficiency at load levels that are only a fraction of its maximum rated capacity.

230 Volts Input

80 PLUS Certification 230V EU Internal Non-Redundant 230V Internal Redundant
% of Rated Load 10% 20% 50% 100% 10% 20% 50% 100%
80 PLUS---82%85% / PFC .9082%---
80 PLUS Bronze---85%88% / PFC .9085%---81%85% / PFC .9081%
80 PLUS Silver---87%90% / PFC .9087%---85%89% / PFC .9085%
80 PLUS Gold---90%92% / PFC .9089%---88%92% / PFC .9088%
80 PLUS Platinum---92%94% / PFC .9090%---90%94% / PFC .9591%
80 PLUS Titanium90%94% / PFC .9596%94%90%94% / PFC .9596%91%

As with the 115V certifications, there are six levels for the 230V input 80 PLUS certifications--for non-redundant PSUs. For redundant PSUs, which are usually used in data-center applications, there are five levels in total. (The base level for those is 80 PLUS Bronze.)

The 80 PLUS Titanium 230V EU requirement at 10% load is the same as for the 80 PLUS Titanium 115V. As expected, the requirements at the next three load levels are higher. At this writing, we know of only one PSU that meets the 80 PLUS Titanium 230V EU requirements--and that model features a custom form factor, so it's not compatible with ATX chassis.

80 PLUS Shortcomings

Nothing is ever perfect, and the 80 PLUS program is no different. It also has its deficiencies, which we would break down accordingly:

  1. 80 PLUS requires only a small number of measurements to classify a PSU into one of its categories.
  2. The methodology allows for manufacturers to submit "golden" samples (that is, hand-picked models that perform ideally).
  3. Measurements are conducted at a very low ambient temperature (23C, ±5C).
  4. The process doesn’t measure standby power consumption ("vampire power"). This measurement is essential in the European market, where all PSUs should comply with the ErP Lot 6 and ErP Lot 3 directives.
  5. The testing doesn’t take into account the 5VSB rail’s efficiency.
  6. The standard makes no clear mention of testing equipment.
  7. 80 PLUS doesn’t deal effectively with the problem of fake efficiency badges.

Should you want to know more about our perceived shortcomings in 80 PLUS, you can take a look at our earlier explainer on 80 PLUS, Is 80 PLUS Broken? How To Make It A More Trustworthy Certification.

Disclaimer: Aris Mpitziopoulos is Tom's Hardware's PSU reviewer. He is also the Chief Testing Engineer of Cybenetics, and developed the Cybenetics certification methodologies apart from his role on Tom's Hardware. Neither Tom's Hardware nor its parent company, Purch Media, is financially involved with Cybenetics. Aris does not perform the actual certifications for Cybenetics.

  • InvalidError
    I don't really see anything wrong with PSU measurements being done at ~23C, that's a typical office temperature. Standby power measurement isn't particularly relevant since that will depend on how many loads actually end up connected to the 5VSB rail and enabled, such as wake-on-lan/keyboard/mouse, charging-capable ports and other accessories. There isn't much point in the PSU being sub-100mW standby on its own when the assembled system may have in excess of 10W in standby loads. As for the 'fake efficiency badges', 80+ is a voluntary program, it doesn't have the authority to impose sanctions on companies, the only thing they can do is sue for trademark violations. Even UL marks which have a much stronger international standing due to being safety-related also get faked by Chinese manufacturers all the time on stuff drop-shipped from China due to low probabilities of getting caught by customs. If UL and equivalent marks which are required by law in many countries can't stop fake marks, a voluntary program like 80+ or any other would-be replacements stand no chance in hell.
    Reply
  • anbello262
    Suing or sanctions aren't the only thing that can be done against fake badges. As said in the other linked article, just having an online list of certified psu models could be enough.
    Reply
  • InvalidError
    20879915 said:
    As said in the other linked article, just having an online list of certified psu models could be enough.
    Who bothers to check that list? Valid UL marks are a far greater deal, when's the last time you ever consulted the UL directory to make sure the UL mark on something you bought was legit? I'm probably the only person I know who does, mostly only when I buy stuff from questionable sources.
    Reply
  • Martell1977
    Many people mistake this badge as a certification of quality. While with the higher levels that can be assumed, there are just too many gold, bronze and white units that are total garbage.
    Reply
  • ddferrari
    Just go with Seasonic and call it a day. PSU's can be recycled for a few builds and their warranties are from 7-12 years. Done.
    Reply
  • MCE2k
    You inverted your efficiency, 375/300 gives 1.25, 125%.
    Reply
  • Olle P
    20879612 said:
    I don't really see anything wrong with PSU measurements being done at ~23C, that's a typical office temperature.
    It's not always the PSU draw room temperature air.
    In some cases the air is heated by the GPU and CPU before entering the PSU, so efficiency at higher temperatures should also be considered..

    20879612 said:
    Standby power measurement isn't particularly relevant since that will depend on how many loads actually end up connected to the 5VSB rail and enabled, ... There isn't much point in the PSU being sub-100mW standby on its own when the assembled system may have in excess of 10W in standby loads.
    As mentioned, the 5VSB rail is also ignored.
    Both standby power and 5VSB are relevant for computers that spend a lot of time in off or hibernation modes.

    20879612 said:
    As for the 'fake efficiency badges', 80+ is a voluntary program, it doesn't have the authority to impose sanctions on companies, the only thing they can do is sue for trademark violations.
    I'd say it's not particularly "voluntary" to carry an 80Plus badge on the product.
    Virtually nobody would nowadays buy a PSU without it!
    Of course there should be sancions against those using false badges. Public presentation being one such "sanction".
    Reply
  • InvalidError
    20879612 said:
    Both standby power and 5VSB are relevant for computers that spend a lot of time in off or hibernation modes.
    Requiring that PSUs have a 100mW standby power draw is pointless when the PSU will be connected to a motherboard under real-world circumstances and the green LED on most motherboards already draws 30-50mW on top of that. Even if you went out of your way to disable all of the "phantom loads" your motherboard's BIOS allows you to, you'll likely have several times more power going to other ancillary functions. I measured the 5VSB current in one of my spare PCs and got 300mA after plugging the PSU in, that's 1.5W in the hardware's default 5VSB-up state.

    If you are genuinely worried about the PSU's power draw in the off/hibernate state, turn the PSU off altogether. Otherwise, phantom loads throughout the PC dictate most of what that power draw will be, not the PSU unless it is exceptionally bad.
    Reply
  • Olle P
    20882401 said:
    ... I measured the 5VSB current in one of my spare PCs and got 300mA after plugging the PSU in, that's 1.5W in the hardware's default 5VSB-up state.
    And if those 1.5 W are delivered at 50% efficiency that's 3.0 W drawn from the wall socket, per USB unit connected!
    Over a year all of that waste energy from thousands of computers worldwide adds up to significant numbers.
    Reply
  • InvalidError
    20890082 said:
    And if those 1.5 W are delivered at 50% efficiency that's 3.0 W drawn from the wall socket, per USB unit connected!
    That 1.5W is for the motherboard alone - it had absolutely nothing else connected to it. If you are worried about $3/year (1W ~= $1/year at $0.10/kWh) in PC standby/off power draw, unplug the PSU or turn off the power strip. There you go, zero power.
    Reply