80 PLUS Gold Versus Mass-Produced Generics
Computer stores are fond of advertising high-end PCs for power users. Although those systems can't hide behind weak processors or sub-standard graphics cards, unscrupulous builders do manage to save costs by using poorly-built or insufficiently-capable power supplies. Unfortunately, while they might work for a time, we've heard too many horror stories about performance-oriented configurations going up in smoke after a cheap PSU cried havoc and let slip the dogs of war.
In many expensive computers, cheap PSUs are a silent threat not only to general stability, but also long-term component health. The real high-end power supplies that you can appreciate years from now (but might not consider worth the extra premium today) often don't make the cut because of the fact that they cost more. All the devices included in this roundup are suitable for almost any enthusiast PC with a discrete graphics card or two.
We requested power supplies from a number of vendors able to provide a total output between 700 and 900 W, and achieve efficiency able to meet the 80 PLUS Gold standard. With Antec, FSP, Seasonic, and SilverStone in the mix, only brand name devices are represented.
The 80 PLUS standard emerged from the Generalized Internal Power Supply Efficiency Test Protocol, which was created by Ecos & EPRI almost 10 years ago. In 2004, 80 PLUS was specified as an initiative, and Seasonic was the first PSU maker to provide a compliant product by 2005. Only a year later, the Energy Star 4.0 specifications added 80 PLUS requirements. This spec went into effect in 2007 and it only took a few months for the industry to create hundreds of 80 PLUS-compliant products.
However, 80% efficiency clearly wasn’t enough. It quickly became obvious that higher efficiency is possible, and 80 PLUS revised the standard and added Bronze, Silver, and Gold certifications for even higher-efficiency power supplies. By October 2009, a Platinum standard was added for efficiency above 90%. Here is a quick overview on 80 PLUS efficiency level certifications:
|80 PLUS Test Type||115 V Internal Non-Redundant||230 V Internal Redundant|
|Fraction of Rated Load||20%||50%||100%||20%||50%||100%|
|80 PLUS||80%||80%||80%||Not defined|
|80 PLUS Bronze||82%||85%||82%||81%||85%||81%|
|80 PLUS Silver||85%||88%||85%||85%||89%||85%|
|80 PLUS Gold||87%||90%||87%||88%||92%||88%|
|80 PLUS Platinum||90%||92%||89%||90%||94%||91%|
While the step from 80 PLUS to 80 PLUS Platinum is significant and may translate into significant differences in power consumption, the steps between the three mainstream certifications (Bronze, Silver, and Gold) are less spectacular. Typically it makes very little sense to spend a lot of extra money upfront for an 80 PLUS device in an effort to save money on the power bill over time.
Effectively, reasonable devices with 80 PLUS Bronze or Silver certifications should do the trick. However, prices for Gold-certified 80 PLUS PSUs have come down quite a bit, and considering such a device is smart not only for its improved efficiency, but also because you can be even more confident in typically-great build quality. If you’re already on your way to spending big money on enthusiast hardware, it might make sense to spend a few more dollars on a superior power supply.
Without spilling the results right out of the gate, we can say that all of the 80 PLUS Gold PSUs we tested performed their tasks very well. And, aside from a few small lapses, they are highly suitable for use in real high-end PCs.