Is 80 PLUS Broken? How To Make It A More Trustworthy Certification

80 PLUS: Where It Falls Short

80 PLUS has been around for over a decade now. Thanks to its voluntary (nobody forces manufacturers to certify their PSUs) efficiency certification program, a great number of us now realize how important it is to acquire an efficient power supply. Besides lower electricity bills, an efficient PSU also does less harm to the environment, since a lower amount of energy goes wasted. Although 80 PLUS is hands-down the most popular efficiency certification program right now, we're going to explain why it's far from perfect.

The most significant of its problems come from a weak overall structure that doesn’t allow for drastic changes, which would get the program up to speed with today’s demands. This is the outcome of a poor methodology on which the 80 PLUS program is based. Back in 2004, when 80 PLUS kicked off, the way it tested might have been sufficient. But that's simply not the case in 2017. To be fair, it's difficult to design something able to last so many years. Just think about the way we benchmark graphics cards. The games, power, and acoustic measurements have all evolved.

The major downsides of the 80 PLUS program can be broken down to the following:

  1. Small number of measurements in order to classify a PSU into one of its categories.
  2. The methodology allows for manufacturers to submit golden samples.
  3. Very low ambient temperature at which the measurements are conducted.
  4. It doesn’t measure the standby power consumption (vampire power), which is essential to the European market, where all PSUs should comply with the ErP Lot 6 and ErP Lot 3 directives.
  5. It doesn’t take into account the 5VSB rail’s efficiency.
  6. There is no clear mention of testing equipment.
  7. 80 PLUS doesn’t effectively deal with fake efficiency badges.

In this article, we're digging into these flaws and presenting our own solutions, which you see implemented in each of our PSU reviews to give you more applicable results than 80 PLUS. We are constantly improving our methodology to bring it up to speed with the latest demands and requirements. Besides efficiency, which is obviously important, we also have to evaluate other important factors like ripple, load regulation, transient response, hold-up time, noise, and reliability under tough conditions. This makes designing a proper methodology tough indeed. But we've had years to improve our methods and learn from our mistakes. This is how we came up with a testing procedure that yields the most accurate efficiency and noise readings available.

MORE: Best Power Supplies

MORE: Power Supplies 101

Contributing Editor

Aris Mpitziopoulos is a Contributing Editor at Tom's Hardware US, covering PSUs.

  • loki1944
    I could not possibly care less how efficient a PSU is; what I care about is how reliable it is.
  • Sakkura
    I think you're being unreasonable when it comes to how many load levels to test. A review site like Tom's only looks at a handful of PSUs every year. Ecova runs the 80 Plus test on the majority of PSUs on the market. That necessitates simplified testing.

    It could still be updated/improved, but it's never going to be as in-depth as the very few reviews a site like Tom's does.
  • waltsmith
    I can't agree. Until 80 PLUS became common blue screen errors due to dirty ass power being delivered to components was the norm. Even so called premium name brand PSUs suffered from this problem. Diagnosing a malfunctioning computer often involved trying up to 3 or 4 PSUs to see if it fixed the problem before even looking for anything else wrong. People that have been into computer hardware for a long time will know exactly what I'm talking about. We've come a long way, but progress is what it's all about. I applaud this article!
  • Chettone
    At least is something. Those that dont even have 80 PLUS can fry your PC.
    Personally I go for trusted manufacturers (based on user and tech reviews). Seasonic for example gives like 5 year warranty, that says a lot about quality.
  • laststop311
    EVGA makes a really good PSU the G1. for 80-90 dollars you get a 650 watt G1 with a 10 year warranty. Nice to see a company tly standing behind a product. And it's 80+ gold more than good enough
  • chumly
    @aris Why don't you send emails out to johnnyguru, guru3d, techpowerup, realhardtechx, etc, and create a standard you guys can all agree on? It's just a matter of doing it. All you guys are doing independent testing anyways. I don't think it will hurt your time budget to add a few emails and trying to get some people on board. Hell, you might make some money in the long run. Standardized testing methodology for computer hardware. Set minimums for what should be necessary for proper operation, and what is considered a failure. Then start to force the hardware companies to conform. You have a huge, reputable website behind you, you can accomplish whatever you want to. I'm interested in this as well, as probably are a lot of people.
  • PRabahy
    What would it take for you guys to start a "Toms hardware certified" division? I would pay extra for a powersupply that had that logo and I knew had passed the list of tests that you mentioned in this article.
  • I
    It's almost as though you are inventing things we don't need or care about. Ideals about that next step, and next step, and so on, come at ever increasing burdens to manufacturers, shoppers, and build costs.

    Like LOKI1944, I care more about reliability. To some extent the two go hand in hand, in that a more efficient design produces less heat which has a direct relation to how quickly the two (arguably) shorted lived components, capacitors and fans last, and yet when a design has greater complexity to arrive at higher efficiency, there's more to go wrong, and reverse engineering for repair becomes much more of a hassle.

    Yes I repair PSU that are worth the bother, though that's starting to split hairs since most worth the bother don't fail in the first place unless they saw a power surge that fried the switching transistors.

    The other problem with complexity is in cutting corners to arrive at attractive price points. "Most" PCs don't need much more than median quality 300W PSU, but those are not very common these days at retail opposed to OEM systems, so you end up paying more to get quality, and end up with a higher wattage than you need for all but your gaming system. Increase complexity and we're paying that much more still.

    Anyway, PSU efficiency doesn't matter as much to me as it did in the past, like around the Athlon XP era where many motherboards had HALT disabled, and your PC was a space heater even sitting around idle. Ironically the build I'm typing on right now, uses more power for the big 4K monitor than the PC itself uses.

    Maybe we need an efficiency rating system for monitor PSU!
  • Aris_Mp
    A proper series of tests besides efficiency can also evaluate (in a degree at least) a PSU's reliability. For example any of the firecracker PSUs that is on the market today won't survive under full load, at an increased operating temperature.

    Moreover, efficiency testing doesn't mean that you cannot observe other parameters as well in a PSU's operation, like ripple for example.
  • Aris_Mp
    @CHUMLY I know very well the guy at TPU so this isn't a problem :) The actual problem is that every reviewer has its own methodology and equipment so it cannot be a standard for all of us.

    In order to make a standard which can be followed by all reviewers you have to make sure that each of them uses exactly the same equipment and methodology. And not all reviewers can afford Chroma setups and super-expensive power meters, since most of them do this for hobby and actually don't have any serious profit.

    It would be boring also if the same methodology applied to all PSU (and not only) reviewers. It is nice to have variations according to my opinion, since this way a reviewer can covers areas that the other doesn't.