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

80 PLUS is hands-down the most popular efficiency certification program among PSU manufacturers nowadays. In today's article, we're digging into the organization's flaws, which are critical in some areas, and how we can improve upon them.

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.

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42 comments
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  • 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.
  • powernod
    Excellent article Aris. I agree with you 100% !!

    P.S. The pole at the end of the review, which says: ""was this helpful"", is it reffering at this article right?
  • stairmand
    10 Years ago 80+ Bronze was a big push, now Gold is becoming mainstream. It may have flaws but it has been an extremely successful certification.
  • valeman2012
    1464708 said:
    I could not possibly care less how efficient a PSU is; what I care about is how reliable it is.


    Actrally it does matter...That saved power that save money on your power bill would allow you to buy more computer parts if you missing like few bucks or few cents that power saved PSU help you save money.
  • bak0n
    The only big issue is the fakes that come primarily out of China. This isn't an 80 Plus issue. It's a criminal anything to get money from foriegn nations into China issue.
  • TJ Hooker
    725497 said:
    1464708 said:
    I could not possibly care less how efficient a PSU is; what I care about is how reliable it is.
    Actrally it does matter...That saved power that save money on your power bill would allow you to buy more computer parts if you missing like few bucks or few cents that power saved PSU help you save money.

    I would recommend punching in the numbers based on local electricity costs and your rig/amount of use and seeing how much this actually adds up to.

    For example, if I take a 500W load (which is higher than most single GPU systems would ever draw even under max load), look at the worst case efficiency difference between 80+ and 80+ Titanium (14% better effeciency at 50% load), and say I'm running it 40 hours a week, every week of the year, it works out to a whopping ~$7.50 a year where I live. Admittedly, my local rates are much lower than a lot of people pay (~$0.05//kWh), but on the other hand the values I used for power consumption are definitely on the high side.

    I think a lot of people overestimate the amount of money they're going to save with an efficient PSU.
  • mavikt
    @TJ HOOKER
    Then you multiply that by say, a billion, an calculate how many coal power plants you can shut down... Think big!
  • Woof01
    Actually, there are virtually no savings with average light use because you paid the "savings" up front for the more expensive Gold, Platinum or whatever certification.
  • JonnyDough
    So do you have a recommended efficiency/quality program that we should be steered to?
  • joshyboy82
    52274 said:
    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!


    How did you get that name? Are the other 25 letters taken? Did I even Try, oh, I'll read your post in a second, I never met a person with a one digit user name before. I'm star struck.
  • Aris_Mp
    You can check on thorough PSU reviews, like the ones we do here at Tom's.

    Don't get me wrong, 80 PLUS remains of high importance and in general everyone should stay away from PSUs that haven't been evaluated by an independent lab, however as everything in this life it also has its deficiencies which we discuss in this article.

    Any brand/OEM that is willing to send a product for evaluation to any independent lab voluntarily, shows that is sure about its product and doesn't have anything to hide. Nonetheless, still the evaluation process should be proper in order to expose possible golden samples and provide a full and accurate data report. If the evaluation process is flown or semi-complete then it can easily be fooled and on top of that it won't reveal the whole truth about a product's performance.
  • chaz_music
    Aris, good write-up, and thanks for showing the equipment used. I was not aware of the Newtons 4th group. I am in the power electronics industry and found your article spot on target. Here are my comments:

    1. As technology improves, we always learn what is missing and learn to place better metrics on quality. What you are showing here is that PSUs, UPS systems, and other power equipment standards are way behind.

    2. Had to laugh at your comment on running the PSU while cold. The UPS industry has been doing that for decades. Let it cool overnight, get an efficiency reading first thing in the AM, publish. The number is often 3-4% higher than reality. :)

    3. There are MANY metrics missing including control overshoot/undershoot, hold up time, and now that there are digital controls, some are finding limit cycles (control loop oscillations) showing up at certain load levels. I had a PSU many years ago that the 12V rail would overshoot to 22V on power up!!! No wonder it kept eating HDDs. Some PSUs use the metal case to help with conducted EMI, so using some of the new plastic cases can cause mother board EMI issues. And how about finding a loading methodology that mimics how the user runs the PSU? A gaming PC is run hard for 4-6 hours a day, and then sits at idle for another 18 hours, or is even off.

    4. On efficiency savings, we don’t include airconditioning savings. This is foolish, as it adds a whopping 40-50% additional losses to take those watts out of the building, depending upon where you live globally. This is the same for the newer light technologies (CFLs and LED), the watt savings advertised are only the direct usage, and does not include HVAC costs. So using a 33W LED bulb that replaces a 100W incandescent saves 67W at the bulb, and ~1.5 x 67W = 100W at the meter due to cooling costs. If this is in a spot where it is on 100% of the time, say kitchen sink light, that is saving $100 per year. Big difference! PSUs are the same.

    5. Since PCs sit idle most of the time, the idle power is very important. And since the PC industry pushes having an oversized PSU, the idle efficiency of most systems is usually very poor. I have an HTPC that I built last year that now idles at 18W using a 250W 80+ Gold PSU. When I first built it and was getting it going, I used a 600W 80+ bronze PSU at first. That set up idled around 48W, which made me unhappy at first, until I realized I needed to change the PSU. So just grabbing an 80+ unit does not guarantee efficiency.

    6. If the PC is turned off when not being used, the efficiency savings issue drops to mainly the Standby power. I had an old eMachines XP PC that had a power draw of 12W when off. Including the cost of HVAC, that was costing me ~ $18 a year just having it plugged in.

    7. We should also be looking at the phantom draw of the UPS system that is attached, if you have one. I had a 7 year old UPS that the batteries failed and I noticed how hot the box was when I opened it. Did a power usage reading and found it was using 42W just running, no load. Wow. With HVAC costs, this is around $63 per year at the meter.

    And then there are the losses found with cheaply built HVAC systems. Have you ever checked the air leaks in your air ducts? OMG! Forget the efficiency of the compressor. If you are conditioning your attic and crawlspace, the compressor numbers are useless.

    Thanks again for your article.
    - Charles
  • Sakkura
    1636679 said:
    725497 said:
    1464708 said:
    I could not possibly care less how efficient a PSU is; what I care about is how reliable it is.
    Actrally it does matter...That saved power that save money on your power bill would allow you to buy more computer parts if you missing like few bucks or few cents that power saved PSU help you save money.
    I would recommend punching in the numbers based on local electricity costs and your rig/amount of use and seeing how much this actually adds up to. For example, if I take a 500W load (which is higher than most single GPU systems would ever draw even under max load), look at the worst case efficiency difference between 80+ and 80+ Titanium (14% better effeciency at 50% load), and say I'm running it 40 hours a week, every week of the year, it works out to a whopping ~$7.50 a year where I live. Admittedly, my local rates are much lower than a lot of people pay (~$0.05//kWh), but on the other hand the values I used for power consumption are definitely on the high side. I think a lot of people overestimate the amount of money they're going to save with an efficient PSU.


    If I run a more realistic average 300W load on a 600W PSU for 40 hours per week, then the difference between 80+ and 80+ Titanium over a year would be about 84 kWh. That would cost me about $24.

    Call it a 5 year service life and that's total savings of $120. Pretty substantial.

    I don't think it's enough to make 80+ Titanium worth it though, since the price premium for Titanium is much bigger than for Platinum or Gold. These days you can get a Gold rated unit for just a small premium over Bronze or 80+, so that's strong value for money.
  • MU_Engineer
    Interesting article, especially the discussion about the testing equipment. I see they are running their input power through an AC wave generator for frequency and voltage regulation. On closer inspection the unit they use appears to be essentially a very high end version of the inverter drives/variable frequency drives (VFDs) widely used as controllers for 3 phase motors. One issue that is present in modern insulated gate bipolar transistor based VFDs is that the switching frequency of the inverter transistors leads to a signal that gets conducted in the output power leads along with the regular AC signal (carrier frequency.) This can set up harmonics in the supply leads from the VFD to the load, which can lead to significant voltage spikes and induced currents. These issues get worse with increasing the IGBT switching speed, and I will bet that unit's speed is on the "fast" side (10+ kHz) to generate the smooth variable waveforms seen in the manufacturer's product page. Have voltage spikes or harmonics been an issue with using this setup?
  • TJ Hooker
    551379 said:
    If I run a more realistic average 300W load on a 600W PSU for 40 hours per week, then the difference between 80+ and 80+ Titanium over a year would be about 84 kWh. That would cost me about $24. Call it a 5 year service life and that's total savings of $120. Pretty substantial. I don't think it's enough to make 80+ Titanium worth it though, since the price premium for Titanium is much bigger than for Platinum or Gold. These days you can get a Gold rated unit for just a small premium over Bronze or 80+, so that's strong value for money.

    But even if we assume you have a high end graphics card (system power draw of 300 W) and game 40 hours a week, those numbers would still be on the high side as neither 80+ or 80+ titanium are common. If we look the much more common Bronze vs Gold, difference in efficiency is now down to 5%. So your yearly cost difference is about $8.60, or ~$43 over 5 years.
    I'm not trying to argue that efficiency is irrelevant in terms of utility bills, just saying that it depends on a lot of factors and should not be assumed to make a meaningful impact.