Don't Be Surprised When Your Cheap PSU Blows Up

The PC power supply market is one of the most difficult for enthusiasts and the tech press to address. There are products for every requirement, every performance category, and even for most tastes in design, not to mention the huge price span! In our past power supply roundups, we tested products ranging from a little more than $40 to more than $200. With very few exceptions, most of the units we've evaluated have done what they've claimed; sometimes by a long-shot and other times just barely.

Beyond the solutions from well-known vendors, there is a very large number of cheap, no-name products out there, many of which are really easy to find on auction sites at really attractive prices. To get an idea of what lies behind these purported bargains, we bought three of them using Buy It Now. Obviously, we did not give away our real identities to the seller, ensuring we'd receive the same hardware as everyone else.

We ended up with 500 W and 750 W PSUs from a brand called Sutai and an additional 420 W unit without an identifying sticker on it. Prices ranged from around €13.90 to €25.90, which currently equals $19 to $35, plus shipping. In the end, we paid something around $60 for 1670 W worth of power delivery. On the surface, that sounds like a pretty juicy deal.

Without giving away too much about performance, it's safe to say that the value of what you get when you spend this little on a power is pretty darned minimal. The two Sutai models came without any accessories at all, and were simply wrapped in film. The 420 W PSU at least came in a box with a descriptive label with Power Supply written on it.

None of the test subjects come with anything more than a minimal selection of cables and connectors, lacking any kind of information about the internals, technical specifications, or capabilities. Anything beyond wattage, voltage, and amperage ratings seems to be asking too much.

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  • jednx01
    Well, you get what you pay for. I may have spent over $200 on my Corsair HX1000, but this thing has been very reliable. (The first one they sent me was a dud, but they replaced it insanely quickly. My replacement one has run flawlessly for almost three years now, withstanding overclocking and pretty much anything I can throw at it. :)
  • WHComp
    This is my favorite article ever. I laughed the entire time I was reading it.
  • WHComp
    I don't need much power, I have a 520W seasonic unit that I love. Can barely hear it run.
  • rolli59
    In the conclusion, not only buying a PSU twice but other components as well.
    Great article!
  • cmcghee358
    This makes me nervous. All of my components BUT my PSU are top tier. I bought my PSU many MANY moons ago when I was alot less experienced. 1000W for $99.99 HELL YES.

    XION isn't as bad as these obviously, Ive run 4890s crossfired with a mild overclock on my 955. But the XION brand still makes me nervous.
  • fyasko
    modular is the way to go. i got the 550 watt antec modular with 2 12v rails it is amazingly stable. as someone who bought cheapo PSU's for years and blamed everything else but the PSU for problems, Invest in a great/not good PSU and your comuter will love you for years without fail. then you can spend the rest of your time flaming apple for fun...
  • iam2thecrowe
    Thank you Toms for finally doing an article like this. It should be known that most cheap PSU's are just rebranded versions of what you see in this article, so buyer beware. Surely there is some reason why these things are not taken off the market? how can they get away with selling crap like this at all? And labelled way above the actual specs. I've seen some bad PSU's in my time but this is beyond shocking.
  • JohnnyLucky
    Great article. I just posted a message and a link to the report over in the power supply section of the forum.
  • Marthian
    thank goodness I didn't cheap out when I first started building computers. Although I guess I did get a cheap power supply (according to some), it was 550W for $50, and lasted 2 years (first year went through a fan swap), and then shortly after the two year mark it started failing. at least it lasted 1 year longer than the warranty.
  • paperfox
    Hope this reinforces the fact that you should get an 80+ Certified PSU the first time or you'll have to buy 2 new computers.
  • opmopadop
    I have seen a PSU make a rather large black mark on the wall behind it... Not much fun.
  • dragonsqrrl
    Wow, scary stuff. I'm definitely not a fan of cheap power supplies to begin with, but I honestly don't think I've ever seen such POS performance out of even value oriented hardware. That was absolutely abysmal. If anything you definitely don't want to skimp on a power supply, especially if you're using high end components. It can be extremely important for the overall stability and longevity of your system.

    I use an Enermax Modu87+ 700W unit, it's a highly rated Gold certified PSU. Upon release it was the most efficient PSU Anandtech had reviewed to date, and in conclusion it was one of the best PSU's they ever tested. While there are more efficient PSU's on the market now (80+ Platinum, and a few newer 80+ Gold's) I still consider the Modu87+ lineup top contenders in the high-end PSU market.

    Highly recommended.
  • shades_aus
    I have had Everything from No brand to Antec die on more than one occasion.
    I thought with a name like Antec, I would be safe. So not true.
    Now I only buy SeaSonic. I have not had a problem since. I understand they are expensive however, so is my data. I have had too many bad experiences from cheap power supplies. Anything under $100 I think is a waste of money.
  • maddad
    I will admit to having a cheap 550w power supply in my PC. I think I paid $20 for it new. I do not overclock, but I have 1 Sata hdd, 2 ATA hdd, a DVD burner, an ATI 2600hd video card, and a ATSC tv tuner card. It has been going good for about 3 yrs now. After reading this article I will be wary of cheap pwr supplies from now on though, got lucky on that one I suppose.
  • wolfram23
    Really wish you guys were filming the last one... Ah well.
  • rpgplayer
    this is exactly the reason I will not buy anything that isn't UL listed.
  • James296
    I'll actually use a tiered power supply list that's from the newegg forums, which I try and avoid anything below tier 2. Here's the link if anyone is interested:

    anyway, interesting article and will definitely have to sticky this to the forums for people new to computer building
  • paperfox
    After rereading a few sections of the article I have come up with cool article toms could do with the remaining cheapo PSUs. Make a custom cooling system (2 foot box fan + cardboard cone vent?) to cool down the PSUs circuit board and see if they can even be cranked up to their supposedly rated wattage.(Have the camera ready this time) Although creating such an article might send the wrong message to the uninformed.
  • All I know is that every single Antec supply I have bought over the years never made it past the five year mark before blowing up due to cheap Chinese caps.
  • jjb8675309
    bought an xfx xxx black edition 650w modular psu and have never let back it is a seasonic and a quality unit, very happy with the stability and reliability of my psu purchase
  • galeener
    I tell people all the time never to skimp on the power supply as its just trouble waiting to happen. Sometimes big trouble because will it not only die but may take your system components with it.
    You see this in tons of forums, people end up blaming the company they bought it from. I mean really just because some one else is building your system it doesnt't mean you don't have to make good parts decisions.
  • haplo602
    good one :-) pity you did not film the last one exploding.

    I guess you found out the explanation of the Double Power in the name (at least for the 500W one). The manufacturer simply double the construction rating in the marketing :-)
  • aznguy0028
    Sutai... definitely going w/this on my next build!
  • compton
    What a fantastic article.

    More! More of this!