Of all the components making up a gaming PC, the power supply or PSU is a core piece most people don't give a second thought to. Power is power, and the PSU delivering it to my system shouldn't make a difference, Right? You’d be surprised.
For gaming especially, using a higher-rated PSU and having enough wattage in spare power is important for the lifespan of the entire system itself. Power efficiency and safety features go into the higher-rated and more expensive models from prominent manufacturers like EVGA, Seasonic, Deep Cool, and others. These added safety features make things like future upgrades and add-ons easy to not worry about due to having a solid PSU built for the future generation of PC parts.
This article covers what you should consider when picking out your PSU and the requirements that the PC components of tomorrow may depend on.
What is a Power Supply Unit?
The PSU is the component that provides sufficient power to the rest of the system. Power supplies are built to take on various voltages and amps, primarily 115 V @ 15 amps or 240 V @ 30 amps. Most gaming PCs use a particular type of power supply, marked as ATX (Advanced Technology eXtended), to supply the proper connections and form factor for cases associated with the motherboard size. You can read more about them here.
How to Know What Power Supply You Need
Now that you know of form factors and other types of power supplies, let's get into the wattage and features. Depending on your budget, multiple PSUs are compatible with the needs of any given system. The most important for gaming is overhead wattage:
Your system should not demand more than 100 watts from the PSUs maximum rated wattage threshold. Depending on hardware like your GPU, you should increase your wattage threshold to at least 150W. This also ties into a power supplies rating. The higher your wattage, the more beneficial a decent rating is needed.
What To Consider When Selecting a Power Supply
In addition to wattage and rating, considerations like connections and internal components can indicate lower-quality power supplies like manual voltage regulators and certain connections over others.
Depending on your hardware, your PSU should be equipped to deal with all components with little to no adaptors used. This significantly affects your PC's budget if you want a recently released ATX 3.0 power supply containing the newest 12VHPWR connector for the recent RTX 30 and 40 series of cards.
There are also two connection types directly to the PSU; modular and nonmodular. Modular lets you install the connection to easily accessible ports on the PSU. Non-modular bundles a predetermined amount of connections from the manufacturer directly into the PSU with no option to remove them.
Modular to Non-modular left to right
Wattage is one of the most important metrics on a PSU when designing a gaming PC.
Not only should the wattage have a decent headroom over the current components' demands, but it should also be from a reputable brand.
Typically, most gaming systems have PSUs ranging from 450W to 1600W due to vast power requirements from hardware.
With the newest generations of GPUs depending on a 600W dedicated connection, having ample wattage is necessary to provide power to the GPU. This also applies to previous generations, as having a dedicated PCIE power connector strains the system's power supply.
Total Build Wattage
The CPU, RAM, Motherboard, and additional accessories add to the system's power demand. While you can look up the power consumption for each component, Newegg’s Power Calculator breaks down what power is being used where, and what you can do to ease the load.
Protective designs on power supplies get more subtle as the build quality increases. Here are some of the hardware and features on higher-quality models.
Automatic Voltage Regulator
When preparing to plug a system into an outlet for the first time, it's important to remember your country's voltage and amp regulations. This can be either 110-120 V @ 15 amps or 230-240 V @ 30 amps. Depending on the PSU, the automatic regulator will often be swapped for a manual gate for you to change the voltage input by hand; setting the voltage to one or the other could damage the system depending on the input voltage. Automatic regulators cost more than a manual switch for more advanced PSUs, so this is why they are left out on some lower-end PSUs.
Inrush Current Bypass System
When a PSU is switched on after being dormant, a component introducing resistance will activate in the circuit, ensuring the cold components can warm up. This is needed because any significant draw in electricity affects a component's health if not at operating temperatures, which is more akin to how you shouldn't rev a car after a cold start.
To figure out if your PSU has a current bypass system, if you hear a click when turning the system on or off, there is a thermistor that increases efficiency as the temperature rises. PSUs that have this are considered long-lasting and have an excellent efficiency curve.
PSUs work on an efficiency curve to deliver power based on their workload. They are one of the most thermally sensitive components next to NVMEs. Here is an example of a particular Corsair model with a max wattage of 850 Watts:
Looking at the chart power, higher efficiency is better. But why does the efficiency drop off towards the upper limits? The answer is coils and heat in a way you might not expect.
Skipping past a lengthy explanation in thermodynamics and energy, PSUs regulate electricity by using an inductor which is a material (ferrite or iron in most components) wrapped in wire to transfer the energy from the outlet to a transformer and other inductors via a bridge before being converted to DC (Direct current) for your PC to use. This process loses efficiency depending on the system's demand and turns into heat instead.
Depending on your system, the power efficiency loss to heat may become disproportionate and, at worst times, trigger safety features to preserve the components.
This is also where the rating systems come into play, a higher rating means an overall higher peak power efficiency. This enables manufacturers to classify most products into the following categories; White, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Titanium. Each tier has at least 80% power efficiency but can rise depending on the tier.
White is the lowest rating in PSUs and is generally avoided unless used on a low-end system. This includes gaming, as gaming-oriented hardware requires a higher efficiency depending on your GPU, CPU, and other significant components. While you can game, it's not recommended.
Bronze is the most recommended for entry-level gaming components if you intend to spend an average amount of time playing video games on a PC. It's slightly above standard power delivery and has excellent advantages near 50% load for all entry and some mid-tier components.
As an extension of bronze, if you have enough in your budget for a silver power supply, go for it. Any entry or mid-tier component in your system will still be as efficient under load.
Gold is the best choice for those seeking mid to high-end components at a cost-effective price. All safety features listed above are typically included in these ratings, and they both come in modular and non-modular options.
For those looking to keep a power supply for the life span of 2-3 systems, this could be your rating of choice. Platinum is one of the top picks for components that last the longest due to build quality and warranty support.
Titanium is one of the market's highest-rated and longest-lasting power supplies.
Companies that make them are known for their 10-15 year warranties, build quality, and connection support makes them incredibly accommodating.
Depending on the size of your system, there may be better choices than going with an ATX standard. SFF (Small Form Factor) has become popular in the PC building scene in the past decade. This enables gaming PCs to become highly space efficient and maximize the best components per case liter.
When considering power supplies' upgradability, the wattage and the current connection types are essential factors when getting a PSU. For one, you need to think about how long you want to keep your system and what parts you are willing to upgrade years down the line.
The most prominent things to consider for your budget are how many connections your power supply offers and the power requirements for your hardware that would warrant 1, 2, or even 3 spare connectors. While this is determined by pricing and build quality, there are cheaper current generation PSUs with adaptors for the latest hardware.
ATX 3.0 PSUs, the newest iteration of power supplies, were released as early as November 2022. These next-generation PSUs offer the 12VHPWR connectors responsible for delivering 600W of power. Since the 12HPWR connector has been used on some RTX 30 and 40 series cards, adaptors converting the three 8-pin connectors to a more manageable 16 pins have been rolled out across the gaming and workload oriented systems.
Choosing a Power Supply for Your PC FAQ
Here are some frequently asked questions when searching for the proper power supply for a gaming system.
Is a 500W / 650W / 750W Power Supply Good Enough?
All are good options depending on your wattage requirements. Using a site like WhatPSU is easy to get a rough estimate regarding how much power your CPU and GPU need, which drives nearly 60-70% of your typical system's power requirements.
Will My PC Run Better with a Better Power Supply?
Power supplies that lack efficiency and are made of poor quality can hamper system performance significantly. Getting a good PSU means you have little to worry about in diagnosing issues. Things like dealing with transient loads and power delivery to the system overall, bluescreens, and crashes can occur before inventively refusing to turn on at all if in the presence of lower-rated PSU.
What Happens if Your Power Supply is Too Strong?
The short answer is nothing for most systems. For some PSUs, there are special considerations between the wall outlet and PSU housing. Most PCs use a C14 connection if they are under a specific wattage (primarily 350W-1000/1200W). Beyond that, the industry leans towards C19 connectors because power supplies using this connection are often seen in server roles.
Your PC Will Thank You For A Great Power Supply
Overall, going with a competent, well-researched, and reputable power supply for your system is worth it. PSUs are the silent rock on which all hardware in a gaming PC relies.
At Apex Gaming PCs, we are committed to providing enough overhead and capabilities for all hardware in a system meant for gaming or workloads. We understand the individual needs for gaming PCs are gauged by today's standards and years down the line as PC hardware increases in demand. Whatever your power supply needs, we hope to be of service at Apex!
Written By William Wilson
Photos: Pavan Bhakta