The art of the PC upgrade is simultaneously an expression and a test of one’s diagnostic skills, computing savvy, and fiscal sensibilities. Identify the bottleneck. Research the parts that will fix the bottleneck. Remove the bottleneck.
As always, price and performance are the pivot points. After all, you can’t just toss $1,000 at your system to level it up. Well, you can, but in most cases you’d be a fool for doing so.
When the Maximum PC staff convened in conference room Spock to plan this story, we decided to establish some ground rules. First, we challenged ourselves to stick to our theme of a successful budget upgrade. This meant avoiding the tendency to fall back on the most expensive, best-of-breed components in each category.
Instead we forced ourselves to take a more nuanced approach. In each category, we expended considerable energy determining which product(s) owned the sweet spot—top-left on the 2x2 grid if you’re graph-happy—of the price-performance ratio. Staying consistent with our real-world theme, we used real-world pricing from sites like NewEgg and Amazon. Because we’re talking about upgrading an existing machine, you’ll find no case or mobo recommendations here.
Without further adieu, we happily present the results of our research. After the jump you’ll find a bevy of product recommendations that prove you don’t have to break the bank to achieve substantial gains in performance.
Some would argue that the power supply is the most important component in your build, and if you've ever had a cheap, generic PSU blow up on you, then it's easy to see why. But learning to steer clear of no-name brands is only part of the equation, the other consideration is what size unit do you need?
That's where OuterVision's "eXtreme Power Supply Calculator" comes in, a handy online utility designed to give you an idea what size PSU you should be looking at. The way it works is you select your system configuration from a series of pull-down menus and checkboxes. There are over 1,100 CPUs included, and you can even calculate how much extra juice you're pulling by overclocking to a specific frequency.
It's been a couple of months since the last update, and the June refresh adds some new components to the list. The PSU calculator now recognizes Nvidia GeForce GTX 465 videocards, and a handful of AMD processors have been added, including the AMD Phenom II X6 1055T at 1.3V and 1.1V, and the 1090T clocked at 3200MHz.
If you plan to use the utility, be advised that the 'System Type' pull-down menu is asking for how many physical CPUs you have your in systems, not the amount of cores. A quad-core chip, for example, would still count as "1 physical CPU."
OCZ this week unveiled the StealthXStream 2 power supply series, the follow-up act to the original StealthXStream aimed at the entry-level and mid-level markets.
"Three years ago we launched the original StealthXStream PSU line with the goal of delivering a power supply with the right balance of performance, features, and value," said Alex Mei, CMO at the OCZ Technology Group. "The new StealthXStream 2 is the natural evolution of this popular line and features an updated core, a sleeker more compact form factor making it easy to integrate into any chassis and plenty of stable power for dual GPU platforms, and with a complete range of models to choose customers can select the perfect wattage for their unique system configuration."
Available in 400W, 500W, 600W, and 700W flavors, all four new models are 80PLUS certified. The 400W and 500W units feature a single 20+4-pin ATX connector, one 4-pin CPU, one 6-pin PCI-E, four peripheral, one floppy, and three SATA plugs. The 600W model ups the ante with a 4+4-pin CPU connector, 6+2-pin PCI-E, and 5 peripheral plugs, while the 700W boasts six peripheral connectors, two floppy connectors, and six SATA plugs.
No word yet on price, through for a point of reference, the original 500W, 600W, and 700W StealthXStreams street for $55, $70, and $75 on Newegg, respectively.
Corsair, a company best known for its range of memory products, has also built a reputation for high quality power supplies, namely the TX and HX series released a couple of years ago. On paper, Corsair's newly introduced Professional Series Gold units are even better.
The new line features a fully modular low-profile cable set and come rated at 750W (AX750), 850W (AX850), and 1200W (AX1200W). As the naming scheme suggests, these are all 80 Plus Gold certified, meaning they deliver over 90 percent efficiency at 50 percent load.
No easy task, Corsair said it incorporated a number of "sophisticated server-level technologies" to reach 80 Plus Gold status, including Zero Voltage Switching and Zero Current Switching tecnology to eliminate switching losses and reduce EMI, as well as individual DC-to-DC voltage regulation for the 3.3V, 5V, and 12V rails. In addition, Corsair claims its secondary-side synchronous rectification and 4-layer PCB design results in low levels of ripple and noise.
All three power supplies come with a single 20/24-pin ATX connector, two 8-pin CPU connectors, and a single floppy connector. The AX750 adds two 6+2-pin PCI-E, 12 SATA, and eight 4-pin connectors, while the AX850 ups the ante to four 6+2 pin connectors. The flagship AX1200 features six 6+2-pin, 16 SATA, and 12 4-pin connectors.
Each PSU also boasts a single +12V rail with 62A (744W), 70A (840W), and 100.4A (1204.8W) available on the AX750, AX850, and AX1200, respectively.
We never bought into the whole Fatal1ty hype ourselves, and judging by the reader comments that inevitably accompany these types of posts, neither did most of you. Nevertheless, arguably the world's most infamous gamer, Johnathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel, will have his gamertag slapped on another power supply product from OCZ, a 750W modular unit.
"Working with Fatal1ty to build the ultimate PSU for a high-performance gaming environment was a great experience," commented Ryan Edwards, Director of Product Management at OCZ Technology. "Jonathan and OCZ share a common commitment to performance and reliability aimed at supporting the user in even the most intense competitive gaming and enthusiast environments. With the new Fatal1ty 750, gamers and power users alike can be confident their system is fueled by a top-notch PSU with the latest in technology and design."
Underneath the Fatal1ty logo sits an 80+ Bronze Certified power supply capable of 750W continuous at 45C. Modular cables consist of four 6+2-pin PCI-E, six peripheral, two floppy, and six SATA connectors, while permanent connections consist of one 20/24-pin ATX, one 8-pin CPU, and one 4+4-pin CPU.
If the latest report from Taiwanese news site DigiTimes proves correct, you may want to consider upgrading that aging power supply sooner rather than later. The reason? Taiwan-based PSU companies have either already hiked prices, or are planning to do so, DigiTimes says.
It's important to note here that most PSUs, regardless of branding, are manufactured overseas, so this could potentially affect PSUs in the U.S. According to DigiTimes, Taiwan produces about 80 percent of the worldwide power supplies used in notebooks, 50 percent of those used in PCs and LCD TVs, and nearly 50 percent of the PSUs in servers.
So is there reason to panic? Not likely. DigiTimes says prices are poised to rise by 10 percent, and this appears to be mostly related to system companies rather than the DIY community. Even still, it's worth keeping an eye on, especially if you're getting ready to upgrade your PSU or put together a new system.
Long time readers of Maximum PC magazine know we've been impressed in the past with PC Power & Cooling power supplies, which have powered a number of Dream Machine configurations over the years. While things have been pretty quiet over at the PCP&P camp as of the late, OCZ on Wednesday made some noise when it unveiled the Silencer Mk II PSU.
"I am thrilled see the new Silencer Mk II brought to market and provide the premier power management solution to power users of all kinds, from enthusiasts to industrial OEMs," commented Ryan Edwards, Director of Product Management at OCZ Technology. "The Mk II is a perfect blend of proven, long-term technology and the newest cutting-edge design. With 25 years of high-performance power supply experience, PC Power & Cooling has always been at the forefront of the computing industry, and the Silencer Mk II represents an exciting new chapter in a long history of providing uncompromising quality and lasting value to its customers."
The new Mk II series comes in a variety of power configurations, including 500W, 650W, 750W, and 950W. With the exception of the 80+ Bronze 500W model, all the rest are 80+ Silver certified (88 percent efficiency). True to PCP&P's design philosophy, all Mk II models sport a single +12V rail, as well as a thermally controlled 135mm double-ball bearing fan.
OCZ has been so busy pumping out SSDs as of late, it's easy to forget the company also churns out power supplies. OCZ hasn't forgotten, and coming soon, the company will add to its PSU lineup with a new Fatal1ty 750W unit.
Currently being shown at the CeBIT exhibition, the Fatal1ty sports an all new modular design fitted with low-profile modular cables. It also boasts a single +12V rail, a staple of PC Power & Cooling units, now a subsidiary of OCZ.
Other features include all Japanese made solid-state primary capacitors, a double ball bearing 135mm red LED fan, and 80+ Bronze certification with 85 percent efficiency.
Lately I’ve been having an issue on startup with my PC. During POST, my system will hang and fail to load past the Asus splash screen. My keyboard stops responding altogether, so I cannot hit Tab to see the POST messages. (I’ve changed keyboards and the issue persists.) When it does load past POST, it hangs just before the GRUB boot loader. When this happens, I usually have to hit the reset button and go through the process three times before I can load an OS. Other than the keyboard swap, I’ve made no major changes to my system that I think would prevent my PC from POSTing and I run everything at stock clocks. When I do load into an OS, everything is rock-solid and stable with no issues.
I have an Athlon 64 X2 4600+ on an Asus M2-N32 SLI Deluxe motherboard, 3GB DDR2 RAM, and an XFX 8800 GT. My keyboard is a Logitech G15. My PSU is a Cooler Master 600W eXtreme Power Duo.
My bet is on the PSU, but I really don’t have an easy way or the cash at the moment to test this. Please let me know if I’m on the right track.
Corsair on Tuesday announced the launch of its new TX950W power supply, which takes its place as the flagship model in Corsair's TX series. The only higher wattage PSU the company offers is the modular HX1000.
The company's PSUs have earned a reputation as being reliable, and Corsair says this newest unit is "built using industrial-grade components to ensure clean and stable voltages." It comes with a dedicated +12V rail rated at a whopping 78A (936W), which the company says equates to 98.5 percent of the PSU's total power output.
Other specs include 80 PLUS Bronze certification (at least 85 percent energy efficient at typical load levels), six 6+2-pin PCI-E cables, active PFC, and a five year warranty.
No word on price or availability, though we'd guess it to be in the ballpark of $225.