computer power supply unit basics

Computer Power Supply Unit (PSU) Basics and Tests

There are several important components to any computing setup, whether for gaming or any other purpose, and one of the simplest and most obvious is power supply. Every single computer and laptop in the world operates using some kind of power supply, but the precise qualities of your device’s power supply can vary pretty widely, and make a huge difference in terms of computer performance, long-term battery life and many other areas.

At Xidax, we’re proud to not only offer a wide range of custom gaming computers, laptops and even workstation setups, but also expertise on all the important components that go into our high-quality devices. We’ll help you understand everything you need to know about your computer’s power supply unit, or PSU, including the important elements that go into it and some ways you can check what power supply you currently have for your system. Here’s a primer on each of these topics, including multiple methods for determining your current PSU qualities.

PSU Basics and Definition

First and foremost, what is PSU anyway? It refers to power supply unit, which is present in all computers to covert mains AC into low-voltage, regulated DC power that will be used to supply the various internal components of a computer. Most PC power supplies today come in a switched-mode format, with some that have a manual switch for voltage and others that will automatically adapt to voltage for you.

There are a few different specifications PSUs will fall under, but most today fall under ATX, which features both form factor and voltage tolerances and can be turned on and off by signals from the motherboard. Our next several sections will go over the important elements of a computer PSU, plus why knowing your PSU setup is valuable and some basic methods for checking it.

Elements of Computer PSUs

Here are the important elements of a standard computer PSU to be aware of:

  • Wattage: This is the single most important factor, and one that you should be strongly considering before purchasing any power source for your computer. Wattage is meant to describe how much power the PSU can deliver to your system, allowing all your system components to load properly. Without enough power here, your system won’t load and might create damage to hardware. Numerous important computer use areas, from RGB and water cooling to overclocking and more, will affect wattage and your overall needs. Luckily, there are simply ways to calculate the amount of wattage needed for a given PSU setup.
  • Efficiency: For all PSUs, an attached efficiency rating will be present, with thresholds like 80+ bronze, silver, gold, platinum and more. These levels speak to how efficiently the PSU can deliver wattage from the wall to the PC itself, plus to how safe the PSU is while it’s carrying out this role. If your PSU has a low or no efficiency rating, there is a far higher likelihood of fire or other unsafe events.
  • Modularity: This is a factor that refers to the PSU’s physical design, specifically the cables that run to and from the power supply. There are three types here: Non-modular (least desirable, with non-removable cables), semi-modular (some cables can be removed) and fully modular (all cables can be removed).

Why Checking PSU is Important

Why is knowing and understanding your computer PSU important, anyway? For several reasons, including both performance and long-term lifespan. The single most common period where computer users will often check PSU, for instance, is right before they’re considering some kind of significant hardware upgrade – many such upgrades require major additional power to run efficiently.

In many cases, the wattage required for this sort of upgrade will be significant, in the 50-100 range or even higher. For this reason, or if you’re purchasing a custom-built PC or laptop with high-value components, it’s important to look into PSU and be sure you have the proper power levels available.

If you’re trying to determine what your current power supply level is for your computing setup, there are two simple methods for doing so. We’ll go over them in our subsequent sections.

Panel Removal

The simplest and typically most common way to check your power supply for a computer is to remove the panel from your chassis and look into it personally. As long as you have very basic skills with a screwdriver and thumb screws, this should be no issue for you.

Most computer side panels will be held together using just a few very simple thumb screws, and this makes removing them incredibly easy. Just use either a small screwdriver or even your fingers (if screws are loose enough) to remove the side casing. Once you’re inside, most systems will have a dedicated area that lists the manufacturer, make and the wattage found in your PSU. There may be some setups where you have to take out the PSU to see its manufacturer’s label – in certain cases here, you may have to remove cables or unscrew the PSU from the back of the case. However, these incidents are relatively rare, and most PSUs will be easily visible as soon as you open up your basic paneling.

Manufacturer Check

In cases where your PC was purchased prebuilt, you may have the ability to use the manufacturer website instead of removing the panel yourself. The site where you bought the PC should have a full list of parts you can use to find out details on your PSU. However, for other models, including custom-built options, this format will not be available and you’ll have to open up the panel.

For more on power supply units for computers, or to learn about any of our custom gaming computers or other services, speak to the staff at Xidax today.