Cougar GX-700: 80 Plus Gold from a new brand

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TESTING

For a fuller understanding of ATX power supplies, please read the reference article Power Supply Fundamentals. Those who seek source materials can find Intel's various PSU design guides at Form Factors.

For a complete rundown of testing equipment and procedures, please refer to SPCR's PSU Test Platform V4.1. The testing system is a close simulation of a moderate airflow mid-tower PC optimized for low noise.

Acoustic measurements are now performed in our anechoic chamber with ambient level of 11 dBA or lower, with a PC-based spectrum analyzer comprised of SpectraPLUS software with ACO Pacific microphone and M-Audio digital audio interfaces.

In our test rig, the ambient temperature of the PSU varies proportionately with its output load, which is exactly the way it is in a real PC environment. But there is the added benefit of a high power load tester which allows incremental load testing all the way to full power for any non-industrial PC power supply. Both fan noise and voltage are measured at various standard loads. It is, in general, a very demanding test, as the operating ambient temperature of the PSU often reaches >40°C at full power. This is impossible to achieve with an open test bench setup.

The 120mm fan responsible for "case airflow" is deliberately run at a steady low level (7V) when the system is run at "low" loads. When the test loads become greater, the 120mm fan is turned up to a higher speed, but one that doesn't affect the noise level of the overall system. Anyone who is running a system that draws 400W or more would definitely want more than 20CFM of airflow through their case, and at this point, the noise level of the exhaust fan is typically not the greatest concern.

Great effort has been made to devise as realistic an operating environment for the PSU as possible, but the thermal and noise results obtained here still cannot be considered absolute. There are too many variables in PCs and too many possible combinations of components for any single test environment to provide infallible results. And there is always the bugaboo of sample variance. These results are akin to a resume, a few detailed photographs, and some short sound bites of someone you've never met. You'll probably get a pretty good overall representation, but it is not quite the same as an extended meeting in person.

REAL SYSTEM POWER NEEDS: While we test the PSU to full output in order to verify the manufacturer's claims, real desktop PCs simply do not require anywhere near this level of power. The most pertinent range of DC output power is between about 40W and 300W, because it is the power range where most systems will be working most of the time. To illustrate this point, we conducted system tests to measure the power draw of several actual systems under idle and worst-case conditions. Our most power-hungry overclocked 130W TDP processor rig with an ATI Radeon X1950XTX-512 graphics card drew ~256W DC peak from the power supply under full load — well within the capabilities of any modern power supply. Please follow the link provided above to see the details. It is true that very elaborate systems with the most power hungry dual video cards today might draw as much as another 150~200W, but the total should remain under 500W in extrapolations of our real world measurements.

INTERPRETING TEMPERATURE DATA

It important to keep in mind that PSU fan speed varies with temperature, not output load. A power supply generates more heat as output increases, but this is not the only the only factor that affects fan speed. Ambient temperature and case airflow have almost as much effect. Our test rig represents a challenging thermal situation for a power supply: A large portion of the heat generated inside the case must be exhausted through the power supply, which causes a corresponding increase in fan speed.

When examining thermal data, the most important indicator of cooling efficiency is the difference between intake and exhaust. Because the heat generated in the PSU loader by the output of the PSU is always the same for a given power level, the intake temperature should be roughly the same between different tests. The only external variable is the ambient room temperature. The temperature of the exhaust air from the PSU is affected by several factors:

  • Intake temperature (determined by ambient temperature and power output level)
  • Efficiency of the PSU (how much heat it generates while producing the required output)
  • The effectiveness of the PSU's cooling system, which is comprised of:
    • Overall mechanical and airflow design
    • Size, shape and overall surface area of heatsinks
    • Fan(s) and fan speed control circuit

The thermal rise in the power supply is really the only indicator we have about all of the above. This is why the intake temperature is important: It represents the ambient temperature around the power supply itself. Subtracting the intake temperature from the exhaust temperature gives a reasonable gauge of the effectiveness of the power supply's cooling system. This is the only temperature number that is comparable between different reviews, as it is unaffected by the ambient temperature.

TEST RESULTS

The ambient temperature was 20~23°C, and the ambient noise level was 10~11 dBA. AC input voltage was 118~121V.

OUTPUT, REGULATION & EFFICIENCY: Cougar GX-700
DC Output Voltage (V) + Current (A)
DC Output
AC Input
Calculated Efficiency
+12V1
+12V2
+5V
+3.3V
-12V
+5VSB
12.26
0.97
12.26
0
5.10
0.99
3.40
0.97
0.1
0.1
21.9
35
64.5%
12.26
0.97
12.26
1.73
5.10
0.99
3.40
0.97
0.1
0.1
43.1
58
75.7%
12.24
1.90
12.24
1.72
5.09
1.94
3.40
2.69
0.1
0.2
65.4
81
80.7%
12.23
1.90
12.23
3.42
5.08
2.89
3.40
2.66
0.1
0.3
90.9
112
83.4%
12.16
4.75
12.16
4.90
5.03
3.74
3.38
3.53
0.2
0.5
152.8
178
86.8%
12.17
6.39
12.17
5.58
5.04
6.20
3.35
5.99
0.2
0.5
201.9
234
89.3%
12.12
6.42
12.12
8.55
5.01
8.01
3.34
6.60
0.3
0.9
251.7
292
89.9%
12.10
9.33
12.10
8.44
5.00
9.58
3.33
8.65
0.3
1.1
300.8
347
89.3%
12.04
12.35
12.04
12.06
4.95
11.86
3.29
11.40
0.4
1.3
401.4
465
88.4%
11.96
19.86
11.96
13.95
4.89
18.24
3.24
16.28
0.6
1.5
550.6
599
87.0%
11.89
22.14
11.89
23.28
4.82
17.28
3.21
16.98
0.7
2.4
698.2
936
83.9%
Crossload Test
12.00
22.74
12.00
23.02
5.1
0.98
3.40
0.97
0.2
0.4
561.8
644
87.2%
+12V Ripple (peak-to-peak): <20mv at <200W; 50mV at 700W load
+5V Ripple (peak-to-peak): <12mV at <200, 32mV at 700W load
+3.3V Ripple (peak-to-peak): <12mV at <200W, 29mV at 700W load
NOTE: The current and voltage for -12V and +5VSB lines is not measured but based on switch settings. It is a tiny portion of the total, and errors arising from inaccuracies on these lines is <1W.

OTHER DATA SUMMARY: Cougar GX-700
Nominal Load (W)
20
40
65
90
150
200
250
300
400
550
700
Intake °C
21
21
23
23
28
32
33
32
36
44
50
Exhaust °C
22
22
24
25
30
34
35
36
38
48
61
Temp Rise °C
1
1
1
2
2
2
2
4
2
4
11
SPL (dBA @ 1m)
15
15
15
15
15
18
20
25
32
35
36
Fan (Volts)
3.6
3.6
3.6
3.6
3.8
4.2
4.8
6.0
8.9
11.1
11.2
Power Factor
0.93
0.95
0.98
0.97
0.99
0.99
0.99
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
AC Power in Standby: 0.4W
AC Power with No Load, PSU power On: 9.8W / 0.86 PF
NOTE: The ambient room temperature during testing can vary a few degrees from review to review. Please take this into account when comparing our PSU test data.

1. EFFICIENCY — This is a measure of AC-to-DC conversion efficiency. The ATX12V Power Supply Design Guide recommends 80% efficiency or better at all output power loads. 80% efficiency means that to deliver 80W DC output, a PSU draws 100W AC input, and 20W is lost as heat within the PSU. Higher efficiency is preferred for reduced energy consumption and cooler operation. It allows reduced cooling airflow, which translates to lower noise. The 80 Plus Gold standard requires a minimum of 87% efficiency at 20% load, 90% efficiency at 50% load, and 87% efficiency at full rated maximum load.

One point of note is that the 80 Plus qualifying test is performed on an open bench top at typical room temperature. In contrast, SPCR's testing is conducted at realistic in-PC temperature, often well over 40°C at high power. This difference results in SPCR test results showing lower efficiency that the 80 Plus reports at the higher power loads. This is a fundamental flaw in the 80 Plus test procedure that we've observed since the very start of the 80 Plus program; if realistic operational temperature was used for their testing, very few PSUs rated higher than ~400W would achieve 80 Plus Gold efficiency at full rated power.

Our sample came very close to the 80 Plus Gold requirements but didn't quite meet them all. 87% efficiency was reached at just over 150W, which is a bit higher than 20% of rated load (140W). 90% efficiency was reached at a fairly low 250W load, but at 50% of rated power (350W), efficiency was around 89%, not 90% as required. As expected, at full rated 700W load with the hot test box temperature reaching 50°C, efficiency fell to 3% lower than the required 87%. The last miss can be forgiven as our test conditons are thermally far more demading than that required by 80 Plus, but the failure to meet 90% efficiency at just 350W is a bit surprising. Admittedly, it was a close miss, falling short by just 1%, and our load power calibration is probably not better than 1% accurate anyway.

2. DC VOLTAGE REGULATION refers to how stable the output voltages are under various load conditions. The ATX12V Power Supply Design Guide calls for the +12, +5V and +3.3V lines to be maintained within ±5%.

Unless a unit goes into overload, it's rare that we see significant problems with voltage regulation with the higher quality PSUs SPCR generally examines. The VR was very good, within ±2% on the 12V line under all loads. It sagged slightly more at high loads on the lower voltage lines, to about -3.5% on the 5V line and -2.8% on the 3.3V line. These are fine results.

3. AC RIPPLE refers to unwanted "noise" artifacts in the DC output of a switching power supply. It's usually very high in frequency (in the order of 100s of kHz). The peak-to-peak value is measured. The ATX12V Guide allows up to 120mV (peak-to-peak) of AC ripple on the +12V line and 50mV on the +5V and +3.3V lines. Where voltage regulation is a measure of variance from spec, ripple is more a measure of tolerance: How much the voltage is changing at any given time. Ripple is of interest to over- and under-clockers who push their systems to the limits of what they are actually capable of rather than relying on what the specs say they should be capable of.

Ripple on the 12V line was low, and rose linearly with load from a low of under 20mV to just 50mVat full power. The 5V and 3.3V lines also were well within spec, with ~30mV maximum ripple & noise.

4. POWER FACTOR is ideal when it measures 1.0. In the most practical sense, PF is a measure of how "difficult" it is for the electric utility to deliver the AC power into your power supply. High PF reduces the AC current draw, which reduces stress on the electric wiring in your home (and elsewhere up the line). It also means you can do with a smaller, cheaper UPS backup; they are priced according to their VA (volt-ampere) rating.

As is the case for most units with active power factor correction (which, these days, is most reputable brands), PFC was close to perfect, starting at 0.93 for the minuscule 20W load, and staying at 0.99 through most of the operating range.

5. LOW LOAD TESTING revealed no problems starting at very low loads and it stayed operational with no load applied. As advertised, the power draw in the off (standby mode) was just 0.4W. It also started without any load, with a 9.8W AC power draw.

6. LOW & 240 VAC PERFORMANCE

The power supply was set to 560W load with 120VAC through the hefty variac in the lab. The variac was then dialed 10V lower every 5 minutes. This is to check the stability of the PSU under brownout conditions w here the AC line voltage drops from the 120V norm. Most full-range input power supplies achieve higher efficiency with higher AC input voltage. SPCR's lab is equipped with a 240VAC line, which was used to check power supply efficiency for the benefit of those who live in 240VAC mains regions. Since the Cougar GX-700 is currently sold only in the EU, the high VAC effiiciency is particularly interesting.

Various VAC Inputs: Cougar GX-700 @ 560W Output
VAC
AC Power
Efficiency
244V
617W
90.8%
120V
638W
87.8%
100V
651W
86.0%

Efficiency improved nearly 3% with 244VAC input at this load. The sample passed the 100VAC minimum input without any issues. Neither voltage regulation nor ripple changed appreciably during the test.

7. TEMPERATURE & COOLING

The Cougar GX-700 was one of the coolest running PSUs we've tested, with the temperature rise through the unit often staying at just 2°C. This was due partly to the somewhat aggressive fan controller and the larger than usual 140mm diameter fan, as well as the high average efficiency. Temperature rise stayed below 4°C until maximum rated power, when it reached 11°C after about 25 minutes.



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