Antec EarthWatts 430: Green Computing Hits Mainstream

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7. TEMPERATURE & COOLING

Thermal results were acceptable, despite the smaller heatsinks. The thermal rise through the unit remained at roughly 6°C through all of the tests except for full load when it jumped up to about 12°C. Given that the exhaust temperature only barely reached the maximum operating temperature, it seems safe to say that the Earth Watts is well cooled.

One word of warning: Due to recent changes in our test bench, thermal results are not directly comparable to earlier tests that we have done. Our new test bench uses a larger 120mm fan that provides a more realistic simulation of the kinds of low-noise systems that are in use today.

8. FAN, FAN CONTROLLER and NOISE

As any change to airflow also affects noise, the same caveat applies to our noise results; noise results for the Earth Watts are not comparable to earlier reviews. We do not believe that the change is large, but the larger fan will certainly have an effect; the increase in airflow can be expected to delay the point when the fan increases in speed. Cooler temperatures inside the test bench mean that the power supply doesn't have to work as hard to keep cool, and it can therefore run more quietly Another possible point of change is the fact that the larger fan may let out more noise than previously.

Although the Earth Watts has almost the same starting voltage as the Neo HE, it was slightly but audibly louder at minimum speed. Most significantly, it produced a low hum that was absent in the Neo HE. The measured difference may only have been 2 dBA@1m, but the subjective difference was easy to notice. That's not to say that the Earth Watts was loud, exactly, but it didn't quite fall into the "practically inaudible" category that made the Neo HE so special.

The fan controller in the Earth Watts was quite good, remaining at minimum until approximately ~200W output and remaining reasonably quiet even at 250W. Gaming systems may be able to stress the power supply enough to push the fan up above this, but most systems should have no problem staying within a 200W envelope. However, once the fan had started to change speed, it proved to be fairly sensitive, and changes in fan speed occasionally drew attention to themselves.

MP3 SOUND RECORDINGS

Each of these recording have 10 seconds of silence to let you hear the ambient sound of the room, followed by 10 seconds of the product's noise.

Sound Recordings of PSU Comparatives

HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE

These recordings were made with a high resolution, studio quality, digital recording system, then converted to LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We've listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review. Two recordings of each noise level were made, one from a distance of one meter, and another from one foot away.

The one meter recording is intended to give you an idea of how the subject of this review sound in actual use — one meter is a reasonable typical distance between a computer or computer component and your ear. The recording contains stretches of ambient noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. For best results, set your volume control so that the ambient noise is just barely audible. Be aware that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we couldn't hear it from one meter, chances are we couldn't record it either!

The one foot recording is designed to bring out the fine details of the noise. Use this recording with caution! Although more detailed, it may not represent how the subject sounds in actual use. It is best to listen to this recording after you have listened to the one meter recording.

More details about how we make these recordings can be found in our short article: Audio Recording Methods Revised.

CONCLUSIONS

The Earth Watts may be aimed squarely at the (emerging?) Green computing market, and worthy of praise on other merits. It's highly efficient thanks to an 80 Plus certified design, it has excellent electronics (as demonstrated by our rigorous electrical tests), and it's pretty quiet too. Pricing is also very good for a good quality power supply. There's much to like here, and very little to dislike.

Still, we're not really sold on the "Green" aspects of the Earth Watts. High efficiency, active PFC, and the required RoHS compliance all make good selling points for the Green conscious, but these features are not unique to the Earth Watts — all of these are hallmarks of good quality power supplies, "Green" or not. And how much impact does the extra efficiency have, anyway? We're all for efficiency and being environmental friendliness, but we find it hard to believe that the energy saved by the extra efficiency is all that great, especially at the 40~60W level that a well-designed system should idle at. The 6~8W difference between 60% and 70% efficiency at this level just doesn't seem like much. It's certainly not enough to justify buying a replacement power supply if the environment has to bear the cost of putting the old power supply in a landfill.

On the other hand, if you're in the market for a new power supply, and your needs run towards the thrifty and the efficient rather than the flashy and the powerful, the Earth Watts may be one of the best there is. To our knowledge, the 380W model is the smallest 80 Plus certified power supply on the retail market at the moment.

So, of Antec's two "efficient" PSU models (the Neo HE and the Earth Watts), which would we choose? That's a tough question because it depends on your priorities. There's no doubt that the Earth Watts is the more efficient of the two, but it's equally clear that the Neo HE has less residual noise. This being Silent PC Review, we'd lean towards the Neo HE, especially for lower power systems where the lower efficiency is less significant and the fan is unlikely to ramp up. For more powerful systems, the choice is less clear: Do you go with the lower residual noise of the Neo HE, or do you get the Earth Watts so that the fan is quieter when the system is under load? Much depends on how noisy the rest of the system is.

The Earth Watts seems best suited to systems where absolute silence is not the goal. It's quiet enough for general use, especially in mid-range gaming systems where the graphics card is likely to drown out any noise from the power supply unless the fan ramps up. Extreme silencers may prefer a Neo HE, and high-end enthusiasts will no doubt want one of Seasonic's designer power supplies, but the Earth Watts seems like a good quality mainstream choice.

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SPCR Articles of Related Interest:
Power Supply Fundamentals & Recommended Units
Power Distribution within Six PCs
SPCR PSU Test Rig V.4
FSP Green PS
Seasonic S12 Energy Plus
Antec NeoHE 430
Silverstone Element Plus ST50EF-Plus

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