SilenX 14 dBA 400W PSU

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Parameters Tools
DC load on PSU DBS-2100 PSU load tester
Ambient temperature
Any number of thermometers
Fan / DC voltage regulation
Heath / Zenith SM-2320 multimeter
AC power
Kill-A-Watt Power Meter
Heath AD-1308 Real Time Spectrum Analyzer

The core PSU test tool on SilentPCReview's test bench is the DBS-2100 load tester, made (in Taiwan by D-RAM Computer Company) specifically for testing computer power supplies. The machine consists of a large bank of high power precision resistors along with an extensive selection of switches on the front panel calibrated in Amps (current) and grouped into the 5 voltage lines: +5, +12, -12V, +3.3, -5, +5SR. Leads from the PSU connect into the front panel. It is shown above with leads from a PSU plugged in.

To ensure safe current delivery, the DC output connector closest to the PSU on each set of leads is hooked up to the load tester. This ensures that the current delivered is distributed to as many short leads as possible. When pushing a PSU to its rated output, the heat generated in the wires can be an issue.

The PSU is tested at 5 DC output power levels:

  1. 65W: A very typical DC power draw by many system at low / modest load.
  2. 90W: Established previously as a typical max power draw of a mid-range desktop PC.
  3. 150W: For higher power machines.
  4. 300W
  5. Maximum

Care is taken to ensure that the load on each of the voltage lines does not exceed the ratings for the PSU. The PSU is left running 5~10 minutes at each power level before measurements are recorded.

The DBS-2100 is equipped with 2 individually fused AC outlets and 4 exhaust fans on the back panel. A bypass switch toggles the fans on / off so that noise measurements can be made. The resistors get very hot under high loads.

Kill-A-Watt AC Power Meter is plugged into the AC outlet on the side of the DBS-2100 in the above picture. The AC power draw of the PSU is measured at each of the 4 power loads. The Kill-A-Watt is used to measure:

Efficiency (in AC-to-DC conversion) at each power level. This is the efficiency figure provided by PSU makers. It is obtained by dividing the DC power output (as set on DBS-2100 load) by the AC power consumption. Efficiency varies with load, and also temperature. PSUs seem to run more efficiently when warmer, up to a point. Generally, they are least efficient at low power and most efficient at 40~80% power load. The main advantage of high efficiency is that less power is wasted as heat -- this means a cooler PSU that requires less airflow to maintain safe operating temps (read: quieter.)

Power Factor (PF). This measurement can be read directly off the Kill-A-Watt. In simple terms, it tell us how much AC power is lost to harmonics (unnecessary electromagnetic energy) while driving the PSU. In simple technical terms, it is the difference between the measured V(oltage) x A(mperes) and AC power in Watts. PF varies somewhat depending on load. The ideal PF is 1.0. which means no AC power is lost. A PF of 0.5 means that to deliver 100W in AC to a PSU, your electric company actually uses 200W and and this is often shown in your electric bill as savings (depends on your electric utility company and your account with them). 100W is lost or wasted. Active PF Correction (PFC) power supplies usually have a PF of >0.95. Passive PFC units usually run 0.6 - 0.8. Non-PFC units usually measure 0.5-0.7.

PF is not significant in terms of noise, heat or performance for a PC, but it is relevant to electricity consumption and energy conservation. Here is a simple illustration of worst and best case scenarios based on real tests I conducted on real PSUs (not published): A non-PFC low efficiency PSU vs an Active-PFC high-efficiency PSU.

64% efficiency/ 0.5 PF PSU
78% efficiency / 0.99 PF PSU
DC power delivered
AC power consumed
Lost as heat in AC/DC conversion
Total AC power used*
AC power lost to harmonics
Total power wasted

*Total AC power used: This is what your electric bill would be based on, assuming you drove your PSU to 300W steady DC output, which is unlikely.

As you can see, the differences are remarkable, especially the bottom figures. If you are running large numbers of PCs, there's absolutely no question of the benefits of high PFC and, to a lesser degree, high efficiency.

The Heath / Zenith SM-2320 digital display multimeter, a fairly standard unit, is used to measure the fan voltages and the line voltages of the PSU output. The latter is done via the terminal pin on the front panel, above the connections for the DC outputs from the PSU.

The Test Lab is a spare kitchen measuring 12 by 10 feet, with an 8 foot ceiling and vinyl tile floors. The acoustics are very lively and allows even very soft noises to be heard easily. The PSU under test is placed on a piece of soft foam to prevent transfer of vibrations to the table top. Temperature in the lab is usually ~20C. This is something of a problem as PSUs usually operate in environments that easily reach 45C. Sited next to or above the CPU, the PSU is always subject to external heat. This brings us to the next topic...

In-case Thermal Simulation

The solution is a 100W AC bulb in an empty case with the PSU mounted normally. The distance between the bottom of the PSU and the top of the bulb is about 7 inches. All the case back panel holes are blocked with duct tape. The only significant exit for the hot air in the closed case is the PSU, which is then subject to a fair amount of heat. Still, the bottom front panel case intake hole is very large. In testing, the front of the case is moved so it hangs over the edge of desk, over free air, to ensure good fresh convection airflow. There are no case fans. This is probably a more heat than would be seen by a normal PSU, because in a real case, there are usually other air exits, and at least one case fan.

The simulation means the PSU must cope with the 100W of heat generated by the light bulb plus whatever heat it generates within itself. It is a good simulation when the PSU is actually putting out >100W of DC voltage, although in real-life systems, there would be other air exhausts paths, resulting in a bit lower case temperature. So call it a very demanding test.

Noise Measurements

The Heath AD-1308 is a portable half-octave Real Time Spectrum Analyzer with sound level meter (SLM) functions. Below 40 dBA, its accuracy is poor, limited to 3 dB increments, down to 23 dBA. Some 15 years old, this LED-based unit has long since been displaced by digital devices with better interfaces to PCs. The "A" weighting was used; it most closely approximates the frequency response characteristics of human hearing.

The microphone on the sound meter is positioned within an inch to the side of the PSU fan exhaust to avoid fan turbulence in the microphone itself. The dBA obtained here cannot be compared to any other measurements due to the lack of adherence to a repeatable standard and the uncontrolled reflective environment.

The noise measurements are always accompanied by descriptions of subjective perceptions. Without these, the measurements, which are not that reliable, provide only part of the picture.

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