Signature 650 PSU: Antec's Challenge

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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 the 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 (6~7V) 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 fan speed varies with temperature, not output load. A power supply generates more heat as output increases, but 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

Note that the test data shows just one 12V line/load for convenience's sake. Our PSU load tester has three separate 12V load circuits, and all three were used: One for the main ATX and drive power output cables, one for the AUX12V connectors, and one for the PCIe 16X power connectors. The variations between the 12V lines were so small as to be insignificant, typically under 0.1V.

The ambient temperature was 22~24°, and the ambient noise level was 11 dBA.

OUTPUT, VR & EFFICIENCY: Antec Signature 650
DC Output Voltage (V) + Current (A)
Total DC Output
AC Input
Calculated Efficiency
+12V
+5V
+3.3V
-12V
+5VSB
12.16
0.92
5.06
0.99
3.40
0.97
0.1
0.1
21.5
38
55.4%
12.16
2.45
5.06
0.99
3.40
0.97
0.1
0.2
40.1
60
66.9%
12.16
3.48
5.06
1.96
3.40
1.86
0.1
0.2
63.3
87
72.7%
12.14
6.21
5.04
2.91
3.38
2.67
0.1
0.2
90.4
114
79.3%
12.14
9.32
5.04
4.55
3.37
5.44
0.2
0.6
150.8
184
82.0%
12.14
12.09
5.00
6.50
3.36
7.54
0.2
0.2
200.6
240
83.6%
12.08
15.56
4.98
9.00
3.34
8.48
0.2
0.3
251.4
294
85.5%
12.05
18.03
5.01
10.60
3.34
11.00
0.5
0.5
300.4
349
86.1%
12.01
24.67
4.98
13.60
3.32
14.89
0.6
0.6
402.0
472
85.2%
11.99
30.55
4.96
17.90
3.28
15.94
0.6
0.8
500.5
591
84.7%
11.95
40.57
4.94
19.50
3.25
19.60
0.8
1.0
649.2
796
81.6%
Crossload Test
12.00
40.59
5.00
1.90
3.3
1.89
0.8
1.0
517.2
656
85.1%
+12V Ripple (peak-to-peak): maximum of 18mV @ full power
+5V Ripple (peak-to-peak): maximum of 13mV @ full power
+3.3V Ripple (peak-to-peak): maximum of 16mV @ full power
NOTE: The current and voltage for -12V and +5VSB lines is not measured but based on switch settings of the DBS-2100 PS Loader. It is a tiny portion of the total, and potential errors arising from inaccuracies on these lines is <1W.

OTHER DATA SUMMARY: Antec Signature 650
DC Output (W)
21
40
63
90
151
201
251
300
402
500
649
Intake (°C)
21
21
23
25
28
33
31
30
35
35
47
Exhaust (°C)
25
26
28
30
34
39
37
36
42
44
55
Temp Rise (°C)
4
5
5
5
6
6
6
6
7
9
8
Fan RPM*
720
720
720
720
720
720
900
1220
1830
2700
4200
SPL - Anechoic
15
15
15
15
15
15
16
18
28
36
47
Power Factor
0.90
0.96
0.99
0.99
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
1.00
SPL: Sound Pressure Level measured in dBA at 1m
SPL at idle in 16 dBA live room:
19 dBA at 1m
AC Power in Standby:
0.7W / 0.1 PF
AC Power with No Load, PSU power On: 9.8W / 0.49 PF
*Fan RPM: With a PWM fan, the usual procedure of measuring the voltage to the fan is useless, it will always read 12V. Both of our tachometers (laser and strobe) were used to periodically monitor fan speed. This was not continuous, but rather done whenever a change in the sound was noted or seen on the the sound level meter. It may not be as accurate as our usual voltage reading, which is monitored continuously.
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.

ANALYSIS

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.

At 20W load, efficiency was only 55.2%. This is to be expected; 20W load it's a harsh efficiency test for a PSU rated at 650W. Efficiency rose fairly quickly as the load was increased. 80% efficiency was reached around the 100W mark, and it kept climbing all the way to a high of 86.1% at 300W before sliding back down gradually to 81.6% at full power. The high efficiency plateau was 250W~500W, which is probably ideal for most system this PSU will power.

These are excellent results, expected of a PSU that's certified Bronze by 80 Plus. In our test, the sample just missed the 82% minimum efficiency mark at full power by 0.4W, but this is hardly a miss because of the thermal severity of our test. The 80 Plus testing is done at typical room temperature (20~25°C) while our test conditions feed the heat of the PSU output back into its operating ambient. To reach 81.6% efficiency at the maximum 650W output with intake air temperature of 47°C is excellent.

2. 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 maintain within ±5%. At all load levels, voltages were right on target, and even at the highest loads, the voltages barely budged off target. This is excellent performance, matched by only a small handful of PSUs reviewed thus far.

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. Ripple at maximum power on the Signature 650 was as low as that measured on any PSU in the past, at any load. This is superlative performance.

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. Power factor was very good for this model, running no lower than 0.96 at any point during testing.

5. LOW LOAD TESTING revealed no problems starting at very low loads. Our sample had no issue starting up with no load, either.

6. LOW & 240 VAC PERFORMANCE

The power supply was set to 400W load with 120VAC through the hefty variac in the lab. The variac was then dialed 10V lower every 10 minutes. This is to check the stability of the PSU under brownout conditions where the AC line voltage drops from the 110~120V norm. The Signature 650 is rated for operation 100VAC ~ 240VAC ±10%. Most 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.

Low VAC Test: Antec Signature 650 @ 500W Output
VAC
AC Power
Efficiency
244V
459W
87.2%
120V
472W
84.8%
90V
487W
82.1%

Efficiency improved around 3% with 244VAC input. The sample even passed the 90VAC test (less than the 100VAC minimum recommended) without any issues. Neither voltage regulation nor ripple changed appreciably during the test.

7. TEMPERATURE & COOLING

Cooling was excellent, with the °C temperature rise through the unit staying in single digits all the way up to maximum power. The low 8°C temperature rise at full 650W power is unheard of in our test rig. Of course, this is at the expense of very high noise. It's interesting to note that while the temperature rise increased steadily as power was increased, the intake temperature actually dropped at bit at 200~300W. This is a reflection of the improved airflow and cooling as the fan began ramping up in speed.



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