Antec CP-850: Unique PSU with Top Performance

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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 10~11 dBA, 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 over 1000W. 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, cooling is the main concern, not the noise level.

A different way to mount the PSU in the load tester box had to be devised due the extra height of the CP-850. The photos below show how this was accomplished. Not elegant, and it may not have given exactly the same thermal/airflow conditions as with other PSUs, but it was probably close enough. Anything else would have required a major modification of the test box; not worthwhile when it's due to be replaced very soon with a custom designed & built, fully automated, computerized PSU test box. (Just had to tell someone!)

PSU test scene in anechoic chamber: The PSU normally sits cradled in the load tester like in a typical ATX tower style case, with the back and bottom exposed to the interior of the box, which gets extremely hot under load.

The CP-850 could not be positioned the same way due to its height. It was rotated around 90 degrees, angled down so the externally mounted 120mm fan was jammed into the opening, and all the cracks around the PSU stuffed and taped up to stop up the unwanted air leaks.

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.


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 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.

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