You are here

Zalman ZM400B PSU

April 14, 2004 by Mike Chin

Product
Zalman ZM400B-APS

400W ATX 12V v1.3
power supply
Manufacturer
Zalman Tech Co., Ltd.
Sample Supplier
Zalman USA /

Sharka Corp.

Market Price
~US$110

Zalman has been a major player in the Silent PC market since its inception, moving from their first unique "fan-flower" heatsinks designed for low noise, to their latest statement product, the TNN500A, an entirely fanless case that acts as a massive heatsink for all the components. They were also among the first to market a quiet 300W power supply. The ZM400B is the latest and most powerful of their PSU line, which still includes a 300W model. (ZM400A and ZM300A models are also listed on their site at this time, but these are likely to be discontinued as the newer Intel ATX12V V1.3-compliant "B" models filter through their entire inventory.)

Like so many PSU players, Zalman have upped the retail packing ante with a new snazzy look in a slightly larger box. (Personally I have no problem with a plain brown cardboard box, but I am sure the numbers-crunching profile-savvy marketing folks would laugh me out of the room as a bizarre and insignificant minority.)

The box contains a bit more than usual, with velcro cable ties and a Multi-connector to go along with the AC cord and manual. The multi-connector, first supplied with their ZM300A-APF PSU, is a clever little device that converts a spare 4-pin output connector from the PSU into two pairs of 12V and 5V outputs suitable for fans.



The goodies in the box



Clever multi-connector

Among the feature highlights of Zalman's new PSU:

FEATURE & BRIEF COMMENT

Realizing a Noise-Free Computing Environment (CNPS) with Auto Control Cooling Fan

Noise Level(dB) Changes In relations to Power Supply's Internal Temperature

When the temperature inside the power supply is 55Deg C or less, the cooling fan will operate in 'Quiet' or 'Silent' mode.

It is the same basic technique used by most low noise PSUs. Zalman is more candid with their graph, tying the noise to the temperature, rather than to power output as is commonly done.

Declaring that the fan will operate in 'Quiet' or 'Silent' mode at °C operation only serves to tell us that 'Normal' operation is loud.

Complies with Intel ATX12V ver 1.3

This is the latest product in our power supply line-up, designed to comply with Intel ATX12V Ver. 1.3. S-ATA power connectors supporting S-ATA Ver. 1.0 compliant hard disk drives are provided as standard.

V1.3 compatibility is generally a good thing, with higher current capacity for the 12V line.

Simplifying Source Input - Free Voltage

Unlike products with Passive PFC, where you have to set the operating voltage (115VAC / 230VAC) with a manual switch, this product can be used with any normal AC input source ranging from 100VAC to 240VAC.

Probably more useful for simplified inventory than for users, who are unlikely to go back and forth between different VAC zones with a desktop PC.
Improving Power Factor & Eliminating Harmonics through Active PFC

By implementing Active PFC, the power factor (PF) is improved from 75% (Passive PFC) to 94% (at full load), while harmful harmonic frequencies are reduced below regulatory requirements.
We've commented on the environment-friendly aspects of APFC in the past. It also reduces the VA rating of the Uninterruptible Power Supply used with the system.

Supplies Stable Power to Intel Pentium 4

By including a ATX12V 2x2 (4-pin) 12V power connector and an auxiliary 5-pin power connector, this product can provide stable power to Intel Pentium 4 CPUs, which need 6A of current from each power rail.

Just about universal these days...

High Efficiency Power Supply

Designed with a high switching frequency and low power-loss circuitry, the efficiency of this product exceeds 75% (at full load).

75% is very good, but no longer outstanding. Both Enermax Noisetaker and Seasonic Super models boast higher efficiency.

Certified with Safety Approval EMC Standards - UL, C-UL, CE, TUV, CB-NEMKO, FCC

Generally, the more safety approvals the better.

Strict DC Voltage Regulation & Low Output Ripple / Noise

The actual numbers are fairly standard for a high quality PSU.

Other Specifications:

AC Input:
100VAC ~ 240VAC +-10%

47Hz~63Hz
Total
Power
DC Line
+3.3V
+5V
+12V
-12V
-5V
+5Vsb
Ripple
50mV
50mV
120mV
120mV
100mV
50mV
400W
Tolerance
°5%
°5%
°5%
°10%
°10%
°10%
Output
28A
40A
18A
0.8A
0.3A
2A
Peak
28A
40A
19.5A
0.8A
0.3A
2A
Combined
235W
-
20W
380

Operating Temperature

A very positive specification on the Zalman ZM400B-APS product page, under Operating Conditions, states:

Ambient Temperature: 0~50°C

This means the unit is capable of delivering full power at up to 50°C operational temperature. This specification indicates excellent heat tolerance and component quality. As you may already know, some PSUs are only rated for maximum power at a much lower temperature, such as 25°C, which means that in real computers, they are incapable of providing the rated power. Real computers often exhibit >40°C. (Whether the Zalman PSU fan will stay quiet at such a high temperature is another thing altogether.)

VISUAL ANALYSIS

Like many other makes, Zalman has moved to a flat black paint finish. With its chrome-colored recessed wire grills, the finish gives the unit a serious business-like appearance.

There are intake on the side opposite the fan. The vents are nicely open and generous, covering about 75% of the panel. There are no other vent holes, which ensures that the air flows in and across the entire length of the heatsinks, shown below.

If you get a strong sense of deja vu while looking at these photos, don't be surprised. This Zalman is sourced from Fortron-Source, who have been using the same massive aluminum heatsinks in their 400W models for some time now. Other 400W models that use the same heatsinks include the following PSUs previously reviewed here: SilenX 400 and Nexus NX4000.

Here is a detailed image of the fan. It's a NMB, # 3110GL-B4W-B30, a 0.22A 12VDC variant. The NMB on-line catalog cites a lower 0.17A for the same model, which is rated for 32 CFM at 2800 RPM and 28 dBA. This SPL rating is in free air without impedances; it is sure to be much higher in the PSU.

The output cables consist of:

  • 21" cable for main 20-pin ATX connector
  • 21" cable for dual 12V connector cable
  • 21" cable w/dual SATA connectors
  • 21" cable w/AUX connector cable
  • 2 - 32" cable w/two 4-pin connectors and one floppy drive connector
  • 1 - 31" cable w/three 4-pin connectors

TEST RESULTS

For a complete rundown of testing equipment and procedures, please refer to the article SPCR's Revised PSU Testing System. (It was modified again since first published; there is now a exhaust vent 80mm fan, and the PSU Load Tester's fans are running at 5V, not 12.)

FUNCTION TOOL
Measure temperature of ambient air, case, and PSU exhaust
Digital readout thermometer. There are several in the lab that are used. (Like DigiDoc.) They measure within ~1°C of each other, which is good enough for our purposes. Powered by the PSU being tested. (1~2W power draw.)
Measure voltages across fans and DC output line
Heath / Zenith SM-2320 and Circuit-Test DMR2208 multimeters. These are ordinary multimeters that have been compared against a much more expensive lab instrument and comes very close (within 2%) on readings of 0~20VDC. Plenty good enough for our purposes.
Load PSU to specific DC output power loads for each voltage line

DBS-2100 PSU Load Tester. Made specifically for testing computer power supplies, it 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 6 voltage lines: +5, +12, -12V, +3.3, -5, +5SR. Leads from the PSU plug into the front panel, and there are taps for taking voltage readings for the 3.3V, 5V and 12V lines. It is capable of loading a PSU to over 600W DC power output.

Measure AC power, power factor (PF), VA, AC line voltage
Kill-A-Watt Power Meter. An inexpensive consumer power meter with very good accuracy and a host of useful functions.

Measure noise in dBA from 1 meter distance B&K model 2204 sound level meter. This professional caliber SLM dates back to 1978, weighs over 10 pounds, and is completely analog in design. It has a dynamic range that spans over 140 dB. The unit's absolute sensitivity reaches below 0 dBA. A quiet environment is a prerequisite to low noise testing; the lab has been measured down to 16~17 dBA at night. A 12 dBA adjacent room is also available for PSUs that are quieter.

Thermal environment directly related to the power delivered. Custom Thermal Simulation Box. A NEW ADDITION to the lab, it ensures that the heat generated by the PSU during testing actually creates the thermal ambient of its working environment. So the temperature seen by the PSU is directly tied to how much power it generates. This is probably the most thermally realistic testing rig for PC power supplies used by any testing lab. Please see SPCR's Revised PSU Testing System for full details!

Normally, the voltage line to the fan is accessible from the inside, but not on this unit. The wiring was just too packed around the fan controller circuit. So, an alternate method was used. A pin on a wire was used to penetrate the insulation of the positive lead at the fan grill ° much like a hypodermic needle. It allowed the (+) voltage to the fan to be accessed; the (-) voltage could be tapped at any ground terminal of the PSU so that the fan voltage could be monitored.

The testing was conducted in the "sound lab", a 20' x 10' x 8'(ceiling) carpeted den with heavy drapes on windows across one of the short walls. Acoustics are fairly well damped. Ambient conditions during testing were 22°C and 15 dBA, with input of 120VAC at 60 Hz.

Zalman ZM400B-APS
DC Output (W)
65
90
150
200
250
300
400
AC Input (W)
91
125
203
265
329
407
545
Efficiency
71%
72%
74%
75%
76%
74%
73%
Case Temp (°C)
27
27
30
31
34
37
41
PSU Exhaust (°C)
30
31
35
37
40
44
49
Fan Voltage
4.9
5.7
6.8
7.7
8.2
9
10
Noise (dBA/1m)
20
23
28
32
34
36
40

°

A NOTE on Voltage Regulation

VR is an easy test for any good PSU to pass as long as it is operating within its power output limits. Many will be within 1% accurate. The variances commonly found in reports from motherboard voltage sensors (such as provided by Motherboard Monitor) are not at all useful to test power supplies. The problem is that those readings are the sum of interactions between the motherboard, its power circuitry, the connectors and cables between the board and the PSU, and the PSU itself.

The output voltage of the PSU must be monitored in isolation from external influences while it is doing work (delivering current). The only practical way to do this is to use a voltmeter (multimeter) to check the voltage across the terminals to which the power is being delivered.

In SPCR's VR testing, a multimeter is connected to each of the voltage lines for several minutes. The voltage reading is monitored continuously while the loads on each and all the lines is varied, and the peaks and valleys recorded manually.

1. VOLTAGE REGULATION is excellent, within -/+2% on all lines in any nominal combination of loads. The low and high voltage seen on each of the main lines is shown:

  • +12V: 11.7 to 12.3
  • +5V: 4.75 to 5.2
  • +3.3V: 3.3 to 3.5

2. AC : DC Conversion EFFICIENCY is fairly high in the mid-70s. While the maximum of 76% reached does not match the Seasonic Super series models or the recently reviewed Enermax Noisetaker 475, it is higher than most PSUs.

3. POWER OUTPUT: The unit ran with very good stability at all output levels. Even at 400W output, it ran for a full 5 minutes without overheating or overload.

4. POWER FACTOR is excellent as expected for an Active PFC unit, staying at around 0.97 throughout the testing.

5. FAN VOLTAGE: The start voltage is ~4.7V. In the thermal simulation box, the fan voltage follows the temperature fairly closely. The fan speed-up curve is not very steep, risingly only a little over 3V as the temperature rose from 30°C to 40°C. Surprisingly, the maximum voltage did not reach past 10V, even at full power.

6. NOISE was measured at 1 meter from the exhaust grill, with both the SLM and the PSU at least 1 meter from walls. All other noise sources (inlcuding the fans in the test setup) were turned off during measurements and listening.

Subjectively, the Zalman ZM400B-APS is very quiet at startup and at low power. By the time the 150W mark is reached, however, it is probably loud enough to become the primary noise source in a very quiet PC. The noise continues rising steadily all the way to the maximum output.

The fan sounds a bit clickety at low speed. It is not as clattery as the fans on the recently reviewed Enermax NoiseTaker 475, however. This bearing or commutator firing noise fades beneath the usual whoosh of wind turbulence as the fan speeds up. There is no high frequency component from the fans or the electronics. (Coil noise is often the result of interactions between components, however, so the absence of this noise in the lab does not ensure its absence when the PSU is connected to PC components.)

A CAUTION: The noise-to-power performance achieved here is specific to prevailing test temperatures. In other words, if your ambient temperature is 35°C and your case temperature measures 45°C, you can expect higher noise, regardless of the electrical load.

CONCLUSION

The Zalman ZM400B-APS is a solid all-around performer that is very quiet at lower power levels and moderately quiet beyondt. While none of the measured parameters is outstanding, they are all very good. The current capability of the 12V line is high enough to handle all but the most loaded systems, and the high efficiency ensures the PSU stays reasonably cool throughout.

The stability even at full power output with the exhaust temperature at 49°C tends to substantiate Zalman's claim that the unit is capable of safe operation to 50°C.

Those who seek the lowest noise will want very good case airflow to minimize the amount of heat this PSU sucks in from the hot CPU area, because the fan controller tends to spin up the fan at a relatively low temperature (and power) level, especially considering the high temperature capability of the unt..

Much thanks to Zalman USA and to

Sharka Corp.

for the Zalman ZM400B-APS review sample and for their kind support.

* * *

Zalman power supplies are also available at

Silicon Acoustics

and

EndPCNoise

.

* * *

Discuss this article in the SPCR Forums.

Sections: 

Google

www SPCR