80Plus Gold - this year's fad in the PSU industry

March 12, 2009 | 15:09

Tags: #80plus #fad #gold #hardware #power-supply #psu

Last year we had 12V DC-DC at CeBIT and then 80Plus Silver at Computex, but this year CeBIT is awash with companies showing off 80Plus Gold parts due out in the next few months. Gold is an efficiency standard of 87 to 91 percent, with a 0.9 PFC across the whole range, whereas Silver was only a few stops shorter at 85 to 87 percent.

We have spoken to almost every major PSU manufacturer to discuss what they see in 80Plus Gold: if it’s important or just a marketing fad for the industry.
FSP is aiming for the high end only with two models at 1,000 and 1,200W. Its argument is because at that wattage this will waste the most power when running at full load, so minimising that reduces cost for the customer.

However, for these premium power supplies, the customer is going to pay more in the first place so will they ever see the benefit? Also, it seems FSP is either merely using it as a marketing tool to sell more super high wattage PSUs rather than addressing the fact that most people want 400-750W products.

Enermax has gone a similar route, and has had an upgraded Revolution 85+ claiming to be the highest 80Plus rated EG1100 PSU currently unavailable at 91.24 percent for 50 percent load. It's nice to know at this efficiency there will be even less heat emitted so the PSU size can be smaller and the fan quieter, but again, this is for a 1,100W product, so how many of us are going to fork out for that?

We sat down with Seasonic for an extended chat, and in our opinion the guys there clearly know what they are doing. It claimed that for the last two years the company has been developing a set of gold standard units without pandering to the progressive increments of other companies, and it looks like it could pay off.

You don’t have to be an electrical engineer to know the PCB shots shown of Seasonic's new product (which we weren’t allowed to have, sorry), show nothing like we’ve seen before – the raw material count is at a complete minimum, the entire set up has quality 105'C capacitors and instead of being caked in cooling and larger heatsinks it’s got the smallest, most basic pair of 'sinks we’ve seen in a long time.

Seasonic said it recognises that 80Plus Gold doesn’t give you that much more than Silver, but designing a Gold and costing down can easily give you Silver while hitting a cheaper price point for the consumer. Also, its Gold products will only be 550-750W, with 750 and 850W silver (like the M12-D) and 330 to 500W units will be Bronze for cost sensitive applications.

Having not been overwhelmed by the M12-D 850W in our recent tests, as well as the current street price, we'll wait and see what we'll be paying for this engineering investment.

Gold and Silver units will be available with fully modular cables, including the ATX cable, as well as standard fixed cables with high quality Sanyo Denki fans “designed specifically for the application in PSUs” according to Seasonic. The Bronze units will be fixed only with an ADDA fan (again to save cost). All of the units will be using a single 12V rail and DC-DC conversion.

Why fully modular? Seasonic expects there will be a “tipping point” in the market for CPUs or graphics in the next few years, where the cables will change again and by going fully modular it anticipates offering cable swap outs for customers instead of them having to buy whole new PSUs. It’s a bit of a gamble because there’s no roadmap or timeframe for change and by going fully modular there’s the usual “voltage and efficiency drop” and another point of failure induced by adding the extra connector.

This tipping point idea is not entirely unique in the industry because, when we interviewed Doug Dodson, PC Power and Cooling's Head Honcho, he said a very similar thing.

Hiper on the other hand see no value in 80Plus Gold. The attitude it takes is that for an extra few percent efficiency the cost to the consumer will be just too great right now. The PSU would have to run for several months or years at full load to see the cost benefit over Bronze or Silver units. It claims that 80Plus Gold is just a marketing levy only, and while hitting 80Plus in general is good for the environment and the industry, Hiper stated it is more concerned with adding unique features, like USB hubs. However, the cynical among us might question the investment to the internals – Hiper has yet to make a commitment to many 12V DC-DC products for example, so it could simply just not afford to keep up.

We also grabbed a few minutes with Geoff Wickes, administrator of the 80Plus programme. We asked Wickes where the organisation goes after Gold? Platinum? He said that he was surprised at the speed of which the industry has advanced, although this did mean 80Plus was now getting pressure from OEMs to not push any further. As the latest Energy Star 5.0 spec comes into play later this year, making 80Plus Bronze the minimum standard, this increased the cost to large OEM manufacturers whose product timescales are far longer than the much smaller consumer industry.

Wickes was keen to point out that 80Plus was an idea not just for power supplies, but a concept for the efficiency of electronic products across the home. 80Plus is also looking at games consoles and noted that the Wii was the most energy efficient of all the current generation. He went onto say that 80Plus is working with Microsoft and Sony on software solutions right now, where the CPU and graphics portions go into lower power states faster, saving power. Another key area Wickes is keen to address is graphics and he said 80Plus is working closely with the graphics card manufacturers to get more efficient products.

Just like Seasonic, 80Plus is also considering a tipping point for the industry in the short term future, although Wickes hesitated at suggesting what might happen. When asked if the 80Plus group lobbied governments for stronger laws for efficiency and greener computing, Wickes said that this kind of activity would only put him at odds with an industry using his services and his company provided both research for the government and advice for its industry partners instead: the Energy Star standard was incentive enough.
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