Planning on building a gaming PC now that GPU prices are finally falling? Chances are you’ve spent a lot of time researching which GPU, processor, RAM, and motherboard you want, but what about the power supply?
For many, the power supply should just work and fit into their budget, but as you will see, not all PSUs (power supply units) are created equal.
The main specification for a power supply is, of course, its wattage, and this is a measure of how much power the PSU can deliver. Some high-performance PC components, such as GPUs, have power requirements that have only increased over the years. Rumor has it that Nvidia’s GTX 4000 series GPUs require even more power than the 3000 series, which itself required quite a bit of power.
How much power? Well, Nvidia’s GTX 3090 Ti can draw more than 400 watts of power, which is about as much as an air conditioner for a small window.
When you buy a PSU, you need to add up all the potential loads on your gaming PC. For example, if you have an Nvidia RTX 3090 Ti (450 watts) and an AMD Ryzen 5800X3D (105 watts), plus 200 watts for SSDs, RAM, and built-in components, you’ll need a PSU capable of at least 750 watts.
However, it is not a good idea to push a PSU to its maximum capacity as it can struggle to supply any component with stable voltages. This, in turn, will introduce problems throughout your system, which can be difficult to fix. The thing is, if you plan on pushing your gaming PC hard, you’ll want to buy a PSU with about 20 percent more capacity than your system needs on paper.
Ever wondered why some PSUs are rated as “Bronze” or “Gold” or “Platinum”? Those ratings indicate an overall PSU efficiency, which is really just a fancy way of saying how much waste heat a PSU creates.
What a PC power supply does is convert AC power from your outlet into DC power for the components in your PC to use. So let’s say you have a 1000 watt PSU, and you’re running it at 100 percent load, just for the sake of simplicity. A Titanium-rated PSU will be able to convert that 1,000 watts of AC power into 900 watts of DC power and 100 watts of heat.
And to push this example a little further, if you have a 1000 watt Bronzetier PSU, it could only convert 80 percent of incoming AC power, generating 200 watts of waste heat in the process. When you put it that way, I think it really illustrates the material differences between PSU ratings. Wasting 20 percent of your power as heat is no joke.
As you might imagine, PSUs with higher efficiency ratings cost more money. That said, I’ve used a lot of bronze-rated power supplies in my time, and honestly most of them have been great. I think it makes sense for a lot of people to save the money up front and just eat up the electricity bill, but with energy prices rising around the world, I’m not sure if calculus makes any more sense, especially if you’re on energy intensive gaming, 3D modeling or programming.
Notes on extreme systems
For most systems with a single GPU (even top-tier ones), a 1,000-watt power supply is usually sufficient. But systems with more than one GPU need something in the 1,200 to 1,600 watt range. However, if you live in North America with 110 volt AC, keep in mind that a 15 amp circuit breaker can only provide 1650 watts max†
Our PSU Picks
The PSUs described below are listed by energy efficiency class. Each category includes high, medium, and low wattage PSUs, and each category is selected based on its specifications, online reviews, and other intangibles such as warranty.
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Titanium-rate PSUs are the best of the best. They offer more than 90 percent efficiency, but cost a lot lot more than their lower-rated equivalents. These will appeal to real performance tuners and those who like to flex.
Platinum-rated PSUs are a close second to Titanium-rated units in efficiency, but fall a few percentage points behind 100 percent load. These are good power supplies for gamers and people who need workstation level performance, but work just fine without the absolute peak efficiency.
Gold-tier power supplies are what I would consider a good place for people who care about efficiency, but are also price sensitive. They’re nearly 90 percent efficient if you squint, and you can get them for a lot less money.
Silver and Bronze PSUs
I bundle Silver and Bronze tier power supplies together because they only differ by two percent in efficiency, and if you’re buying a PSU in one of these categories, you’re probably trying to find something that’s reliable and affordable. The trouble with Bronze and Silver tier PSUs is that some are total junk while others are solid as a rock. The ones we’ve selected below have countless user reviews and are a great compromise between price and performance.