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SKYMTL's 500W+, Sub-$105 PSU Roundup

by Michael "SKYMTL" Hoenig     |     March 23, 2007



Review Legend:
Post #1: Competitor Roundup
Post #2: Performance Testing / Benchmarking
Post #3: Conclusions

Well, here we are in what seems to be an almost weekly occurrence: another power supply roundup by yours truly. This time we will be looking at a little more powerful models than we were last time; 500W to 600W models that all come in at under $105. Sounds like a great deal doesn’t it?

For the first roundup, please go here: http://www.hardwarecanucks.com/reviews-articles/513-skymtls-budget-psu-roundup.html

In this day and age we are faced with ever increasing power demands from higher-end components such as Nvidia’s 8800-series and AMD’s almost-mythical R600 cards. To power these beasts (or at least the 8800-series because of AMD’s tight lips about their card) and a proper processor, consumers should be looking at a minimum of a 450W power supply. If you start adding more than one hard drive and perhaps some overclocking, you are suddenly faced with the purchase of a 500W or more power supply. While this proposition can make some people weak in the knees (and bladders) there are relatively cheap 500W and above power supplies out there. It is in exactly these situations where the PSUs in this roundup come into play.

These following power supplies promise good performance for a fraction of the price of higher-end units but are they able to live up to those promises? Well, we will have to see now won’t we…. on to the competitors I say!!!

Note: All PSUs come in retail packaging; no OEM-packaged units are in this review.



FSP Blue Storm II 500W

Price: $100
Warranty: 2 Years
Fan Size: 120mm
Cord Lengths and Connectors:
- Molex: 6 Connectors
o 2x 27” length (3 connectors)

- SATA: 4 Connectors
o 2x 21” length

- PCI-E: 1 Connector
o 2x 15.5” length

- 4-Pin Floppy: 1 Connector
o 1x 32” length (at end of Molex cord)

- 20+4 ATX Connector: 15” Length

- 4-Pin CPU Connector: 16” Length



So here we are with an old favorite in this category: the FSP Blue Storm 500W which has been thoroughly revamped with totally new internals. Unlike many of the other power supplies in this roundup, FSP makes their own power supplies and thus can supposedly exert more control over the quality that comes off of their production lines. FSP is billing this as a spiritual successor to the original Blue Storm but with enhanced features such as APFC, better efficiency and higher output. The older Blue Storm was in fact a 460W power supply which was rated at 500W peak output instead of 500W continuous output. On the flip side of things, this particular power supply is rated at 500W continuous output and 530W peak output.



Package includes your standard fare but with a few noteworthy extras. Other than the power cord and the screws you get (in my opinion) a very well-written manual, tie wraps and a nifty 3D case badge. Let me tell you, those velcro tie wraps go a huge way in clearing the wire clutter behind your desk or taming the snake’s nest you have inside your computer. While it may have cost a few pennies, it goes to show you that even the small things matter.




Observations

What can I say; this power supply is very….blue. The wonderful sleeving on most of the cables is blue and the casing itself is powder coated matte blue as well. Heck, even the 120mm fan is blue. Since I don’t have a window on my case I wouldn’t mind the color but it might be something you take into account if you tend to show the inside of your computer off by using a case window. You can also see that this power supply has APFC by the omission of the telltale red switch in the back. The sleeving on the cables is just the right thickness to allow you to bend the cables any which way you want. I’m telling you, FSP hit the nail on the head with the sleeving….until….



Eeeek!! The two PCI-E connectors are sleeved in red and PINK. Why this is done is beyond me but it really makes the whole wiring bundle look a bit like a shredded Smurf doesn’t it? The cable length is almost bordering on unacceptable as it is one of the shortest in this roundup. It had no problem winding its way through my Antec Sonata case but it may cause some concerns for people with larger cases or power supplies in odd mounting positions. I did have a problem with the PCI-E connectors as they are quite short. Something I wish every power supply manufacturer would use can be seen right here:



Every Molex connector has two upraised pieces of plastic which you push down against in order for the connector to be detached more easily. Bloody brilliant.



The label shows us that the Blue Storm has a healthy 18A available on each of it’s +12V rails (note that these are virtual rails and not true separate rails) which is good even for next-generation graphics cards. In this case the +12V1 rail feeds power to the CPU while the +12V2 rail feeds power to the PCI-E connectors and all the accessory connectors. Let’s see what’s in store for us when we open this thing up…



Just like in my first Budget PSU Roundup, we see the FSP likes to keep it very minimal with the interior design and component selection in its power supplies. The first thing I can notice is how closely this power supply’s internal layout reflects that of the older FSP Green Line power supplies. The Green Line is billed as energy-efficient power supplies which should bode very well for this unit in the efficiency tests. Indeed, even the PCB has the markings of the Green Line units

It appears that this PCB is used for nearly all of FSP’s newest models. This is no cause for concern as the only thing that changes are the components used with the higher-wattage units using higher quality capacitors, transformers.



I was very impressed with the cap selection on this power supply as FSP decided to use a single 390uF OST cap on the primary with several industrial-grade 105*C rated CapXons on the secondary. The difference between this power supply and the Sparkle 400W I reviewed my first review is like night and day.



The fan used on this power supply is a Yate Loon 120mm sleeve-bearing fan which is rated at 2200Rpm pushing 88 CFM of air at a quiet 40db.



Cooler Master Extreme Power Duo 600W

Price: $77
Warranty: 1 Year
Fan Size: 120mm
Cord Lengths and Connectors:
- Molex: 6 Connectors
o 2x 28” length (3 connectors)

- SATA: 3 Connectors
o 1x 29” length

- PCI-E: 1 Connector
o 2x 17” length

- 4-Pin Floppy: 2 Connector
o 1x 33” length (at end of Molex cords)

- 20+4 ATX Connector: 17” Length

- 4-Pin CPU Connector: 17” Length




The next power supply we are looking at is the Cooler Master Extreme Power Duo 600W. This unit looks to be the most powerful in this roundup by a fair margin and is a great price to boot. At about $77, if it can prove to put out 600W it is a great deal for your money. Cooler Master has seen fit to use Seventeam as the manufacturer of choice in this case (not all of Cooler Master’s power supplies are made by Seventeam) which is a great move in my opinion. Seventeam is very well known for their rock-solid server grade power supplies and we should therefore hope that some of that stability rubs of onto this power supply.

The packaging and included accessories is your normal retail-packaging fare with a power cord, instruction manual and screws.




Observations

This power supply is quite standard by all outside appearances. It is clad in a matte black finish and only the main ATX cable is sleeved. Luckily that sleeving is relatively pliable but a problem does present itself when using the other, non-sleeved cables. For some reason, the Molex, SATA and PCI-E connectors are only tie-wrapped 12” away from the main power supply. By contrast, most other power supplies have their wires tied 4” to 6” away from the power supply. What happens in this case is that the cables all become tangled and take quite a bit of time to sort out. Thankfully the cables themselves are quite long so you won’t have much of a problem routing them through your case. Since this is based on a Seventeam power supply, I was also hoping for an EPS12V 8-pin CPU connector but there is only a 4-pin.

Something else that needs to be mentioned is the lack of Active PCF on this unit. Since I was hoping this power supply was based on a high quality server unit, I was wanted to see AFPC. Finally, it must be mentioned that the warranty on this unit is quite short at 1 year.



You may notice a few things about the label that will jump out at you right away. First and foremost among those is the fact that there is no peak or continuous output numbers listed la Blue Storm. We can also see than even though this is supposedly a 600W power supply, the output numbers are nearly identical to the 500W Blue Storm II.



The first thing that struck me when looking at the interior of this power supply is the pure-copper heatsinks. The PCB itself has an interesting “H” design to it and upon close inspection, it turns out that this power supply is indeed built by Seventeam but it is not a 600W power supply. This unit is actually based on a 500W design (ST-500BKP) which isn’t surprising considering the output amperages. I must say, it is a bit of a disappointment though.

The caps on both the primary and secondary filtering stages are CapXons with the primaries being 1200uF units rated at 85C.


The fan used on the Cooler Master is a 120mm model made by Protechnic. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any information about this model due to a dyslectic Protechnic website.



Nmedia MP-500 (500W)

Price: $61
Warranty: 1 Year
Packaging: Full Retail
Fan Size: 140mm
Cord Lengths and Connectors:
- Molex: 5 Connectors
o 1x 33” length (3 connectors)
o 1x 25” length (2 connectors)

- SATA: 2 Connectors
o 1x 22” length

- PCI-E: 1 Connector
o 1x 16” length

- 4-Pin Floppy: 1 Connector
o 1x 36” length (at end of Molex cord)

- 20+4 ATX Connector: 15” Length

- 4-Pin CPU Connector: 15” Length



Another roundup and another nMedia power supply rears its head. Once again this power supply is manufactured by Shezhen Chi Yuan though nMedia puts a few of its own touches on it. This power supply is amazingly priced at around $61 and for that you get the standard retail packaging with a power cord, screws, instruction manual and 500W power supply! How they managed to get all of this in a retail package for under $70 is beyond me. If this power supply lives up to the decent performance I found with the 400W unit, we may have a great contender on our hands here.

A note about nMedia Customer Support

Upon testing this power supply I thought it prudent to contact nMedia regarding some concerns I had. I was stunned to have my email replied to within a few MINUTES with a clear and courteous response answering all of my questions. One thing is for sure: with nMedia you will get outstanding customer service.




Observations

The exterior of this power supply is identical to that of the MP-400 in every way, shape and form. Even the number and lengths of the cables and connectors are the exact same when compared to that of the MP-400 and only the ATX cable is sleeved. Once again, the cable length of this nMedia unit may concern some people as it one of the shortest of all power supplies tested in this roundup. This is also the only power supply in this roundup with a single PCI-E connector though the cable for it is 1/2” longer than those on the FSP. I have been assured by nMedia that they will soon be releasing new version of this power supply with two PCI-E connectors. Hopefully they will address the cable lengths at the same time.

You can see on the picture above that the nMedia does not have APFC. Considering the great customer service I received from nMedia, I was hoping for a little longer warranty. Unfortunately, there is a 1 year warranty period just like the Cooler Master.




The label reads very much like that of the 400W unit where there are only the combined outputs for the +5V and +3.3V rails. If we do a little math, it looks like the +12V combined output should be about 320W but the amperage values themselves are below those of the other power supplies in this roundup. Once again, this power supply does not carry RoHS certification. At about $60, you can’t really expect miracles I guess….

Let’s see what the insides look like.




Does this look familiar to anyone else? The interior is virtually identical to that of the MP-400….it is actually stunningly similar. The only differences that I can pick out quickly are different caps being used on both the primary and secondary along with a small difference in the PBC layout.

Just like the MP-400 having a 200W-300W PCB, this unit has a 350W-450W PCB. What gives? I wish that I could tell you but I really have no idea other than I hope Shenzhen wouldn’t put 500W components on a 450W-rated PCB. Other than that, I will let you come to your own conclusions.



Remember what I was saying about this unit having different caps than the MP-400? Well, here is the proof. Instead of a Nippon / Teapo combination, this unit uses Teapo 1000uF caps on the primary with a combination of Teapo and KSC caps on the secondary. While Teapo has been known to produce good quality capacitors, KSC’s quality is unknown to me.



The fan on the MP-500 is a wind tunnel sized 140mm job which spins at a maximum of 1200RPM while pushing 75CFM of air at a whisper-quiet 28db.



Enermax FMAII 535W

Price: $105
Warrnty: 3 Years
Fan Size: 2x 80mm
Cord Lengths and Connectors:
- Molex: 7 Connectors (2 on Infinity Cable)
o 1x 33” length (3 connectors)
o 1x 21” length (2 connectors)

- SATA: 6 Connectors (3 on Infinity Cable)
o 1x 29” length (3 Connectors)

- PCI-E: 2 Connectors
o 2x 19” length

- 4-Pin Floppy: 2 Connectors
o 1x 27” length (at end of 21” Molex cord)

- 20+4 ATX Connector: 15” Length

- 8-Pin EPS12V Connector: 17” Length

- Infinity: 30” length (2 Molex, 3 SATA connectors)



Now we have a look at one of the “big boys” or this roundup; the Enermax FMAII 535W power supply. This is the successor to Enermax’s Whisper II 535W (released more than two years ago) even though there is next to nothing that makes this unit any different. Indeed, the only things that have changed are a slight upping in the +12V OCP rating and the inclusion of an “Infinity” cable. Enermax seems to make all of their own power supplies though there are hints in some that Enermax sometimes farms out their production to one large OEM or another. At $105 this is the most expensive power supply in this roundup but there are advantages to this unit such as the 3-year warranty and what is included in the retail box:



Inside the box you get a laundry-list of extras, some of which are very interesting. Aside from the standard power cord, screws and instruction manual you get an Enermax lanyard (for keys and a can of mace), case stickers for those pimp-my-rig contests and a promotional brochure. Ok so the last item is only advertisement but whether you call these extras gimmicks or great additions, I like the fact that they are included. They make this power supply stand out.




Observations

Not only is this power supply the only old-school grey unit in the roundup, it is also the only one that allows users to control the fan speed.

Going a little further, we see that this is another power supply that does not have APFC. I find it extremely odd that the photo on the package does not show the power factor switch on the back of the FMA.

Let’s take a look at those cables as they deserve a section all on their own…




First and foremost let me say that it is nice to see that some of the cables are sleeved and there are the same kind of push-release Molex connectors as found on the FSP. The inclusion of the EPS 8-pin (4+4 pin) connector wins Enermax a huge point in my books.

On the other hand I think that the sleeving job done on the PCI-E Connectors and the 4+4 EPS12V CPU connector is something that needs to be better thought out. Why Enermax decided to join the PCI-E and the EPS cables in the same sleeve is beyond me. Cable routing is virtually impossible when these cables are basically joined at the hip. With some motherboards it is a lesson in futility trying to get this one cable to reach your graphics card and your 4-pin (or 8-pin) CPU connector. Add to that the fact that the sleeving is stiffer than a pair of starched Levis and some of the Molex connectors are extremely hard to plug in. And just when I though it couldn’t get any more frustrating…



Both the motherboard connector and the 4+4 8-pin have the same break-off design which can’t even be considered “break off”. It’s more like a…hanging design. Coupled with the stiff-as-a-corpse sleeving, it is next to impossible to install these into a tight space.



Here we can see two features that contribute to make this unit unique. The Infinity cable is a brilliant idea to save space but also provide the functions of a Molex or an SATA cable. Enermax figures (and rightly so) that consumers might be looking for more of either cable and gives them the option to choose. Note that Enermax does not recommend you use the SATA and the Molex connectors at the same time.

The other connector you see is a fan-speed monitoring connector. When you plug it into one of your motherboard’s fan headers and you have the right software, you will be able to see at what speed the power supply fans are running. However, this does not give you the option of controlling the fan speeds through software; you still need the rear knob to do that.



As can be seen, the output amperages are VERY respectable at 22A for each rail and Enermax even goes to the trouble of listing the combined amperages and wattages. This is something seen on all too few power supplies probably because the manufacturers are afraid people will see that the amperages indicated are faker than Pam Anderson’s inflatable life rafts. Enermax illustrates a good point here by showing that even though each separate rail is capable of outputting 22A (44A combined), together they are “only” capable of outputting 34A. This goes for EVERY power supply available on the market but Enermax is one of the only ones with the stones to actually write it on the label.

And now for those of you wondering what the inside of this thing looks like:



Ooooo….look at those shiny gold heatsinks!! Personally, I find that this power supply seems to be built like a tank withMatsushita caps on the primary and CTC 3300uF industrial-grade (105C) caps on the secondary. I am really looking forward to seeing how this thing performs



The main intake fan is a Globe Fan 92mm ball-bearing fan which is rated at 2500Rpm pushing 52 CFM of air at a quiet 38db.



Silverstone ST50EF-PLUS (500W)

Price: $100
Warranty: 3 Year
Packaging: Full Retail
Fan Size: 120mm
Cord Lengths and Connectors:
- Molex: 6 Connectors
o 2x 35” length (3 connectors)

- SATA: 6 Connectors
o 2x 39” length

- PCI-E: 2 Connectors
o 2x 22” length

- 4-Pin Floppy: 1 Connector
o 2x 40” length (at end of Molex cords)

- 20-pin ATX Connector: 28” Length (add on to 24-pin)

- 24-pin ATX Connector: 21” Length

- 8-Pin EPS12V (CPU) Connector: 21” Length

- 4-Pin CPU Connector: 28” Length (add on to 8-pin)



Moving quickly down the list we now come to the Silverstone Element ST50EF- Plus power supply. This 500W unit should not be a stranger to you as it has been featured in countless reviews over the internet. In this case we will have to see how it holds up against some of its closest competitors. This particular power supply is built by Enhance for Silverstone and you will see later on that it shares many its characteristics with the Enhance 400W unit I tested in the last roundup. We can see right away that Silverstone is making a statement with the 500W Continuous output claim right on the front of the retail box. They also state that this is supposedly an efficient power supply which does have some pretty heavy backing as you will see later. What you get bundled with this power supply is very interesting…




Instead of using the tried, tested and true “break away” connectors (by now you probably know that I can’t stand them) Silverstone went the route of providing adaptors for both the 24-pin and the 8-pin. These connectors will convert the 24-pin and 8-pin into a 20-pin ATX and a 4-pin CPU connector respectively. Not only does this add a substantial amount of length to both connectors but you don’t have to worry about the break-away cables breaking off from one-another when you go to install them. This is a great idea and I applaud Silverstone for doing it.





Observations

The Silverstone has a long list of advanced features that place it head and shoulders above its competition; APFC, RoHS compliance, an 8-pin EPS12V connector and 80+ certification are a few of the highlights. It shows great determination on Silverstone’s part to bring all of these features to the consumer at a $100 price point.

The only cables that are sleeved are the ATX, EPS12V and PCI-E connectors. Without a doubt, it would be nice to see all of the cables finished with the same sleeving but I can live with only these being sleeved. It should also be noted that this power supply has the longest connectors of this entire roundup. Installing the ST50EF in a full tower case should not pose any problem at all.




Judging from the label I was concerned that this power supply would have trouble booting on my DFI motherboard considering the +5Vsb output is the exact same as the Enhance 400W. If you remember, because of the DFI boot problems with the Enhance I needed to change out my motherboard. I am happy to report that this Silverstone booted without a problem.

The other values are pretty much the same ones as seen from some other power supplies in this roundup with 18A being available on each of the +12V rails. Unlike the Enermax, there is no mention of combined amperages.

Let’s see if the components used inside live up to the high quality we see outside….




One thing is for sure: this power supply offers some serious looking heatsinks. From the look of it, the Enhance-built Silverstone looks nearly identical on the inside to the Enhance 400W from my first roundup.




Looking at the caps, it is apparent that this power supply is built to go to war with its rivals. With a mammoth industrial-grade 330uF Teapo capacitor rated at 105C on the primary and numerous smaller Teapos and Su’scon caps on the secondary and its server-grade heritage, I have high hopes for the performance of this unit.




The single intake fan is an ADDA120mm sleeve-bearing fan which is rated at 2200Rpm pushing 85 CFM of air at 38db.


Mushkin HP-550 (550W)

Price: $100
Warranty: 3 Year
Packaging: Full Retail
Fan Size: 120mm
Cord Lengths and Connectors:
- Molex: 6 Connectors
o 2x 24” length (2 connectors)
o 2x 17” length

- SATA: 8 Connectors
o 2x 35” length

- PCI-E: 2 Connectors
o 2x 18” length

- 4-Pin Floppy: 1 Connector
o 2x 23” length (at end of 17” Molex cords)

- 20+4-pin ATX Connector: 17” Length

- 8-Pin EPS12V (CPU) Connector: 18” Length




I hope that you have been reading up until this point because this power supply is different from all the others. This is the Mushkin HP-550 modular power supply. Yes, I actually said modular…at a price of $100 for this 550W unit. Built by Topower, this unit promises all the bangs and whistles of some higher-end power supplies at a budget-minded price. Topower has been known to build some really good power supplies and some really suspect ones as well so I am hoping this Mushkin falls into the former category instead of the latter.

Right away you notice that the box is absolutely titanic in size compared to those of other manufacturers. What I really like about the packaging is that there are no outlandish claims plastered all over the box; instead we get a white box with the Mushkin logo and a simple picture of the power supply. Minimalist is in these days and I have to say I really like the packaging, it is downright classy. Upon opening the box we are greeted with….



ANOTHER BOX!!! All of the cables and other accessories are located in this small box. You get all of your modular cables plus a power cord, screws and a very well laid-out instruction manual. Let me tell you, this does not feel like a $100 power supply.




Observations

Right off the bat I can tell you that the exterior finish of this power supply is phenomenal. It is a polished black silver finish that you have to see for yourself. The only problem is that it shows fingerprints very easily.



Since we have this shot, you can see that the main ATX 20+4 pin and the EPS12V cables are not modular while all of the other connectors are. The blue plugs you see are for the PCI-E connectors while the black ones are used for all of the other cables. One other note is that I would love to have seen a modular connector with 2 Molex connectors and 1 floppy connector instead of having to use a whole extra connector if I wanted to plug in my floppy drive.

It is very refreshing to see each and every one of the cables is completely sleeved but I have a few minor issues with the cables for this power supply. First and foremost, I think that the PCI-E cables are far too short. Sure they might be longer than the majority of the PCI-E connectors in this roundup but the last 2-3 inches are taken up by a rigid EM/RFI inhibitor which makes routing these cables a major pain.



While the idea is a novel one, you can see that the end of the cable has to make some nasty turns in order to fit into certain places. In addition, because of the sheer bulk of this contraption it is nearly impossible to feed the PCI-E cable through the nooks and crannies used for proper wire routing.

It should also be mentioned that this unit does not have APFC.



Here we are with another manufacturer that is not afraid to show the actual output of the rails. It looks like even though the rails are rated at 20A each, the combined output is actually 28A (336W) which is quite decent.



On the back of the power supply we see a “Rail Fusion” indicator. Supposedly, Rail Fusion will activate once the load on one +12V rail exceeds the rated 20A maximum output. It will then “combine” both +12V rails making the power supply act like a single-rail unit. This would be a great feature….but I couldn’t get it to work.

I had one other minor issue with this power supply….



For a budget unit it is HUGE. From right to left we see the Silverstone, the Nmedia and finally the Mushkin. This should definitely be a consideration for you if you have a smaller case.

Let’s pop the lid off this one….



It looks to me like they had a bit of room to spare in this unit so why Mushkin chose such a massive casing for these internals baffles me. The caps used on the primary are of some unknown brand yet the caps on the secondary filtering stage are nearly all Jenpos…a brand I don’t know much about other than that they exist.

The modular interface itself doesn’t take up too much room but up close you can see how much soldering work goes into it.



The fan inside this unit is your standard 120mm unit but this one has a green LED inside. It is a sleeve-bearing fan made by Globe Fan which is rated at 2400RPM pushing 81 CFM of air at 39db.
 
 
 

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