The power coming into a computer is the most critical component, and it may be one of the most overlooked. It is just taken for granted that it will always be there and working properly.
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Power and Your PC

The power coming into a computer is the most critical component, and it may be one of the most overlooked. It is just taken for granted that it will always be there and working properly.

A top of the line processor and ultra powerful video card do nothing if a system does not receive the ample, stable power it demands. Having quality components providing and regulating the power supplied to a computer is critical, and this brief overview looks at a few areas worth consideration.

Power Supplies

Computer power supplies take the high (110V or 220V) DC voltages from an electrical outlet and convert it to the various lower AC voltages required for a system to operate. The typical voltages required inside a computer are 3.3V, 5V, and 12V, where the 3.3V and 5V lines are generally used to power circuitry, and the 12V line provides power to run items such as hard drives, optical drives, and cooling fans.

Power supplies are sold in terms of their total power output, in terms of wattage. Choosing the correct power supply means not only finding one that will provide enough power for all of the components connected to the system, but also one that is the correct size physically, has enough connections for typical drives and fans, and if necessary, that also has special connections for things such as Serial ATA drives and modern video cards.

Choosing a power supply with enough power shouldn't be much of a problem, as having more power than you need is never a bad thing. Just because a power supply is rated for 400W, or perhaps 600W, does not imply that it is drawing that at any given time. It just indicates the total power available to the various lines inside the computer.

For those interested in getting a good idea of their minimum power requirements, this Power Wattage Calculator is a convenient reference. In addition to checking out the total wattage of a power supply, looking for strong amperage ratings on the 3.3V, 5V, and 12V lines is also recommended, as power supplies with identical total power ratings may distribute the power to the various lines in different quantities.

ATX power supply

Power supplies come in a few different physical sizes, but the most common are designed to fit the standard ATX and micro ATX (mATX) form factor cases. A typical ATX power supply, such as this Echo-Star 680W unit, measures 3.25" x 6" x 5.5" and features two cooling fans to not only cool the power supply, but to also help draw hot air out of the computer.

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