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Choosing the Power Supply

We are building a machine with NVIDIA SLI technology (dual graphics cards). Even if you do not choose to run two graphics cards right now, at some point you may want to upgrade to an SLI configuration. So for that reason, you are going to need a big power supply. Running SLI adds significantly to your power consumption. And it requires high amperage on the 12v rails. You will need at least a 500-watt, and preferably a 600-watt, Power Supply Unit (PSU).

Fortunately, bigger does not always mean more expensive in terms of real power usage. Some of the bigger power supplies are actually designed better, and thus are more efficient and quiet than smaller-rated, cheaper PSUs. For this case we chose the heavy 600-watt power supply from Seasonic (Model S12-600). It is SLI-certified, and with an efficiency rating at 80 percent, this is one of the top performers. That means that it dissipates less energy as heat. More importantly, it is very quiet. Don’t worry, you won’t be using all 600 watts when it is on; at any given time, it only supplies slightly more power than the demand from your components. For example, when you run 3D graphics or burn a CD, it will automatically step up the power output.

When we received this PSU, we were shocked by how heavy it was. But then we realized that it is overbuilt, with massive heat sinks and a quiet fan. This is the kind of solid construction you would expect to find in post-WWII machinery. Moreover, it has a large, 120mm, dual-ball bearing fan. This moves more air, at a lower speed, and with less noise. It’s really quiet! So we have eliminated the PSU, which is often the loudest part of a computer, as a problem source for noise.

In the next part of this series, momentum builds as we choose the graphics card with an eye towards SLI technology. We will also investigate dual-core CPUs, discuss RAM latency, and explore power and cooling issues.

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