The Modular PSU and the Modern Gaming Rig - A Replacement Tale

The Modular PSU and the Modern Gaming Rig - A Replacement Tale

  • By: Geofry S. Glenn
  • Posted 27th Dec 2011

Selecting New PSU Tech Today

As I was saying everything was moving along nicely, the tech inside my gaming rig was well-oiled, properly cooled, and functioned according to plan, and then one morning when I booted the system up there was a problem. It booted up... Oddly.

According to the awesome little system monitor and its mini-display my PSU was failing -- and knowing how a failing PSU can seriously damage the peripheral devices inside your rig, I immediately shut it down and sat there looking at the system and thinking -- I have to replace the PSU... My second thought was why they do not make cases and mainboards that can accept a primary PSU and a backup PSU -- they do that for servers, they should have the option for gaming rigs. Sigh.

The process of considering the replacement unit was not simply a matter of opening a web browser and buying the same model -- though I could have done that I suppose -- the thing is regardless of how it gave me years of trouble-free use it was still old tech. And while I fully intended to make use of the warranty and get it replaced by the manufacturer, that process takes weeks and I needed a PSU right away -- so it was really no question at all! I would select a modern PSU, get my system back up and running, and deal with the rest later.

Modular connectivity for PSU's seems like a simple matter, and assuming that you get the right cables with your PSU it should not be that complex a decision, right? The problem is that it is a complex decision, because in addition to the cable selections and the design the power connections that are required vary from one computer to another, and depending upon the number of drives you plan to use on your rig and the extra power that the video cards will pull, Modular is often the only way to go.

One of the first questions that you will be addressing in deciding on a PSU is how important the bling-factor is to you. If you have a see-through case (a lot of LAN Gamers like to trick out their case with windows and ports) you might be seriously wanting to include some Light FX with the PSU package -- like UV-reactive or LED components in the cables, a light plan for inside the case, or even a purely decorative light effects package with its own controller and sound system that can put on mini-light-shows!

Don't laugh, I have actually seen that at LAN events... But that is not the point to this -- the point here is that all of those elements effect the price and how much additional power that the PSU needs to be rated for, so they become a factor in the choosing process. Personally I do not see the advantage of blinging up a rig -- the real threat is the user behind the keyboard, right?

If you are adding an internal video display to the case -- these vary between simple two-slot high displays programmed to report temperatures, drive and fan speeds, and the settings of the audio and video components, to full-on mini-monitors with its own integrated system and CPU -- this is a very popular add-in in Asia at the moment, with a lot of the models there being either Windows CE-powered or using a pirated copy of iOS combined with touch screen displays.

Like a majestic skyscraper you begin your gaming rig build by choosing the enclosure -- and in this case that choice made itself with the system I call the Mean Green Gaming Machine -- and the foundation is a Cooler Master HAF X nVidia Edition Full Tower

The data acquisition system in the device that I have installed -- purchased from a custom kit builder in Hong Kong -- both mirrors the system desktop and can be used as an alternate display for running your video and audio management utilities for fine-tuning the components while you are in a game before switching them back to the more traditional role of system monitoring.

In addition to serving as a utility access display of the desktop -- though I would not want to try to use a word processor with that tiny screen LOL -- the system also pulls in all of the metrics from the mainboard and any peripherals with data broadcast options that you have installed in the system and hooked to it through its built-in USB ports. For example both the cooling control unit and the pump on my system are connected to the display, so I can get a graphical display of the cooling circuit that looks like it belongs to a nuclear reactor, which I have to admit may be more bling than function in most respects but it is certainly cool looking!

Despite the fact that these mini-monitors are flat-screen tech they draw power and generate heat, which means you have to increase the cooling capacity of your thermal control system -- which means you may also need to add an extra 50 Watts to the PSU's rated capacity, and that process just goes on from there...

For that reason and following the general rule of thumb in selecting your PSU, it is a really good idea to just determine the base level of power you actually NEED to run everything in the system, and then add 1/3 to that total for insurance purposes. I know gamers who figure out their base requirements and then double them when they select their PSU, but that really is over-kill and besides that, it is expensive!

For most high-end gaming rigs with all the bells and whistles that means that your choices begin north of 1000 Watts -- which means spending a minimum of $250 easy -- and goes up from there. If you are in the double-it camp, consider this: the average price of a 2000 Watt PSU is $700 -- and to my way of thinking if I have an extra $300 or $400 to spend, I am way better off spending it on a better set of video cards than on a buffed-out PSU! Regardless of what you paid for your old PSU, when you enter those regions we are talking real money now.