When building your PC, one of the most important and easily overlooked parts is the power supply. Powering up all of your other fancy components, the power supply is the reason your computer can do anything, but how long do power supplies last?
Typically a decent power supply is going to last somewhere between five and ten years. Of course, this is affected by several factors, including the quality of the power supply, how often it is in use, and how much power your system is using.
Peak vs Continuous Wattage
One extremely important factor to consider when determining the quality of a PSU is whether it is rated for the peak or continuous wattage it provides. Peak wattage is the maximum power a PSU can supply, and is seldom a consistent measurement. This means that a PSU with an 800W peak rating will realistically only provide a stable 700-750W of power.
Continuous wattage, on the other hand, means the PSU is rated to maintain that level under maximum load. A PSU with an 800W continuous power rating will be able to consistently deliver 800W at a stable output level.
Not only does a continuous power supply provide a more stable experience, but it can also extend the life of your power supply, as well as your entire system. The varying wattage levels can lead to them receiving more or less power than required, and the constant fluctuation can lead to parts degrading quicker than they should.
The bottom line for this is that you should always buy a PSU rated for its continuous wattage when possible. Most PSU brands known for their quality will be rated for their continuous wattage, but if you can’t figure out whether it is or not by the box, look it up.
We can guarantee you’re not the first person to own a given model and a quick google search can turn up all sorts of info and reviews that you won’t find on the box.
Determining the Quality of a PSU
Speaking of quality, what exactly makes it so important? Why not just buy the cheapest PSU that can deliver your required wattage? Well, that’s because quality is one of the largest determining factors in longevity. So let’s learn how to determine quality, to a degree.
One of the quickest, and easiest, ways to do this is to look for its certification. If you’re even somewhat familiar with PSUs then you’ve seen the “80 Plus” rating followed by some sort of precious metal (i.e. Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum). In the simplest terms, this is a rating of how efficient a PSU is, and how much power is converted to heat.
(Image source: www.velocitymicro.com)
In all power supplies with at least an 80 Plus Bronze rating, 80% of the energy pulled into the PSU will make the conversion to DC power (which your PC uses), no matter how much of a workload your PC is running. What this means for your PC is that less energy is converted to heat, in this case, the remaining 20%.
As you move on to the higher-end PSUs there is a noticeable difference in inefficiency. For example, one of the best PSUs on the market, the Seasonic’s Prime Ultra Titanium, reaches an efficiency of 94% at half of the maximum load.
For your PC, higher efficiency means a longer lifespan. Less heat means slower degradation, and most components are going to be generating heat inside your rig. This means you shouldn’t skimp on your PSU. The easiest way to quickly compare many different options in our opinion is PCpartpicker.
In one of our testing rigs, we’ve used the Corsair RM650 for nearly 5 years. Not only is it a dependable piece of hardware, but it may be one of the best at its price point. Of course, 650W is a bit more than our machine actually needs, but more on that later.
What Warranty Says About Quality
It is rather common for people to see a long warranty length and make the conclusion that it signifies a higher level of quality. After all, if it’s warrantied for that long, they must believe in the quality. Well, that’s not necessarily true.
Simply put, the warranty on your PSU is more directly related to branding and advertising, as well as the value of the device. For example, let’s take a look at some of the warranty lengths for various Corsair PSUs:
⦁ AX series with Gold or Platinum efficiency: 7-year warranty
⦁ AX850 and AX1000 models with Titanium Efficiency: 10-year warranty
⦁ CS, CS-M, and CV series: 3-year warranty
⦁ TX series models with Gold efficiency: 7-year warranty
⦁ All other TX series PSUs: 5-year warranty
As you can see, most PSUs come with a warranty length closely related to the price and efficiency rating of the model. This does not mean that the lower-priced models are of lower quality, but it can create the illusion that you would be better off with the more expensive version.
When determining what PSU you should get, or how long you expect one to last, it can be very misleading to try and base this decision on the warranty alone. You should always do the extra research on your end to guarantee you’re getting a quality product.
A couple of generally reputable brands we’ve used in our cheaper testing builds are Rosewill, Corsair, and Antec. For budget builds, we’ve also heard good things about both Thermaltake and Cooler Master PSUs.
For higher-end rigs or users with more room in their budget, PSUs from Seasonic and EVGA are considered one of the best and most reliable options on the market.
Proper PSU Maintenance
Once you’ve decided on a PSU, or if you already have one and are just looking to extend its working life, you’re going to want to learn how to clean it. Proper maintenance of each component is the key to a long-lived PC that isn’t going to give you any trouble.
We like to clean our computers roughly every three or four months. Some people say it is only needed once or twice per year, but a little extra TLC (if done correctly) has never ruined a rig. So, pick a timeframe that works for you, and let’s get to cleaning!
Before you do anything with the inside of your computer you always want to shut it down entirely, switch off and unplug the PSU, and always make sure you discharge any potential static by touching something metal. This is to ensure you don’t get an unwanted shock or fry one of your components.
If you want to really go the extra mile in ensuring you don’t deliver any static electricity to your components, you could always opt for an Anti-Static Wrist Strap.
This little accessory keeps you grounded and prevents the buildup of static. Although I personally do not find them necessary and have not used one in any of my builds, they are an extra precaution you can take.
Once you have your computer shut down and ready to clean, the most simple method is generally considered the best. Simply take a can of compressed air, aim it through the bottom or back vent of the PSU at an angle, and give it a long blast of air. Wait for the dust to settle, then repeat as necessary.
Normally, one or two shots of air will be more than enough, and if you maintain it regularly, you should never have to take your PSU apart. Simply keep it as clean as you can without any disassembly.
Now, a bit off-topic, if you plan on building a white-out rig, definitely make sure to read our article on the Best White PSUs.
Making Sure Your PSU isn’t being Over Worked
One of the most common reasons for a PSU to fail is being overworked. If possible, you should not be operating your PSU, or your PC as a whole for that matter, at its maximum load for extended periods.
Today’s consumer components are a lot more sophisticated than they were 20 years ago. This means that with the proper hardware you can mitigate the risks of pushing your rig to its limits constantly, although it is still far more dangerous than operating within your PSUs limits.
If you want a quick and easy way to check if you’re using the right power supply, Outervision has a great calculator to help. With both a basic and advanced mode, it makes it super simple to ensure you’re giving your pc the power it needs.
Here you can see the results for our testing rig:
As you can see, using the basic mode gives you a very strong starting point in figuring out what kind of power consumption to expect. Along with providing an estimate for load wattage, it also provides a recommended PSU wattage, as well as going so far as to recommend you a power supply!
As you can see, based on our components, Outervision is recommending a PSU with a wattage around 502W, or 50W higher than our estimated load wattage. Beyond this, it recommends a 650W power supply to buy. Although this would probably be alright, since it is missing any sort of 80 Plus certification, we’ll pass for now.
Overestimate Your Wattage
There is a reason for all of the extra power, and this is part of the reason tools like Outervision’s calculator are so nice. Not only do we believe a 650W PSU would be a good choice for our machine, but it’s actually what we have in it.
You may remember earlier that we said we use the Corsair RM650 in our PC, and that it was more than we actually needed. The reason for this is twofold. Not only does having the extra overhead allow for a more painless upgrade process in the future, but it also keeps your PC healthier.
Think about it this way: If you’re constantly going everywhere at a full sprint, you’re going to be exhausted. However, if you slow down to a jog or a brisk walk, you’re going to be able to keep going for much longer and still get to where you need to be.
The same is true for PC parts. Keeping them under large amounts of stress for extended periods can lead to part degradation at a much quicker rate. When possible, try to make sure you’re PC is operating at a comfortable level.
If you’re pushing your pc to its limit every time you use it, you will quickly notice the strain it can cause. From intermittent program crashes to the full-on blue screen of death situations, this is not the place you want to be.
How to Test Your PSU
If you suspect that your PSU may be beginning to go out, there are a few things that can be done prior to replacing it. You can start by doing the “paperclip test”.
To start, make sure your power supply is turned off. Next, find a paperclip, or another small piece of bendable metal.
⦁ Make sure your power supply is plugged into the wall but turned off.
⦁ Unplug all cables from the power supply except for the main AC adapter and the 24pin connector.
⦁ Take your paperclip and bend it into a thin “U” shape, it will need to fit into two adjacent pins.
⦁ Take the end of your 24pin connector that is not attached to the power supply and face it towards you, with the clip facing up.
⦁ On the top row, locate the fourth pin from the left, in some older PSUs this will be a green pin.
⦁ Using your paperclip, connect the fourth pin to the next pin over. The fifth pin from the left.
⦁ Once your paperclip is in place, simply turn on your power supply, and if it is working, you should hear the fan begin to spin. In some models, the fan may only begin to spin momentarily. If this is the case, check the manufacturer’s website to ensure this is a sign of proper operation.
And that’s it! If the fan starts to spin, or kicks on momentarily for some models, then your power supply is not the issue. Now that you know how to perform the paperclip test, there are a ton of other tests you can do using the same premise, but we’ll save those for another time.
If you don’t feel comfortable doing the paperclip test, you can also purchase a PSU jumper. This is a little device that slips nicely over the entire 24pin connector and serves the same purpose as the paperclip in the previous test. Some even come with their own on/off switch for testing.
What to do if Your PSU is the Issue
Unfortunately, like all PC parts, PSUs do die. Some come dead on arrival, some may only make it a few weeks, and some people may move the same 1000W 80 Plus Titanium brick between every machine they build for the next 30 years.
All is not lost if you happen to land in one of the former camps. If the paperclip test comes up sour, or you have some other reason to believe your power supply is the issue, you still have a couple of options.
If your power supply was dead on arrival, generally getting a replacement is as easy as a phone call. Some places will not even want the defective component returned, as power supplies are not exactly big-ticket items.
If your power supply is not DoA but goes out during its warranty period, then once again the replacement process should be relatively painless. Usually, a form to fill out, or a phone call to make. Keep in mind that some activities, such as disassembling the device or using it for cryptocurrency mining, can void the warranty.
PSU Failed but is Out of Warranty
If you’re PSU goes out, but is no longer covered by either the manufacturer or brand warranty, then you still have a few options. Not all of us will be able to utilize all of these options, but at least one should apply to your situation.
First, you should look into how easily you can repair your power supply. If you have a local PC parts shop, then getting a repair could be fairly quick and inexpensive. If you would have to send the component off or wait for parts to be ordered, then it will generally not be worth the hassle.
In this case, we would recommend simply replacing your power supply. Because of the complex nature of the PSU, sometimes it can be cheaper to simply replace the entire unit. If you have a BestBuy, or similar electronics store, in your area, then that’s all you need! If they don’t have one available the same day, generally it only takes 3-5 days to ship them to a store.
If you can’t be bothered with calling around to stores in your area, let alone going to pick it up, then let us start by saying we understand the struggle. If this is something you can relate with, then it is often the easiest solution to replace the PSU online as soon as you can pin it down as the problem.
If you have some serious electrical training, you may have the know-how to fix it up yourself. However, this will not be the best solution for many of us, and I would not recommend it.
One Common Cause of PSU Failure
There is any number of reasons a power supply unit may kick the bucket on you, but there are a few that are more common than others. Let’s take a look at one of the most common ones, and how you can avoid it, or at least minimize the risk.
One of the most common causes of PSU failure is going to be power surges. Stuff like storms or an unstable local power grid can lead to the power shutting off and on unexpectedly, leading to the power supply receiving surges of extreme stress in the form of ingoing or outgoing current.
If you live in an area where these types of things are common, you may want to invest in an uninterruptible power supply. These nifty little machines act as a backup generator, though they only last for a few minutes.
In the event of electrical issues, this will give you the time necessary to take the steps to protect your system. If the power simply flashes before coming back on, this will keep your power supply from having to handle the full stress of the sudden changes.
If the power goes out entirely, you will have a few extra minutes to shut your system down. An uninterruptible power supply is not designed for prolonged use, instead, it is designed to prevent such extreme stress to your power supply, buying you those few crucial minutes when it counts.
The Bottom Line
Throughout this article, you probably realized that there is no clear answer to the how long do PSUs last question. There is a huge variety of factors that directly impact the lifespan of your PSU and we made sure to go over all of them.
If you need the answer to settle a bet, then we’d say the average life span is around 4-6 years. But, we’ve seen PSUs last 30 days and all the way up to around 12 years–that’s the Supernova from EVGA we bought in 2010 for our gaming rig.
Lastly, if you’re looking to buy a PSU for your rig, do not try to save money on it–make sure you buy the best one you can afford. With a quality PSU and proper maintenance, it will last you at least a decade.