A Sad Tale of Power Supplies

A few days ago I came into my office to be greeted by a funky electrical smell. I checked all of the computers. They were all running. It was most odd. For some reason, later in the day, I ended up having to walk around behind my desk and noticed the fan in the power supply wasn’t spinning. The lights were on, though I’ve never figured out why power supplies need need internal lighting of any kind, but the fan was not spinning. The computer was working I had been typing documents just before I got up. Setting my hand on top of the case confirmed the fan wasn’t running. I could barely touch my hand to the top where the power supply was located.

No problem. I keep spares of things like power supplies. This is an Asrock 970 Extreme3 motherboard. It has a 6-core AMD CPU on it and 24Gig of RAM along with 2 internal disk drives both over 1TB in size. The Okia power supply which passed away had a max 550 output and hadn’t been in the case a year. Most annoying! According to this calculator I need a minimum of 437 but they recommend 487 and that was with a bit of fudging on devices so I could get some padding for future expansion. I had quite a few spare power supplies which were north of 500 but very few which had the funky second connector for the motherboard. Most had that old 4-pin connector, not the 2×4 this motherboard needed.

The first I reached for was an Eagle VOLTAS ET-PSVTX600E-BK. It was sleek, it was black and it claimed to be 600W. What a waste of my time! It would not spin the disk drives fast enough to boot. Grub would come up and show its menu, but if you selected any boot option it would come back with an error. Changing connectors did not help. To think I bought this as a spare and it is worthless. It is in the pile to go off to electronic recycling. I won’t buy another Eagle brand power supply even if they are free.

Next on my list of power supplies was a Thermal Master TM-500-PSSR-M3. I was a bit leery of this power supply. It was all enclosed metal with just a few vent slots. Not the big open airflow path we are used to seeing. It fired right up. It also had one of the most annoying fans I’d ever heard.

I searched around on-line to order another low cost spare because power supplies seem to take turns failing these days and I only had one more power supply which would work in this system. I took the economy shipping because I wasn’t desperate. After about a week of listening to this fan I was past my limit. I’m trying to write a novel as part of NaNoWriMo http://nanowrimo.org and I really don’t need the distraction.

You need a perspective on this. I walled off, insulated, put carpet and central air in two bays of a three car garage to use as my office. There are no noise barriers between myself and the furnace. When it kicks on it drowns everything out, sometimes even phone conversations. It doesn’t bother me, but this fan did! I put the power supply back on my shelf to use as a spare and attempted to install the newly arrived spare.

What was the newly arrived spare? Thermaltake TR2 500W. It had 4-stars on the Microcenter Web site. It is a hunk of shit. Yes it would run the BIOS but it would not spin both disk drives. It would simply sit there with the drive seek light on and I presume the drives not spinning because I never saw anything on the screens like a Grub menu. I am so glad I opted to test this power supply before I needed it!

That left me with my one and only remaining spare to try. Yes, I have quite a few computers so I keep quite a few spare power supplies. All it takes is one electrical storm which manages to send a spike past your UPS and spike arresting power strip and you need to replace quite a few power supplies. Don’t ask me how, unless the strike back feeds through the negative, but I’ve seen weirder things happen out here in the country.

My last remaining spare which would work was a Diablotek EL Series 600W. I’m always a bit leery of Diablotek I must admit. It feels a bit like it is the “store brand” for Microcenter. While I have gotten Diablotek power supplies which were within the tolerance level for noise I have also gotten some which were horribly loud. They also seem to be on the one year treadmill, meaning they seem to make it about a year when the computer is “mostly on.”

To their credit the Wattage rating on a Diablotek isn’t just some number marketing puts on the side, they really do seem to put out the right amount of power and keep putting it out until they physically perish. I have seen a rash of power supplies which seem to be “re-badged 350s.” Meaning someone in marketing simply stick a 500W or higher sticker on the side and banks on most people overbuying when it comes to a power supply.

I have also been the victim of a power supply which lost capability over time. Quite some time back I wrote a post titled “It May Not Be Your RAM” on this blog. I was getting extremely weird data stream corruption problems doing backups. Support for the backup team claimed I had flaky RAM. What I really had was a power supply which was no longer putting out its rated power.

Roland Hughes started his IT career in the early 1980s. He quickly became a consultant and president of Logikal Solutions, a software consulting firm specializing in OpenVMS application and C++/Qt touchscreen/embedded Linux development. Early in his career he became involved in what is now called cross platform development. Given the dearth of useful books on the subject he ventured into the world of professional author in 1995 writing the first of the "Zinc It!" book series for John Gordon Burke Publisher, Inc. A decade later he released a massive (nearly 800 pages) tome "The Minimum You Need to Know to Be an OpenVMS Application Developer" which tried to encapsulate the essential skills gained over what was nearly a 20 year career at that point. From there "The Minimum You Need to Know" book series was born. Three years later he wrote his first novel "Infinite Exposure" which got much notice from people involved in the banking and financial security worlds. Some of the attacks predicted in that book have since come to pass. While it was not originally intended to be a trilogy, it became the first book of "The Earth That Was" trilogy: Infinite Exposure Lesedi - The Greatest Lie Ever Told John Smith - Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars When he is not consulting Roland Hughes posts about technology and sometimes politics on his blog. He also has regularly scheduled Sunday posts appearing on the Interesting Authors blog.