Friday, September 3, 2010

A tale of three power supplies: Antec, Seasonic, Corsair

I've bought a lot of Antec cases and power supplies over the years. The original Antec Sonata was the last one I was really satisfied with though. So long as you added your own internal fan to the hard drive area, it was really great. The Sonata II is where things started to go wrong for me and Antec. They jumped onto the stupid "put a duct in it" train, and the power supply didn't look so compelling compared to the alternatives anymore. During the few years after that, increasing reports of low quality power from the actual power supplies let me further away from Antec. Off my vendor list they went.

Back in 2008 I used a CoolerMaster Cosmos 1000 case to build a giant server, with a primary goal being that it was quiet. Got a Seasonic power supply. Worked well at first. Then the power supply fan started buzzing because the blades were hitting the guard. If I smacked it I could usually free them, so put up with that for a while. Eventually, one of the internal plastic guards fell apart altogether inside the power supply case, making it dangerous to even try and start. RMA time...or so I though. After about 4 tries via different methods (web page, e-mail), I came to the conclusion that Seasonic products don't actually have a warranty. They claim to, but you can't actually get them to honor it. Eventually I took the whole thing apart, repaired the piece inside, inserted some spacers between the fan and the guard, and better than new. Seasonic: decent product, minor flaws I would normally forgive; worthless warranty puts them on the banned vendor list though. Have since heard the same warranty saga mess from someone else, so I know it's not just me.

Recently when I wanted to put together a decent mid-tower system, I found myself back at Antec's Sonata III. I refuse to buy a case without a cover over the front drive bays, both for dust and noise reasons. That's the part that's usually most exposed to the room, and I don't want every external drive bay to be a hole for dust to go in and noise to go out. The CoolerMaster cases where the whole front is exposed are the worst in that regard; every decibel of hard drive noise comes right out of those. I made the mistake of buying a CM Stacker once that was unusably bad, making me certain every reviewer who was enthusiastic about it was a quiet case was either deaf or a shill for the company.

The Sonata III was one of the few smaller cases left with where you could block everything on the front, and that had decent drive bays too. I tinker a lot, so easy to work on in a priority for me, thus the hatred of ducts. It came with their "EarthWatts 500W" power supply. Seemed more than sufficient for what I was putting in there: motherboard, lower power processor, tiny video card, and four hard drives. Maybe it was time to give Antec a second chance.

Ever since assembly, I noticed that periodically the system rebooted itself. Very intermittent, couldn't track down the reason. After a recent move, the reboots became extremely frequent; almost every day. And then I noticed what was happening: each time I turned on the stereo in the same room as the PC, it rebooted. I know the amplifier draws a lot of power, but seriously? The PC is plugged in a giant APC UPS, and that's enough to take it offline? What the hell? At first I thought this might be related to the now well known grounding issue with the Sonata III. The newer model I have definitely has the second generation design where that problem is supposed to be fixed (I bought the case anyway presuming that was a standard early adopter issue already resolved), but some report it's still an issue. My reboots always happen when I'm away, though, not when touching the front.

Maybe the APC UPS was broken...plugged in the USB cable, loaded the Linux monitoring software. When the stereo was powered on, output line voltage dropped from its normally overfull 122V to 117V. While available amperage at that voltage probably was dropping, too, a power supply has to be seriously deficient in capacitance to not survive a brownout that gentle.

So what to replace it with? Well, Corsair seems to have grabbed a lot of positive mindshare in a short period for their power supplies the last few years, particularly for a company that was just jumping into that market. Found out why: they're rebranding supplies from two other manufacturers. From what I've been able to gather, the Corsair VX550, TX750, TX850, and HX1000 are made by Channel Well Technology, AKA CWT. You can see confirmation of that in a torn apart TX750. But most of the rest of their models are made old friend Seasonic! The spcr review of the Corsair TX650W confirms it's one of those models.

The TX650W is good enough to have made Silent PC's recommended list too. And I know Corsair support is excellent if I have a problem that requires warranty service or the like, from dealing with them in the past buying memory. Best of all: I could impulse buy one at my local Best Buy, where that model is stocked in some stores. It was even on sale that week to be cheaper than Newegg. Out the door I went. After a quick swap, the rebuilt system with Corsair TX650W has never rebooted unless I asked it to. Power on the stereo, leave it running a while, it just stays on like it's supposed to.

So: new guidelines. If you want the otherwise nice Seasonic designs, figure out what Corsair model that uses one of their designs is closest to your requirements and buy it. This is now my preferred power supply choice for all systems I build. Avoid the Corsair models with the Channel Well supplies instead for now, they're really unknown quantities as far as I'm concerned. And never, ever buy the Seasonic designs directly instead. As for Antec: between the grounding issue still lingering around, and now discovering this EarthWatts power supply is completely worthless, I've realized that this Sonata III is just as badly engineered as the problematic Sonata II. The problems just weren't as obvious. Antec, you are right back on the banned vendor list--again.

1 comment:

Greg Smith said...

The hilarity continues...further investigation shows that the Corsair TX650 is internally the same basic power supply as the Seasonic S12-II of the same rating--which is the exact model I'd bought from Seasonic for my old computer I was complaining about! Furthermore, the Antec Earthwatts 500 I was hating on here is actually a Seasonic design as well! And Corsair sells their own similar version of that design as their VX450W. But, and this may be the crucial difference here, the Corsair version of it uses better capacitors than the Antec one. See Corsair VX450W: Quiet Value PSU for details. Since I suspected from the beginning that cheap crappy capacitors were the problem with the Antec supply, that makes me feel a little more confident that the Corsair version actually works in the real world. Whatever filtering Corsair is doing to the Seasonic line as part of their rebranding and wider distribution, to only release the good stuff under their name, so far that seems to be working for them.