My Experience: Replacing My Computer’s Power Supply

Ever since I built my own computer a while ago, I’ve had my fair share of computer troubles. I’ve had encounters with bad memory (both mine and the computer’s), stuck DVD drives, and also various software problems. And now after 1.5 years of operation, my computer’s power supply decided to quit on me, so I was forced to buy a replacement power supply and install it in order to get my computer working again. Here’s the documentation of this experience, from choosing which power supply to buy to actually installing the power supply.

Back in the days when I was choosing the components for my computer, I didn’t know as much about computer hardware than I do now and I also didn’t have a lot of money to spend, so I decided to cheap out on certain parts of the computer. One of these parts was the power supply. The power supply I bought was some generic 400W power supply that came with the computer case I bought. I spent about $50 for both of these items together. The system I have isn’t high-end even by the standards of 2 year ago so I thought I could get away with using a generic power supply. Anyways, I put my computer together and the power supply worked just fine, albeit it was a little loud and the voltages didn’t seem to be too stable, but it didn’t have any major problems, so I wasn’t too concerned with its operation. In the month after the completion of my rig, I did come across stories in the forums about people’s generic power supplies dying on them, but I thought it’s not going to happen to me. Well, as you can see, I was wrong about that (or else you wouldn’t be reading this) and this article is one of the consequences of me not spending the money on what might be the most important component of a computer (the other consequences being saying goodbye to the $50 used to replace the power supply and having to use my dad’s agonizingly slow Pentium II for 2 days).

Thinking back now, I realize that my old power supply probably started to go south long before the day it went kaput for good. A few months ago, I started hearing a loud whining noise coming from the computer when I turn the computer on after it has been shut off for a few hours. This event lasts until the Windows login screen appears and only occurs some of the time. I’m not exactly sure where within the computer the noise is coming from but I had a feeling that the noise was from the power supply. Sometimes I also hear the loud noise when the computer is running Windows. My system also had some stability issues which might have been caused by a failing power supply. These events aren’t concrete evidence, but they are fairly common signs of a bad power supply.

The fateful day during which my power supply died started off like any regular school day. I got home from school and turned on the computer, which started up fine. I studied and sat in front of my computer until dinner time, at which I walked out of my room and left my computer running. After dinner, I went back to my room to find my computer turned off. I pressed the power button and the lights went on for a split second, and then nothing. Pressing the button a few more time didn’t help. I also turned the power supply on and off using the switch on the back of the power supply and messed around with the power cable to no avail. At that point I’m pretty sure the power supply was toast, but I had to make sure, so I went to my mom’s computer to look up information on how to check if a power supply is working or not. After a short search, I found out that a person can check if a power supply is working by connecting two of the pins on the 20/24 pin main connector. So I opened up my case, disconnected all the connectors and got the main power connector in my hands. Now I took a paper clip, bent it into a U shape and used it to bridge the two appropriate pins on the connecter, and then turned the power supply on via the switch on the back. This might sound a little dangerous to some of you, but I assure you that this “jump-start” technique is quite safe, if you know what you are doing. The power supply’s cooling fan would move a little bit, but that was it, so now I can say with 100% confidence that the power supply is indeed out of action, permanently.

Now that the cause of the problem has been determined, I have to choose which power supply to buy. There are many models of aftermarket ATX power supplies out there, with prices ranging from $20 for a generic similar to the one that died to several hundred for exotic, monster power supplies that can support 1000 watts at full load. Just like when I built my computer, I didn’t have much money to spend on the power supply, but this time around I wanted a PSU that is more reliable and of higher quality than my old one. This meant that I was looking for a PSU made by a reputable manufacturer, but I also only have a small amount of money at my disposal, so the search became a bit harder. There were tons of aftermarket units from notable brand names that retail $70 or up, but I only have around $50, so those models were out of the question. After scrounging around the website of the computer store from which I bought most of my computer components from, I found two models that matched my criteria. They are:

 
Fortron ATX-400PN
Thermaltake TR2 W0070
Model: Fortron ATX-400PN Thermaltake TR2 W0070
Webpage: Click Here Click Here
Price (Approx.) $45 CDN $45 CDN

Note: The ATX-400PN is also listed as a model manufactured by Sparkle/SPI. Basically, the Fortron model and the Sparkle model are exactly the same. There are also rumors going around saying that the ATX-400PN is exactly the same as the AX-450PN made by Fortron. I’m not sure if the latter is true or not though.

Both models are at about the same price, have similar features, and have gotten mostly positive user reviews. The Thermaltake does have a higher wattage rating than the Fortron, but a difference of 30W doesn’t really mean much. The Fortron has to its advantage of meeting the ATX 2.0 standard with its dual 12V rails, but that doesn’t mean much for my ATX 1.3 based system. From a brand perspective, Thermaltake is more famous for its performance heat sinks and lavishly designed computer cases than its power supplies. Fortron, on the other hand, specializes in making non-flashy but very reliable and high quality power supplies, and has built up a good reputation among computer enthusiasts in recent years. In the end, I chose to buy the Fortron power supply because of the company’s reputation, the fact that one 120mm fan is probably quieter than two 80mm fans, and the fact that the Thermaltake’s black coverings didn’t match the rest of my case. So on the weekend, my dad and I drove over to the local computer parts store and picked up the power supply.

The Fortron ATX-400PN I bought was the one with OEM packaging. OEM packaging basically means that the product doesn’t come with a fancy box, a manual, or other extras, so it’s usually a little bit cheaper than the retail version (with the box and stuff). In this case, all I got was the power supply and nothing else. Of course, since this is a pretty basic power supply, a manual isn’t really needed anyways. Since the price is pretty low, the ATX-400PN doesn’t come with any of the fancy feature of the higher end models, such as modular cables, immaculate paint job, active PFC, or adjustable voltage rails. Heck, the connectors aren’t even sleeved for this power supply, but the ATX-400PN does feature all the necessary plugs and dual 12V rails to power current PCI-Express and SATA based systems, and more than enough juice to power my one-and-a-half-year old Athlon XP system. Compared to my old generic power supply, the ATX-400PN was noticeably longer (probably in order to accommodate the 120mm fan), and quite a bit heftier too. I read somewhere that a heavier power supply is usually a sign of higher quality and better built, so this is a good sign. Of course, the Fortron also has the newer 24 pin main plug (it can be split into a 20 pin and a 4 pin) instead of the 20 pin main plug of the old power supply and also the SATA and PCI-E connectors. Anyways, here are some pictures of my new power supply, and also come pictures of my old power supply. Please forgive me for my poor photographing skills, especially the picture where you can see my finger.

Fortron's bottom side
This is the bottom side of the ATX-400PN with the large 120mm fan.
Fortron's back side
The backside of the power supply is honeycombed to allow exhaust air to flow freely out. You can also see the 3 prong plug, on/off switch, and the adjustment between 110V and 220V.
Fortron ATX-400PN back vertical
Another shot of my new power supply
Old Power Supply's back side
This is the backside of the old generic that died on me. You can see the 80mm exhaust fan. Sorry for the finger in the photo.
Another shot of the old power supply
Another shot of the old power supply
Comparison between the old PSU and the new one
Here is old generic side by side with the new Fortron. As you can see, the Fortron is a bit longer than the generic.

After the brief photo session, it’s finally time to install the power supply. Installing a standard size ATX power supply is a very easy thing to do. First I had to remove the old power supply, which is done by undoing the four screws that secures the power supply to the back plate. After the screws are removed, the power supply can be taken out of the case. Putting the new one is just the reverse procedure: put the power supply in the right spot and secure it with the four screws. Now I plugged all the necessary connectors to the right components, closed the case, and connected the PSU to the outlet. Now it was the moment of truth, to see whether or not the new power supply works and also to determine if the old power supply took anything else down during its demise. I slowly pressed the power button on the case, and all the fans started spinning, and the boot screen loaded up. After a short time, the computer got to the Windows login screen, and I knew the problem has been solved. Here’s a picture of my new power supply installed and in action.

ATX-400PN installed and in use
The ATX-400PN is installed and in use. The plain colour matches the back side of my case perfectly.

Since this is not a professional hardware review, I don’t really have any of the usual performance numbers for the power supply. I can tell you that though that the new power supply is a bit quieter than the old power supply with the 80mm fan, and the voltages are also more stable, as reported by the motherboard’s voltage and fan monitoring software. I think my processor is also a little bit cooler as a result of the big 120mm fan of the power supply sucking in the hot air from the processor. Overall, the Fortron ATX-400PN is a no-frills but high quality power supply that has what it takes to power a low to mid-end system comfortably. It is a little short on extra features, but for a mere 50 bucks, you can’t really complain. I am happy with my choice for the replacement power supply and I also learned not to cheap out when buying a power supply for the computer. In a way, I got off lucky since the power supply didn’t take out my motherboard or hard drive or another vital part of the PC when it went down. I’ll make sure I get a reliable power supply when I build my next computer.

Thank you for reading this article.

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