[SFF Network] John's Weekly Mini-Rant - SFX, The New Standard

confusis

John Morrison. Founder and Team Leader of SFF.N
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This is one of a series of weekly mini-rants by your faithful correspondent, John Morrison. These is a regular series focusing on issues in the SFF niche. All content is entirely opinion of John, not of SmallFormFactor.net, and should not be taken as fact.

Silverstone and Lian-Li have made this rant possible by releasing what I consider the tipping point for SFX - capacities greater or equal to 700w. It's at this point that the 'bigger is better' community (those with CaseLabs cases, etc) will hopefully stand up and take a second look at what they are doing. 700 watts should be enough for all but the most extreme overclocked or 3+ GPU systems.

Read more here.
 
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Phuncz

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I agree, ATX PSUs have little to offer to the general populace now that >700W SFX is available and is quiet. Especially because a huge portion of people will never reach 300W load with modern hardware. But since manufacturers are still promoting "bigger is better" in cases which most people populate with one of those oversized GPUs, who can blame them when people are paying $800 or €900 for a single GTX 1080.

So while SFX PSUs were being "spread thin" in most SFF builds 3 to 5 years ago when 450W was the max and 250-300W TDP GPUs were all the rage, the situation has now reversed and allowed lower power GPUs to become available and SFX PSU power to increase dramatically. Even though SFX PSUs have become a thing in the public and not just the seemingly obscure SFF world, where are the cases ? Are they coming, promised like the dragons were in the first season of Game of Thrones ?

And a follow-up question: what will the case manufacturers do with this new possibility ? Will they finally realise huge honking cases are so 2001 and finally proceed to reducing footprint and volume ? Will they hope some other brand will make SFX-compatible cases, even though the brands bringing out the SFX PSUs are already case manufacturers ?

It's all so vague right now what the companies as a whole and seperately want to achieve.
 
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veryrarium

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Jun 6, 2015
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This
confusis said:
Recently, 700 and 750w power supplies were launched, featuring 80+ Titanium and Platinum ratings and fanless modes. The power supplies in question came from Silverstone and Lian-Li,
in the article should be corrected.

I know this probably will never happen, but instead of Silverstone pushing SFX-L form factor I'd have liked instead to see PSU form factors different from any existing ones or extensions (like SFX-L) of an existing one emerge. I don't know why the ATX PSU form factor is 150x86x140 (mm) and the SFX PSU is 125x63.5x100 or some other variants of these when they were standardized, but as of 2016 these dimensions are random, i.e. not logically coherent with any other PC components (including the PC case itself) they go along with. Moreover, Dell, HP, etc can make, and have made, whatever proprietary PSU form factors they wanted for their SFF client PCs. So why not new SFF PSU form factors and new SFF cases to go along with it. I'd have liked PSUs whose dimensions are 100x100x75 (for lower wattage) and 125x125x75 (for higher wattage), the former with a 92x92x25 fan and the latter with a 120x120x25 fan.
 
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BirdofPrey

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Sep 3, 2015
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The ATX PSU has the same dimensions as the LPX PSUs used on most AT systems at the time the ATX spec was created.

SFX was a new size at the time, but the fan size made sense since most small systems it was meant for would me mini-ATX or flex ATX and wouldn't have that much power draw. Even the fans on CPUs and video cards are the time were likely to be 80mm.

ATX is an old specification considering how quickly computing innovations progress.
 
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jtd871

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Jun 22, 2015
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The main problem I see with widespread SFX and SFX-L adoption is the relatively high price per watt compared to mainstream ATX PSUs. When these come down, sales will go up as more and more builders realize the savings in part volume at the same price. ATX will be mostly relegated to duty for truly high wattage PSUs in cases where the volume of the other components makes the relative volume of the PSU an afterthought.
 
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Simwalh

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Jan 16, 2016
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Disclaimer: my pc is located in a basement room, as far away from the street as my house will allow. i'd say it's pretty quiet in there.

my main problem with sfx is the noise. i have used an air cooled system for a while, with an atx power supply, and it was pretty quiet. but after switching to a watercooled system with a sfx psu, the system is basically dead silent, except for the power supply. I only have a 970 and a 4690k, but the 600w psu is still the most noisy part by far and raises the noise level above my earlier aircooled system. so the point you made at the end is crucial, efficiency needs to improve a lot. until then i think even gigantic and hopelessly overpowered 1500W atx psus have their place for silence freaks such as myself, because they will basically always run in passive mode.
 

GuilleAcoustic

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Another good example, retailer selling broadwell-E + GTX1080 with a 1000W PSU: http://www.ldlc.com/fiche/PB00211903.html

I hestimated the system to draw around 380W with a PSU calculator. Considering that the GTX1080 can only go 2-way SLI, a maxed out rig would still draw less than 600W .... no comment.

Not even mentioning the ATX motherboard when you can only have 2 GPU, or the 1800€ CPU ... or the 5000€ price tag XD.
 
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|||

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If you water cool and overclock the CPU and GPU's you can get the GPU's up to around 325W max draw each (for the ones that start out around 250W TDP to begin with) and the processor up around 225W. Add in the motherboard, overclocked RAM, a couple NVMe PCI-e drives, some hard drives, water pump(s), external fan controller, and fans and you can get up over 1000W system draw.
 

GuilleAcoustic

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If you water cool and overclock the CPU and GPU's you can get the GPU's up to around 325W max draw each (for the ones that start out around 250W TDP to begin with) and the processor up around 225W. Add in the motherboard, overclocked RAM, a couple NVMe PCI-e drives, some hard drives, water pump(s), external fan controller, and fans and you can get up over 1000W system draw.

Not sure I'd choose the In-Win 909 for that purpose XD. Also, 10 cores Broadwell-E is a bad CPU for a Gaming oriented rig. For the asked price I'd go with a regular i7, 2x 1080 and a custom loop
 

EdZ

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May 11, 2015
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Oh yeah, I wasn't saying their component selection was good, just that you can still get a computer up over 1000W.

Here is Charlie Demerjian's rant on Broadwell-E and why it's not really suitable for gaming.
tl;dr: "all those problems with consumer Sandy Bridge-E, Ivy Bridge-E, and Haswell-E compared to their quad-core counterparts? Same situation with consumer Broadwell-E."
It's the exact same story with every '-E' consumer release: dramatically more expensive than the quad-core consumer range, and less (or at very best equivalent) single-threaded performance.
For gaming, '-E' hex-core/octa-core parts have always been the wrong choice, and this will likely continue to be for the forseeable future, as programming problems continue to be difficult to effectively thread. Even quad-cores aren't being pushed particularly hard yet. While the current crop of consoles uses octa-core parts, the clock speeds are so very low that a single core can process the workload of two console cores with ease in the same timeframe, and with the different memory architectures between consoles and PC the sort of timing-based unified-memory optimisations that can be done on consoles do not port nicely to PC.

Non-gaming workloads like rendering and video encoding are another matter entirely, and benefit greatly from additional CPU cores without being better suited for GPGPU (i.e. require many complex parallel operations rather than many basic operations).
 

Arthondar

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May 30, 2016
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The main problem I see with widespread SFX and SFX-L adoption is the relatively high price per watt compared to mainstream ATX PSUs. When these come down, sales will go up as more and more builders realize the savings in part volume at the same price. ATX will be mostly relegated to duty for truly high wattage PSUs in cases where the volume of the other components makes the relative volume of the PSU an afterthought.

Agreed. The entry point for SFX is still quite high, imo, because there are no “decent” cheap PSUs. Pretty much everything below ~70€ is garbage; It's almost an "all or nothing" situation: if you want to hook up a graphic card that requires some sort of auxiliary power that’s basically your starting point, and from there on 90% of the little more -than half-a-dozen SFX PSUs that exist are over 80-90€…

Yes, in isolation, if you compare for example one of the 600w SFX (either the Silverstone of the Corsair) with something similar in ATX (i.e. a 600w, 80-plus gold, fully modular, top-brand PSU) the price is very similar… but the reality is that most people do not buy fully modular, highly efficient top-brand PSUs: they buy crappy cheap PSUs. I’ve been building PCs and doing maintenance and fixes for friends, family, coworkers, etc. for 20 years now and I could probably count with my hands the number of times I’ve seen people actually use good PSUs. The vast majority of the time the buy the cheapest thing they can find that will allow them to run the hardware they’re going to put together. And you can do that with ATX because you can find 500-650w PSUs at 45-55€ that will give you 35-50A on a single 12v rail which is usually more than enough to run CPU+GPU+whatever (especially with the newer and more efficient components we’re seeing every day). Yes, most of the time they won’t be great PSUs and may run hot, or be noisy or whatever but at least they work, which is something you can’t do (for now at least) with SFX because cheap SFX PSUs are usually in the realm of “look, I have 500w!! isn't it amazing for this price??… but please, PLEASE, don’t ask for more than 20-25A” (btw, I toasted one of these a few days ago. In half an hour… it was both sad and hilarious at the same time)

So yeah, I’d love to see cheaper and capable SFX PSUs, I think that’s what would really make the format take off. As for SFX-L I don’t see it as much as an alternative to SFX as I see it as the perfect substitute for ATX. ATX in my opinion is obsolete by now with these new >700w SFX-L PSUs and should be relegated to extreme cases where you somehow need one of those meter-long over one kilowatt PSUs for whatever reason (probably because of your sata-powered nuclear reactor I suppose).
 

BirdofPrey

Standards Guru
Sep 3, 2015
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I don't mind the price on the case or PSU as much, unless you have to do a completely new build EVERY time you upgrade, a decent PSU and case will last for quite a while, and, unlike the actual system electronics, they don't tend to become obsolete, so they only really need to be replaced when they either break, or your power and space requirements change.
 

Phuncz

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Also, cheap PSUs are rarely a good idea for the long term. Often they'll barely hit their rated wattage, but will have issues with running sustained at high loads. Also with lack in protection circuits, you'd have a higher risk taking down components due to failure, along with the lower product quality is a disaster waiting to happen.
 

Arthondar

Efficiency Noob
May 30, 2016
5
11
I don't mind the price on the case or PSU as much, unless you have to do a completely new build EVERY time you upgrade, a decent PSU and case will last for quite a while, and, unlike the actual system electronics, they don't tend to become obsolete, so they only really need to be replaced when they either break, or your power and space requirements change.

True, cases and PSUs can last a lot (especially cases), but that is in cases where the user has a bare minimum of knowledge about hardware and cares to maintain and reuse components. Which may be common sense for us but I can assure you I’ve seen many, many times people literally buy a new PC and get rid of or throw away the old one. (Yes, throw, like, in the garbage). Does it make sense? No. Is it stupid? Yes, probably, but people do it anyway.

Also, cheap PSUs are rarely a good idea for the long term. Often they'll barely hit their rated wattage, but will have issues with running sustained at high loads. Also with lack in protection circuits, you'd have a higher risk taking down components due to failure, along with the lower product quality is a disaster waiting to happen.

Agreed. I’m not saying buying cheap PSUs is a good idea, I’m just saying people do it and that’s a reality that affects the market and whether or not a product category/format/standard/etc. sticks or not. As much as we all love shiny high end hardware we should not forget that that’s not what the vast majority of people buy.

Also, just to be clear, by “cheap” I don’t necessarily mean “dirty cheap crappy PSUs” … maybe the appropriate word would be “affordable”. For example, you find things like this:

https://www.amazon.es/Corsair-CP-90...1_5?s=computers&ie=UTF8&qid=1468229119&sr=1-5

That’s not even a no-name brand, it’s frigging Corsair. On the other hand, your bare minimum SFX to run a graphics card would be something like:

https://www.amazon.es/gp/product/B00W4IVZQY/ref=ox_sc_act_title_1?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=A1AT7YVPFBWXBL

which is 20% more expensive for 40% less wattage.
 

Phuncz

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Valid point, Although SFF builds below 300$ are certainly possible, at that price point, other solutions start to emerge. SFX PSUs will also require more expensive components because of density, so a minimum price higher than ATX shouldn't be a surprise.
 

jtd871

SFF Guru
Jun 22, 2015
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Valid point, Although SFF builds below 300$ are certainly possible, at that price point, other solutions start to emerge. SFX PSUs will also require more expensive components because of density, so a minimum price higher than ATX shouldn't be a surprise.

Hey, I don't blame Corsair (for example) for charging $90 retail for a 450W full modular SFX PSU: they have development and marketing costs to recoup, and the market comps from Silverstone sell in that price range. But until they lower the prices to within say $5-$10/unit of otherwise similarly-specced ATX PSUs, SFX will remain a niche market, rather than the disruptive force to the mainstream market that it ought to be, and the higher prices will be a "self-fulfilling prophecy" because they don't move as many units.
 

MODZERO

Average Stuffer
Jul 9, 2016
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I know of only a few cases on the market with SFX implemented as their default power delivery choice. The Parvum X1.0 was the first that came to my attention, more recently the latest bullet line from CaseLabs are rocking SFX mounts. With Silverstone having been the only producer of SFX units for so long is great to finally see competition.

J.
 
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