I'm building a system based on a Sandbridge cpu with H67 chipset that will only use the onboard video. Other than that it will have only a cd drive and one HD. After checking different power calculator the average requirement is about 280w. But I'd like have have headroom to add a high end video card (with TDP of about 200w) in the future which raises the power requirement to near 500w. So I think I should buy a 500w PSU to be ready for a video upgrade.

My concern is that the system with onboard video is consuming (from what I've read) about 60w at idle which is only about 12% of the capacity of the PSU. I've also read that it's better to run PSUs in their efficiency zone of 20%-80% of their capacity. Will this reduce the life of the PSU to run it at only 10-12% of its capacity? And how mush efficiency loss can I expect?

2 Answers 2


A computer power supply is an example of a switched-mode power supply. The power supply outputs a square-wave like pattern, with a varying frequency and duty-cycle depending on the load on the power supply. Due to the nature of these supplies, there is often a minimum load that they can supply.

While operating one of these power supplies at no-load can damage the unit, you are placing some load on it (even if it is only at 10% of it's maximum capacity). Most power supply manufacturers have a detailed power-versus-efficiency curve on their websites (example on the "Tech Specs" tab), so you can determine where your load will place you on the efficiency curve.

It would rarely make sense to increase the loading on the power supply to get a greater efficiency, as you still have to increase the power that the unit supplies. So long as you have some load on the power supply, it will be fine.

In response to your comment, I think a modern high-quality 450W power supply would be more then sufficient for your current and future needs. The Sandybridge chipset is very efficient, and I think maybe your peak power requirement might be 280W (average would be in the high 100's to low 200's for that setup). That being said, I do not think it is a problem if you go with your original 500W supply.

I would avoid going with a very low wattage power supply, unless you can find a high quality one. I can never stress the importance of getting a good high quality power supply, as that is one of the most important (and essential for long life) components you can put in a modern computer.

Finally, if you're curious, here is some extra reading material to give you an idea of how much power you can expect the computer will actually pull from the wall.

  • As it is the case with all the efficiency specs I've seen it is only shown for usage over 20% (starting at 150w for the 750w psu in your example). My hesitation is more such as should I buy a 300w psu with the onboard video and upgrade the psu when I buy a 200w video card later?
    – jmbouffard
    Jun 28, 2011 at 14:13
  • @jmbouffard, that depends on how much you are willing to spend, and if you want to upgrade twice. While some computer components are an exception to this rule, when you deal with power supplies, you get what you pay for. I updated my answer with my full comment response. Jun 28, 2011 at 14:29

I don't think its a problem -- however you might be interested in this AnandTech article.
Debunking Power Supply Myths, Sept, 2008.

When a PSU is run under its efficiency zone, it will 'waste' more power (in the conversion).

  • Great article! I'm just wondering if these efficiency graphics are available for other PSUs because they are much more detailed than the one usually provided by the manufacturers.
    – jmbouffard
    Jun 28, 2011 at 14:48
  • @jmbouffard, the information accompanying PSUs is also a measure of their quality -- good ones come with charts.
    – nik
    Jun 29, 2011 at 1:37

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