When building a PC, the power supply (PSU) is one of the least exciting components you can buy for it. It doesn't achieve anything amazing like a new processor, graphics card, or RAM can offer you; in fact, all it does is keep all the exciting bits powered on.
However, if you stick your nose into the realm of power supplies, you'll find they come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and makes. And one thing you'll see across the major brands is that they often have special "ratings" on them, ranging from bronze to titanium. But what are the differences between, say, a bronze vs. a gold PSU, and which should you get?
What Are Power Supply Ratings?
You'll see a power supply rating somewhere on the PSU's box or somewhere on the unit itself. All of them sport the text "80 Plus" but come in different styles and colors.
At the lowest end of the bracket is a plain "80 Plus" sticker with no additional text. The next level up from that is Bronze, followed by Silver, Gold, Platinum, and then Titanium at the very top.
What Does "80 Plus" Mean?
The "80 Plus" text does have some significance as to what the PSU can do, but to understand where it fits, we have to break down how a PSU works. A PSU supplies power to the computer, and more expensive PSUs will supply more power.
Every component in your PC has a maximum energy rating. When you plan out a PC's construction, you have to add up all these maximums and then purchase a power supply with a rating higher than that.
For instance, if your PC draws 520 watts when everything is firing at maximum, you can get a 600 watt PSU to cover the demand and ensure your PC doesn't suffer from power cuts.
But here's the thing about PSUs. It's easy to assume that a 600-watt power supply will draw a maximum of 600 watts from your plug socket.
The truth is, it'll actually draw more than that because PSU's aren't 100% efficient. Some of the energy it'll consume will end up as waste heat, so it needs to draw more than 600 to keep your PC running at maximum output.
However, inefficient PSUs really suck for consumers. If a PSU chucks out a lot of energy as heat, users will find themselves with a higher-than-expected energy bill, and all they'll have to show for it is a hot PSU. On the other hand, making a device truly 100% efficient is extremely hard (if not impossible), so manufacturers require some leeway when it comes to making PSUs.
The solution? Set up an independent body that accepts models from PSU manufacturers and tests them for efficiency. Then, if the PSU manages to hit 80% efficiency or higher, give it a seal that shows that off. And have different levels of seal for better efficiency rates.
And that's exactly where we are today. CLEAResult now measures PSU efficiency and awards those that achieve over 80% efficiency with a special seal. And that's what "80 Plus" means.
What Does Each Efficiency Grade Mean?
So now we know that every PSU with this little sticker on it has an efficiency of at least 80%, and you can expect this from every grade. However, as you might expect, higher grades mean higher levels of efficiency.
Things get a little complicated at this point, but thankfully CLEAResult has a table showing off what's required for each level:
From this image, you can get a good idea as to what each certification level will give you. For instance, when you get a PSU that hits the base "80 Plus" rating, you'll be getting something that has around 80-85% efficiency depending on the voltage and the load you're putting on it.
At the absolute top of the leaderboard is platinum. It gets pretty close to 100%, hovering around the 90-96% mark. However, as you can see, even the absolute best level of efficiency cannot hit perfect rates.
And when it comes to bronze vs. gold power supplies, the difference isn't too drastic. A gold PSU will net you 5% more efficiency than a bronze one.
Are Higher Rated PSUs Made With Better Components?
It's easy to assume that the higher rating a PSU has, the better components it has. After all, a higher-rated PSU should use higher-quality components for better efficiency. Therefore, they should last longer and suffer fewer catastrophic events than lower-rated ones.
In reality, this is somewhat true; however, it's not a hard and fast rule. Just because one PSU has a higher award than another, that doesn't mean it's automatically better in every way. And that goes double if you're comparing two PSUs from different brands. A gold-rated PSU from one brand may not have as reputable reviews as a bronze-rated PSU from another.
You can see this effect on the PSU tier list on Gamingscan. At the time of writing, gold-rated PSUs and higher dominate tier 1…but still, one silver-rated one manages to sneak in. And in tier 2, a few bronze-rated PSUs sneak in amongst the gold-rated ones.
As such, if you want a quality PSU you can rely on, it's best to go for a well-reviewed brand rather than the efficiency rating. Take a look at the tier list we linked earlier and check to see which ones to look out for, and which to avoid.
A Bronze vs. Gold-Rated PSU: Which Is Best for You?
So, when you're buying a PSU, is it okay to settle for a bronze, or should you really be gunning for gold?
Before we hop in, let's take a look at the prices between bronze and gold PSUs. PC Part Picker lists the average bronze-ranked PSU at just under $50, while a gold one will set you back just under $100. That's double the price to ensure your PSU has the gold standard!
So, is the gold tier worth the extra cash? As we covered earlier, a gold PSU will save some energy… but only 5% more than a bronze one. That does add up if you're planning to have your PC turned on for hours on end, but if you're only using it sporadically, you may find you'll save more money in the long run with a bronze model.
Also, while it's true that gold-rated PSUs are generally better-reviewed than bronze ones, it's not a definitive measure of quality. Of course, if you want a high-quality PSU, you'll likely be shopping around the tier 1 section of the list we linked above, and that contains a lot of gold-rated models and no bronze ones.
However, that doesn't mean that all bronze PSUs sit at the bottom of the tier list, either. If you want a high-quality PSU for less, you can do some smart shopping and find a bronze-tier PSU that punches above its weight. For example, the tier list rates the bronze Corsair CX series as a tier 2 PSU, and you can pick one up for around $50.
As such, whether you want to get a bronze or a gold-rated PSU is up to you, your intended PC use, and your budget. However, if you take one thing away from this article, it's this; always buy brands over efficiency ratings. Never blind-buy a PSU and check reviews and tier lists for the best results.
Want to Go for Gold? Check the Brand
The PSU efficiency rating system can be complex, but once you've gotten the basics down, you can easily determine the differences between a bronze vs. a gold power supply and which is best for you. And, most importantly, check the brand before buying.