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Whether you’re just joining the PC enthusiast community or you’re a seasoned veteran with multiple builds under your belt, you should know that the power supply is one of the most important aspects of your build. With household names like Corsair and EVGA working ‘round the clock to provide you with power-efficient and reliable PSUs (power supply units), this highly competitive segment of the PC component market has given birth to modular units.
Modular power supplies allow you to use only the cables you need, making for better cable management, improved airflow, and a much cleaner aesthetic. While the modularity aspect is welcomed in almost any build, it also adds a bigger price tag to the component. That being said, let’s discuss when it’s better to spend the extra money for this feature, and when it’s better to use the money to invest in other features that will impact the performance of your PC.
Differences Between Modular, Semi-Modular and Non-modular Power Supplies
If you’ve never built a PC, then you should understand how each component draws power. Some draw all the power they require to function throughout the ports on the motherboard, like RAM, and some require additional power, which you draw directly from the power supply, like the GPU. This will be the first factor that you should consider when choosing modular, semi-modular or non-modular.
Non-modular power supplies have all of the cables already connected to the power supply. They typically have a less-premium feel than their modular counterparts, have color-coded cables that are not usually braided, and have an overall outdated aspect. Investing in such a product makes sense if aesthetics aren’t a big selling point for you and if you’re on a tighter budget.
Still, don’t let that discourage you. Low-end power supplies still function in the same way high-end PSUs do. If you’re buying from a reputable manufacturer and factor in your components’ total power draw before buying, then you should be safe. Make sure to get at least 80+ bronze certification, as it is an investment in both power efficiency and reliability.
Semi-modular power supplies have only the basic cables attached to the unit, like the 24-pin motherboard connector, the 8-pin CPU cable, and the PCIe power connector that will go into your GPU. Whatever else you may need to power your future system can be connected, so you can customize the power supply based on your needs while having the barebone configuration already installed.
In terms of budget, they’re in the middle, with the non-modular on the low end of the spectrum, and the fully-modular models at the high end of the spectrum. Value-wise, this might be your sweet spot. You’re getting the best of both worlds, while not paying for the full price of a modular power supply.
The ability to pick the cables you use has a lot of different uses, some of which being less obvious than others. The fully-modular PSU has no cables attached to it, giving you the ability to cable manage your build much easier, have a cleaner overall look, and get the best possible airflow your case can handle. Fully-modular PSUs are typically more expensive, have braided cable sleeves, and are a bit chubbier (they’ll still fit any standard ATX-compatible case).
Which PSU Should I Buy?
You’re probably wondering “What type of power supply do I need?”, and that’s a pretty fair question. First off, no matter the type of power supply, you need to make sure that it’s power-efficient. You should get at least 80 PLUS certification on your power supply. This means that at 20%, 50%, and 100% loads, it will convert at least 80% of the AC it draws from to outlet to AC, so it will draw 125 watts to output 100 watts of DC. This is important for your power bills and for the safety of your builds and components, as efficiency translates into better temps.
Secondly, make sure you calculate the total power draw of your components and pick a power supply with a buffer. So if your components need around 500 watts, invest in a PSU that’s rated for 650 watts or more. This way, you won’t put your components under stress, you’ll avoid random shutdowns at high loads, and you’ll gain more efficiency considering that power supplies become more inefficient at higher loads.
With that in mind, here’s where modularity comes into play. Picking a non-modular power supply is OK if you’re not interested in optimal cable management and clean aesthetics. If your PC case has a PSU cage, then you can use the cage to mask the extra cables without any airflow or visual penalties.
You should get semi-modular power supplies if you’re interested in getting a value option that also provides you with good cable management design, higher-quality cables, and a better, more premium feel.
Fully-modular power supplies are very useful in a lot of different cases. First off, they’re most likely better built, with hybrid fans running silently while keeping your unit cooled, and premium cables giving you a professional and visually-appealing finish. In addition to the premium materials, you can use fully-modular supplies to customize your PC. If you’re building in a small form-factor case, then you can order custom-length cables to maximize the airflow, a crucial aspect to consider when working in small cases. Moreover, you can also order custom sleeves, and even individually-sleeved cables, to give your build more character.
You should always aim to get a power supply with a higher efficiency rating and with a sensible buffer rather than investing in a semi or fully-modular unit. That being said, the extra money that goes into a fully-modular power supply ensures that you’re getting better-quality materials, better cable management options, and easier troubleshooting in case something goes wrong. If you’re working with a limited budget, then I say you skip these extra features, but if you can afford to go full-modular, then you should definitely go the extra mile.