Do You Have the Power? Part 1

31 Jan, 2015 By: Alex Herrera

Herrera on Hardware: The best processors in the world won't do you any good if your workstation's power supply isn't up to the task.

Is There a Hardware Upgrade in Your Future?

But there's one potential catch, in the event that you want to upgrade that configuration at some point during the course of that machine's life. For example, many users will consider the possibility of moving to a new higher-performing GPU at some point during the service life of their workstation, and for good reason. The graphics card is one of the easiest components to upgrade — just pop a new one in a PCI Express slot and grab a driver — and for highly visual CAD projects and workflows, a GPU upgrade often provides a lot of bang for the buck. In addition to boosting performance, more users are adding in a second GPU simply to get more screens of higher resolution.

But such upgrades are only possible if that new beast of a GPU can get the watts it needs out of your system's PSU. Upgrading to a high-end GPU, or adding a second card, could mean adding 200 or more watts to your system's total power demand, potentially outstripping the capabilities the PSU originally shipped in your workstation. Note that the most significant difference in power consumption in moving our entry-class example to the mid-range configuration was attributed to the GPU.

Workstation-caliber GPUs are some of the biggest consumers of a system's power budget. Data courtesy of NVIDIA and AMD.

And if you do think a GPU upgrade might be in your future at some point, then make sure you have the right connectors, not just the right number of watts. The highest-performing GPU cards' power requirements exceed the limits of a PCI Express edge connector (75 W) and need to be served with a separate auxiliary connector or two (typically 6-pin and 8-pin, sourcing another 75 W and 150 W, respectively). Such auxiliary connectors are typically only available in more spacious tower workstations supported by the highest-wattage PSUs. Without the connectors, any lofty GPU upgrade plans down the road could all be for naught.

This midrange NVIDIA Quadro K2000 doesn't need them, but upgrade to a Quadro K5200 or K6000, and one or both auxiliary power connectors are a must-have.

More Than Just Watts

When it comes to high-performance CAD workstations, it turns out there's more to PSUs than first meets the eye. Because while it may not epitomize computing innovation, PSU technology isn't standing still. Workstation vendors in particular have been advancing the PSU on two primary fronts: efficiency and serviceability. This column will explore both of these topics next time, in the second of this two-part series on power supplies for CAD workstation applications.

Editor's note:  Click here to read "Do You Have the Power? Part 2."

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About the Author: Alex Herrera

Alex Herrera

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