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When an AMD system gives you problems, always suspect the power supply

I did some power supply swapping this weekend. My video editing PC had outgrown its 300-watt power supply and I needed something fast, so I bought an Antec 430-watt TruePower box locally. I paid $30 too much, and it’s definitely a show-off box, with gold plating everywhere and multicolored sheathing around the power cables. I don’t care at all about that, but I do care that now my jammed-to-the-gills video editing machine has lots of steady, reliable power. How jammed? It has one PCI slot and one drive bay open. It can suck down some juice.
I then turned my attention to my 1.1 GHz Athlon. I’ve been building it for months. At one point I thought the motherboard was bad because the system always hung after the second reboot during an OS install. Always. I tried different Linux flavors, different Windows flavors, everything. Then the problems continued after I changed the motherboard. Prior to that I’d suspected the memory, but that worked fine in other systems. Then I tried every hard drive I could lay hands on. It didn’t matter how great the drive worked anywhere else, if I tried to run anything but DOS on my AMD, the system wouldn’t let me finish installation.

Once I’d tried a different motherboard, that only left the power supply. My case is an Inwin, with a 250w Powerman power supply installed at the factory. I swapped in my 300W Antec–newly unemployed after being replaced in my video editing box–and the system became stable.

Rule number one, which I’d forgotten, is to always suspect the power supply when dealing with AMD stuff.

In all honesty, I don’t remember when I bought that Inwin case, so I have no idea whether that Powerman was AMD approved or not. But the Antec provides considerably more power on the +3.3v and +5v rails and it works. The Powerman powers old Intel (P2-class) and AMD K6 stuff just fine, but none of my Athlon stuff.

So if you’re cobbling together an Athlon from spare parts and it’s not working, either cannibalize or buy a decent-quality power supply, preferably one that you know has successfully powered AMD gear in the past. I’ll bet it starts working.

7 thoughts on “When an AMD system gives you problems, always suspect the power supply”

  1. Yes,

    Learnt that lesson very quickly. ALWAYS use a good power supply in an Athlon/Athlon XP/Duron system. 250 watts is simply not good enough.

    I actually tell people to not skimp on the quality of the PS when building, as in “don’t buy the cheapest case”.

  2. Yup – scored an Athlon 1.2 GHz Gateway refurb with an MSI motherboard last year for about $500, and it wouldn’t play nice with a 512 MB stick of PC133 memory I got for it. I immediately replaced the 250 watt PS with a 400 watt– and it *still* didn’t work. Shoot. Darn it. Rats.

    The good news? That Athlon machine will soon become my file server, hosting several 120 GB drives. It’s almost obscene, what IDE hard disk drives are selling for, after rebates.

  3. Last week I replaced my 340W power supply in my XP2400+ machine with a Zalman 400W PS. My 340W supply was doing quite allright but I wanted something that didn’t make as much noise. After replacing it I put a quiet Papst fan into my 340W supply and put that into my Pentium III machine. Now I got two quiet machines running at home ๐Ÿ™‚

    When it comes to power supplies, there is a tremendous amount of 230W and 250W supplies out there. If you are upgrading your box to P4 or Athlon status, change the PS. If I get asked to fix a box that has random lockups I usually begin by replacing the PS and then memory. 90% of the time it is either one.

    /David T.

  4. Dave,

    Sorry about the off-topic subject but I got no other way to reach you ๐Ÿ™‚

    I just got a note from Marcel Gagné’s mail list where he he announced his next article in Linux Journal. I thought you might be interested in the topic:

    “Hello everyone,

    Having just received my new copy of Linux Journal, the December 2003 issue, I thought I should let you know that it is now available. This month’s “Cooking with Linux” column is titled “Put Another Nickel In . . .”, an allusion to those old days of nickel jukeboxes. Oddly enough, that’s exactly the topic of the article, jukeboxes. These jukeboxes all run on your Linux
    system, allow you to catalog, store, organize (and otherwise make some sense of), and, of couurse, play all those MP3 and OGG music files you’ve been accumulating.”


    /David T.

  5. With low end AMDs (1.1-1.8 GHz comparative) 300-350W P/S’s seem to be fine. Anything above requires a 400W+ it seems, probably because of the massive current pull on startup.

    What’s more, P/S ratings are a *maximum*. It’s possible to get a 400W that’s *really* a 350W. And it’s possible for a P/S to degrade.

    My system – an AMD 2100 – just started acting funky on boot – masked as a video problem (nVidia geForce 64 meg something). With a warm reboot, the system would start – no prob. Immediately got me thinking capacitors, so I visually checked the boards. Reseated the graphics card, no resolution.

    Then I unplugged the floppy (hell, I don’t remember the last time I used it!). System works fine now. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    New power supply this weekend. 540 Watts. Yeah.

  6. Taran,

    You wrote:

    “P/S ratings are a *maximum*. It’s possible to get a 400W that’s *really* a 350W”

    This is mostly true of no-name or cheapo power supplies. However, if you buy an high-end P/S then the opposite might happen as well. When Tom’s Hardware tested the Zalman P/S that I bought (a 400W unit) he found that it topped out at 447 Watts. The article, a test of 13 P/S is a good read. You can find the article here:

    My Chieftec 350W power supply did just fine as well when powering my XP2400+ with a Nvidia GeForce4 4200 graphics card, SIS motherboard (very sensitive to poor P/S) and DVD/CD-RW/ZIP drive/hard drive combo. Chieftec isn’t really high end but it stood up to the task really well and my system has always been Rock solid. The rock solid part might also be a result of running Linux as well ๐Ÿ™‚


    David T.

  7. Chieftec actually manufacture for Antec, I think or it could be the other way round. AFAIK, Chieftec are the distributors for Antec cases in South East Asia (very popular cases in Singapore). My mother’s PC (which was mine when I lived out in Hong Kong) is based around a Chieftec chassis and Sparkle SPI power supply.

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