You never forget your first hardware crush. For me it was a purely physical thing when I very first set eyes on the launch photo's of a new modular power supply called the X-Connect from an unheard of manufacturer going by the name of Ultra.
At the time the best thing available in modular format was the Antec Neopower. But with unsleeved cables and an OEM style grey casing, man did it look ugly. The X-Connect however was fully modular, had awesome UV reactive cables and best of all came in several colours with a highly chromed finish. It almost didn't matter what the performance was like, the looks alone secured it a place in the geek porn category.
But could I get one? Nope, it never made its way over to the UK and to get one imported would have required the sale of a vital organ along with some heavy praying that HMR&C didn't decide to slap some import tax on top.
Anyway, almost 7 years has passed since the launch of that PSU and in that time both Ultra and the PSU industry as a whole has come a long way. The desire for 'bling' has settled down a lot among PC enthusiasts and now rightfully everybody is placing their first concerns with performance rather than how brightly the cables glow under UV lighting. Ultra's products have certainly reflected this, with every new model 'toning down' its appearance slightly while also improving in areas such as stability, efficiency and ripple suppression. Today I'm going to find out if this trend has continued once more into Ultra's fourth incarnation of the 'X' series, so what better place to start than with some details taken from their website...
Ultra X4 600-Watt Modular Power Supply
Ultra has taken a whole new approach to computer power supplies with the Ultra X4 Modular Power Supply. With Ultra's patened Modular Design, you only connect the cables which you need increasing airflow and giving your chassis that nice clean-look. The Ultra X4 Modular Power Supply uses a 135mm fan improves airflow throughout the chassis while keeping noise at a minimum. The Ultra X4 Modular Power Supply is intergrated short circuit protection and thermal overload sensors automatcially protects the PC when surges or overheating become an issue. With 3 year standard and lifetime warranty available upon registration, Ultra's customer service meets the highest industry standards.
What It Is and Why You Need It
* Modular Design - Only Connect the Cables You Need
* Lifetime Warranty - Your Investment is in Good Hands
* 80+ Bronze Certified - Save $$$ on Home Electricity Bills
* 135mm Low Noise Fan - Improved Cooling & Reduced Acoustics
* ATI CrossFire & NVIDIA SLI Certified - When One Graphics Card Just isn't Enough
* Tons of Included Extras - The Icing on the Cake
It's not often that I'll comment on the quality of a manufacturers website as it has little to do with the product on review, but it's hard to visit Ultra's website and not think that you've accidentally ended up at a web store. Every product has a price next to it and 'Add to Cart' buttons are plastered all over the place. It almost feels a bit desperate. This aside, the features of the X4 600w are fairly impressive with a Lifetime Warranty (most likely not valid in the EU), 80PLUS Bronze efficiency, a 135mm fan and "Tons of included extras". I can hardly wait!
|Ultra X4 600w Rail Layout|
As with most of the previous Ultra PSU's, the X4 has a single +12v rail. I'm not going to bother going into all the pro's and con's of single vs multi as I always end up doing in most of my other reviews, but what I will say is that the 37A (444w) available is fairly average for a 600w PSU. The same goes for the +3.3v and +5v rails that have an OCP cap set at 24A each with a maximum combined output of 150w. Only the +5vSB rail seems a tad weak in comparison to a lot of the competition, but unless you're planning to run masses of USB devices from your system in standby, 2.5A should still be more than enough.
Something for the Ultra 'wish list' would probably be to configure the +12v rail so that it is capable of delivering the entire 600w output of the PSU. This is something other manufacturers such as Corsair have been doing for a while now as it ensures that even their low wattage PSU's are capable of handling power hungry GPU's, especially when there is little load on the other rails.
Now that we've got the specs covered, let's check out the X4's appearance over on the next page...
The X4 600w is supplied in an absolutely huge box that could easily double up as temporary accommodation for those times when the wife goes through the credit card statements calculating how much money you've "wasted" on computer parts. Seriously though, this is easily one of the largest boxes I've ever seen used on any PSU, let alone a lowly 600w model.
Unfortunately the packaging design does leave a little to be desired with the combination of pale yellow, white and grey all resulting in a washed out look similar to a product that has been standing in a computer shop window for several years. The saving grace however is that Ultra have utilised all available space on the packaging (and there's lots of it) to show off the various features and specs of the unit.
At the front of the box you get your first preview of the X4 unit along with the full set of modular cables neatly arranged in the foreground. Several thumbnail image show what connector types are included and 'headline' features such as 80PLUS Bronze Certified, Active PFC, Low Noise and Fully Modular are all made clearly visible. At the back of the box is the usual rail layout chart similar to the one on the previous page along with yet another picture of the X4, only this time accompanied by some of its accessories.
While on the subject of accessories, Ultra have seen fit to print a handy table of contents at the side of the packaging. This lists everything that you should expect to receive inside the box (including the PSU its self!) along with several 'added value' accessories such as a silicone vibration dampening mount, some black thumbscrews and a handful of zip ties. OK, so maybe it's not exactly the Rolex you was hoping for, but considering that the 600w is at the lower-end of the X4 range the accessories bundle is still more than I was expecting.
Protecting the X4 from the brutal hands of careless courier companies are two large styrofoam slabs that sit at either end of the PSU. Although this does not provide complete protection on all sides, it does keep the X4 away from the edges of the box so that any minor dents in the packaging will not be reflected on the PSU. Additionally the X4 has also been placed in a clear plastic bag to help prevent any scuffing or rubbing to the its paintwork.
Moving on to the appearance we can see that the X4 has come a long way since the days of the 'blinged-out' X-Connect series. Even compared to its predecessor - the X3, Ultra's latest PSU appears quite plain and civilised with a smooth black powdercoated finish taking the place of the fingerprint loving electroplated one used on previous units.
A 135mm fan dominates the top of the unit with a medallion sized Ultra X4 logo sticker positioned in the middle of a black fan grill. At the back of the unit is the usual honeycomb ventilation grill along with a standard kettle style mains plug and power switch.
The side of the unit features an embossed X4 logo that not only looks quite cool, but also tells all your friends exactly what PSU you're using in your rig should you happen to have a windowed PC case. Normally most manufacturers would place their specification stickers in this area, but as a result of the logo Ultra have moved the specifications sticker to the top of the unit and out of plain sight.
Although I really wanted to save these images for the next page, a quick peek around the front of the unit reveals the modular connector area. This is essentially the same as the one used on the X3 series, with a large aluminium plate being used to mount the modular backplane to the main casing. Although maybe not as clean looking as some other modular PSU's that have their connectors inset into the casing, it does add a certain "home modified" look to the PSU..in a good way of course.
Now let's move on to the next page and take a proper look at all the cables and connectors....
One of the most unique features of the X4 (and indeed its predecessors) is that the unit is totally modular. Now I can hear you all say "why on earth would you want that". After all, in order to power a PC you've got to have an ATX and P4-12v cable as a bare minimum, right? Right! The only possible scenario I can can come up with where this would be beneficial, is if for example if you wanted to swap the provided ATX connector with an extra long or extra short one that would better suit the cable management of your PC. It's a pretty lame argument I know, but its the best I've got.
The connector count (once you've deducted the ATX/EPS/P4-12v necessities) weighs in at 9 which is pretty impressive for a 600w unit. This breaks down into a total of 4 molex headers, 3 SATA headers and 2 PCI-E headers, each of which has its own unique style of plug.
My only concern here is that Ultra have decided to use molex style plugs for the molex headers. While it may sound like a logical choice, this style of plug is notorious for providing poor connections and can easily work its way loose due to a lack of any locking mechanism. A better idea would have been to use the flat 5-pin locking style plugs already being used for the SATA headers.
As you'll hopefully be able to see from the chart below and the images above, the X4 is provided with plenty of modular cables. Unfortunately Ultra have decided against using the flat ribbon style cables that they did for the X3 (see Corsair HX units for an example of what I'm chatting about), but in their defence the quality of the sleeved cabling is easily the best I've ever seen with the meshing almost completely masking any signs of the cables beneath. Another nice touch is that each cable is neatly wrapped in an Ultra branded velcro cable tie that can be reused to to tidy up the rats nest of cables inside your PC once you've finished fitting the new PSU.
|Ultra X4 600w Connectors|
|ATX Connector||Modular||1x 24 Pin|
|EPS-12v / P4-12v Connector(s)||Modular||1x 4 Pin, 1x 8 Pin|
|Floppy Disk Connectors||Modular||2x|
|PCI-E Connectors||Modular||1x 6+2 Pin, 1x 6 Pin|
The main ATX motherboard connector comes in 24-Pin format with no way to reduce it down to the older 20-Pin standard. For the most part this certainly won't be an issue as almost all new motherboards are made in this format. However, if you intend on purchasing the X4 for an older PC system it may certainly be worth checking your motherboard documentation first for compatibility. The 'CPU' power connectors on the other hand are provided in both 4-Pin (P4-12v) and 8-Pin (EPS-12v) formats.
On the PCI-E connector front support for the latest graphics cards is ensured by two connectors in 6-Pin and 6+2Pin formats respectively.
Moving on to guts of the X4, my initial impressions are that Ultra haven't made best use of the available space inside the casing. A good two inch gap can be seen at the rear of the unit, yet for some reason Ultra seem to have crammed all of the X4's components on the smallest PCB they could find. Spreading the components out a little more and extending the heatsinks could help to keep the unit cooler and improve its performance, but whether this is necessary or not is something that will be revealed in the testing on the next page.
The logical place to start the close-up analysis is at the is at the input filtering stage. Here we can see that Ultra have used a collection of capacitors along with a ferrite coil to filter out any transients coming in from the mains power line. This also serves as barrier for any noise produced by the transistors inside the PSU from returning back out to mains supply where it may cause interference on other electronic devices.
Two transformers sit in the middle of the PSU with the largest being responsible for stepping down the mains voltage to just a little bit above +12v and +5v. These voltages are then passed through a series of Schottky rectifiers and capacitors that regulate and smooth the voltages down to their ideal outputs. This is also the way in which the 3.3v rail is created from the +5v output.
The smaller of the two transformers is solely responsible for the +5vSB rail. This rail remains powered even when the PC is switched off (but plugged into the mains). Its purpose is primarily to provide stand-by power to the PC's motherboard, enabling it to perform functions such as resuming from suspend mode on LAN or keyboard activity. More recently people have even used it for charging things such as mobile phones via the PC's USB ports when the PC is switched off.
Over on the primary (high voltage) side of the unit we can see that Ultra have used a Taiwanese manufactured Teapo capacitor with ratings of 420v / 390uF and a max temperature of 85°C. Although not quite the best that money can buy, Teapo are fairly well respected in the Capacitor industry.
Similarly over on the secondary side another collection of Teapo capacitors can be found mixed in with a handful of other caps that I couldn't quite identify. However, all caps here are rated at 105c (other specs varying), so with any luck Ultra haven't cut any corners and the capacitor brigade will be reasonably happy.
For some reason Ultra have seen it necessary to replace the fan manufacturers label with one of their own. Normally the original label can be found hidden underneath, but in this case Ultra have affixed their label directly to the fan hub. Only by means of a magnifying glass are we able to see the model number of the fan printed at the very bottom of the label.
The model DFB132512H refers to a high speed Young Lin Tech fan with specifications: 1700RPM / 91.16CFM / 31.28dBA at 12v. This particular fan has been used in countless numbers of other PSU's, but it's noise output and performance have always been entirely down to the configuration of the fan controller.
So with all of that out the way, let's move on to the testing...
"Take one PSU, remove from packaging and insert into oven pre-heated to 50°C for a total of two hours. During cooking be sure to batter PSU regularly with a wide range of load tests conducted using professional electronic load equipment."
Although this may sound more like something that you'd normally hear on Ready, Steady, Cook! the likeness to our PSU testing procedures here at OC3D is uncanny. During todays testing we will be placing the Ultra X4 under 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% load levels inside a hot box regulated to a temperature of around 50°C. Additional 'Cross Load' and a 'Max Load' tests will also be performed under these conditions to simulate how the PSU reacts to heavily uneven loads as well as running above its specified output.
All of these tests are conducted using professional SunMoon and Analogic DC load equipment with the results being fed back to a control computer for analysis. The final results you see below in tabular form represent the 'worst case' output from the PSU during these tests.
|Ultra X4 600w Results @ 50°C|
AC Watts /
Starting at the very beginning with the results from test 1, everything is fairly normal with the 5v and 12v rails being slightly over-volted to help keep up appearances when a heavy load is applied later on. Efficiency is also pretty reasonable sitting at bang on 85% and the exhaust temp is only a fraction of a degree above the intake. Test 2 increases the load slightly and as expected the voltage on the rails takes an ever so slight dip. Efficiency on the other hand increases to over 87% showing that the X4 really does need to be given a reasonable load in order to perform at its best.
Moving on to test 3 with the PSU load now at 455w, voltages take a slight drop yet again with the worst of the bunch being the +3.3v rail now running at 3.24v. Efficiency also drops by a small amount down to 86.33%, but still the performance and exhaust temperatures of the unit are very good. This trend continues into test 4 where we end up with efficiency just over 84% and the +3.3v rail running at 3.22v.
The cross-load tests 5 & 6 give very little cause for concern with the only minor issues being the efficiency dropping to 77% in test 5 and the -12V rail hitting -13.69v during test 6. However as I always stress, these tests are not indicative of any real-world scenario, so the results count little towards the conclusion.
Finally in test 7 the X4 is really put through its paces with a 740w load. This was the highest load that the X4 600w could maintain reasonable voltages and ripple results for at least 10 minutes. Here we can see that most of the strain is bared by the +5v rail that takes a nasty hit down to 4.60v, but other than that the X4 actually manages quite reasonable results. Interestingly though, the unit was also able to hold a whopping 850w load for several minutes before the +5v rail dropped to 3.5v and UVP kicked in and powered the unit off. Teasing to say the least!
Ultra X4 600w Scope Results @ 50c
|Test 7 (MAX)|
Ripple refers to the small fluctuations in voltage that occur in all PSU's on a millisecond scale. Large quantities of ripple on a PSU can damage or kill components in your PC over time and therefore testing a PSU's performance in this area is just as important as any other part. Unfortunately ripple cannot be measured using a standard multimeter and requires a specialist device called an oscilloscope. The results you see above are taken from our Rigol 25Mhz 400MSa/s scope that can save 'screenshots' of its data to a USB memory stick.
So how did the X4 perform? In a word: Excellent.
At no point during the tests did the ripple go outside of ATX specs (50mV on +3.3v/+5v, 120mV on +12v). This even includes the results of test 7 where the X4 600w was subjected to a 740w load. Comparing these results to that of the Corsair HX650w reviewed only last week we can see that the X4 exchanges blows with the HX across most of the results. However, when it comes to the cross-load results the X4 manages to keep its cool with smooth output while the Corsair actually goes out of spec. Considering that the X4 has a mixed bag of lower-rated capacitors, this is a pretty surprising result.
So far things are looking pretty good for Ultra's latest PSU, but will it tick all of the boxes when it comes to rounding up for the conclusion? Let's find out...
If I can be honest, I wasn't actually expecting the X4 to perform too great in todays tests. Ultra's reputation in the past has been somewhat of a mixed bag, and even now I hear from other reputable PSU review sites that other models in the X4 range don't quite make the grade. HOWEVER, as far as the X4 600w is concerned, Ultra have proved me totally wrong.
With less than 1% fluctuation in voltages on the +12v rail and around 2.5% on the +3.3v and +5v rails between idle and full load levels, the X4 600w showed immense stability that even bests PSU's that have walked away from Overclock3D with "Editors Choice" awards. Not only that, but the ripple results from the unit came out as smooth as butter showing that my initial fears regarding the assortment of capacitors used on the secondary side of the unit were unfounded, and that it's not always what you got - but how you use it that counts! The unit also handled the cross-load and max load tests reasonably well with a peak output of over 850w and a sustainable output of around 740w.
The efficiency of the X4 averaged at around 85% which is pretty much expected for an 80Plus Bronze certified PSU. The unexpected bonus though is that at around 350-350w load it can actually achieve closer to 87% efficiency. Pretty handy when you consider that this is roughly the level of power that most mid/high-end PC's will be consuming when surfing the net or doing almost anything that doesn't involve a power hungry graphics card kicking into action.
Of course there is always room for improvement though, and one area I would have possibly liked to see this is in the actual voltage output of the +3.3v rail. At idle the rail was measured at around 3.30v which certainly sounds fine until it drops by 2.5% down to 3.22v. This is the kind of voltage that will have some PSU snobs turning their noses up, and it could have easily been avoided by tweaking the rail to run somewhere closer to 3.33-3.36v at idle.
Finally, let's talk about that modular connector system for one minute. The whole idea behind 'fully modular' is nice in theory, and it's certainly worked wonders in helping Ultra stand out from the crowd. However, before you rush out and buy one simply because it 'looks good', there is one factor that needs to be taken into consideration: bendability! (Yes I know its not a word, but hear me out.)
On a PSU with a hard-wired ATX cable you can begin bending the cable to where it is required from the point it protrudes the unit. However, with a modular ATX cable you have a good inch of connector block before you can even begin manoeuvring it into a bend. In a large PC case this may make absolutely no difference, but in something smaller such as a HTPC or Desktop case it can make a massive difference to cable routing. Just something worth considering.
UK pricing is currently not available, but with a tag of $109 over at TigerDirect you can be sure that this will translate directly into GBP - give or take a few quid.
- Awesome ripple suppression.
- Excellent voltage stability.
- Reasonable efficiency that peaks at 87% under 300w load.
- "Lifetime warranty" - presumably if you're over the pond.
- Good bundle of extras including silicone vibration mount.
- Completely modular connector system could be both a blessing and a curse.
- 3.3v rail could use a little voltage boost (me being pedantic).
- Peak output of 850w - but I wish it had turned off sooner as voltages were really poor.
- Not a sausage.
We would like to thank Ultra for todays sample, you can discuss the results in our forums.