Date: March 3, 2006
Author(s): Matthew Harris
The original X-Connect is arguably one of the most popular power supplies of recent memory. It was one of the first power supplies to introduce modular cables, making it possible to keep the inside of your computer very tidy! We are taking a look at version 2 now, so let’s see what’s been updated!
Power supplies, let’s take a moment to discuss the importance of the PSU (as it’s commonly called by PC enthusiasts) and what it means to your system as a whole.
First the job of the PSU: The PSU supplies voltage to the motherboard, CPU and peripherals such as drives, video cards fans and what have you. Optimally the PSU will supply these voltages stably and without noise, sags and spikes.
Additionally the PSU will regulate these voltages as tightly as possible, the ATX spec says that they should be within 5% for the 3.3V, 5V, 12V and 5Vsb rails. Ideally you hope for a PSU that will regulate these voltages as tightly as possible under normal working conditions but during extreme loads seeing them swing within 5% is acceptable.
In today’s world though having rock steady voltages and tight regulation just don’t seem to be enough in a world of case windows, cold cathode lighting and customized case interiors. Today users look for shiny paint or chrome plating, removable cables, large quiet fans, windows, UV reactivity and a plethora of other aesthetic options when looking to integrate a new PSU into their high dollar gaming systems.
This is where ULTRA comes in, ULTRA has listened to the enthusiast crowd and has come up with products that cater to the gaming/enthusiast niche market and left just about every other maker scrambling to catch up. They were arguably the first to offer a fully modular PSU with the original X-Connect line which continued to evolve until its discontinuation recently. There is a matter of debate in the enthusiast community about the original X-Connect and their viability but I can’t take sides since I’ve never had direct contact with the original product but I can tell you this, ULTRA listened and reacted by releasing the newer version which is what I’m looking at here today.
When I received my X-2 (as I’ll call it from here on out) I must admit I was a bit excited, I’d read other reviews of it and it looked to be a very competent piece of hardware. Plus after seeing the quality of the product offering in their Aluminus that I had just reviewed last month I was really psyched to see exactly how good the X-2 was. You can imagine my chagrin when I removed the X-2 from it’s shipping container and heard a small rattling coming from inside the box.
The sound could best be described as a metallic plink. Naturally I had to rip the package open to see what was making the sound. I removed the sub container holding the cables, power cord and documentation then pulled the power supply itself from the box. I’ve never used a modular PSU before and I really wasn’t prepared for what I saw, a small chrome box with a single 120mm fan emblazoned with the ULTRA logo.
Sadly though the rattling was coming from the PSU itself. Normally given this kind of situation you’d repack the PSU, trundle it into your car and return it to the store you purchased it from ASAP, that is if you’re a normal person. Me, I broke out with a screwdriver and my trusty Gerber pocket knife and promptly cut the "Warranty void if removed" sticker sealing the PSU cover to the base and removed the screws affixing the cover and pulled the PSU apart. I HAD to know what was going on inside the PSU. I guess I’m just funny that way.
What I found was a nut, no not an acorn or a peanut but a 3mm internally threaded hexagonal fastener. I was aghast. In fact I was so aghast that after shooting off an email to J.C. at ULTRA I voiced my concerns at another forum where J.C. saw it. The amazing thing is rather than flaming me for my making this public J.C. did something about it, production was stopped that very day and a fix was sought. I was in close contact with J.C. throughout the entire process and eventually they decided that to prevent this from happening ever again that a thread locking compound will be applied to all current PSU’s rolling off the assembly line.
The upshot is that this took less than a week to resolve. Now this isn’t as scary as it may sound, the nut in question is a backing nut for the MOSFET’s that form the power section of the PSU, the MOSFET’s are screwed to the heat sinks inside the PSU body which are threaded and the nuts are there to "jam" the screws so that they’re not able to back out and allow an air gap to form between the MOSFET and the heat sink. The odds of this happening to someone else are astronomically high and given the fix implemented by ULTRA the improved PSU’s are most likely to never have this happen again, ever.
This is just to illustrate that ULTRA is a company committed to correcting customer issues as quickly as possible and it shows that they care what kind of experience that their customers have which to me is simply outstanding.
Since I’ve brought up the fact that I split open the X-2 I guess I should touch on it’s internal layout. The PSU is cooled by a proprietary 120mm fan that has one corner notched to act as an index for the airflow baffle molded into the fan. The purpose of the baffle is to cause the air to flow from the fan towards the front of that PSU (where the cable interface is) and allow the air to flow across the heat sinks rather than just blowing straight down on them.
Further inspection reveals that pretty high quality components are used throughout the PSU, the sinks are of a fairly decent size, the capacitors are from Koshin, which is a Japanese supplier. N.A.D. uses Koshin caps in the output section of their amplifiers as filters so that tells me that the quality is pretty good since N.A.D. has a reputation to uphold as a premier Hi-Fi builder and anything that they use in the signal chain can make or break their sound Q.
I’ve heard people talking about the size of the heat sinks inside this particular PSU as being sub standard when in reality, compared to the sinks in my Antec True Blue 480W the X-2 heat sinks are a slight bit bigger.
The specs for the PSU are listed on the label:
Installation was pretty much an easy affair, you choose what cables you need based on your hardware and connect accordingly. I needed 2-SATA connections so I hooked them up, I needed the ATX and ATX-12V connections so those were inserted, then a pair of molexes for my 5.25" drives were chosen along with the 7" single molex to power my rheobus. I also hooked up a molex with a floppy for my front fans and floppy drive and to power the auxiliary input on my 6800.
Even with all that there are still half a box of unused cables, I simply thank the guys at ULTRA that I am not scrambling to stuff all those un-used cables somewhere in my cramped Lian Li PC6070 case, every cable in the box with the X-2 can populate the X-2 at once! If the cables were permanently affixed to the PSU you’d be trying to hide a rats nest of un-used cables out of sight. This is what makes modular designs so appealing. Also my hat’s off to ULTRA on the quality of the cables and connectors they’re using, they fit very snuggly and positively into the interface headers with no slop at all.
Size on the other hand may be a bit of an issue. In my case (no pun intended) I had cut in a 120mm blowhole into the roof of my PC6070 since my cooling system is highly atypical and I had no exhaust fans aside from the PSU I needed the additional airflow and since I didn’t want to lose use of all my 5.25" bays I cut the blowhole with the bias toward the rear of the case. With the design of the X-2 the PSU is just a bit longer front to back and when you tack on the modular plugs you end up with closer to an inch difference at points so I ended up with my PSU hanging out of my case by 1/2" or so. I can’t fault the X-2 for this, I’m the one that made my case into what is essentially a legacy setup so any blame or fault is entirely on my shoulders.
After installation my PC fired up just as usual which is always a great sign and upon checking the voltages with software I fired up my digital multi meter and double checked the voltages versus software and happily found that my board is reporting correctly on the 12V rail and 3.3V rail and the 5V rail is reporting .1V low.
For load testing I fired up [email protected], SuperPI and 3D Mark ’06 and ran them concurrently to put the maximum load on my PSU the results are as follows: 12V rail Minimum: 12.10V, Maximum: 12.22V, Mean: 12.16V. 5V rail: Minimum: 5.15V, Maximum 5.21V, Mean 5.18V. 3.30V rail: Minimum: 3.41V, Maximum: 3.44V, Mean 3.42V.
This adds up to some very strong rails with very little droop under load. True the voltages are a little robust but for an overclocker a rail that errors on the high side is a little more desirable than a rail that tends to run under spec.
All told the ULTRA X-Connect 2 is a very nice PSU with strong rails. I has a large 120mm fan that runs so quietly so as to be dead silent, until my experience with this PSU I thought my Antec was uber quiet but the X-2 opened my eyes to what silence is really about. I’m also quite impressed with the modular interface, the cable clutter problem is a thing of the past with the X-2 and the titanium finish is really smooth and well done although in my particular case you can’t see the PSU so it’s unfortunate that the PSU’s finish is largely hidden from view.
Overall I give the ULTRA a 9 out of 10 and our coveted editors choice award. The X-2 lost 2 points for the whole "loose nut in the PSU" issue but gained a point back (and the editors choice award) for the awesome customer service and prompt addressing and resolution of the issue at the source.
As always, if you wish to comment on this review, feel free to do so in the related forum thread!
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