Power Supply 101: A Reference Of Specifications

Motherboard Power Connectors: Six-Pin Auxiliary And 24-Pin Main

Six-Pin Auxiliary Power Connector

As motherboards and processors have evolved, the need for power has become greater. The terminals in the main power connector are rated for six amps (A) using standard terminals, which allows for a maximum supply of approximately 250 watts to the motherboard. Because motherboards with high-speed processors and multiple cards installed could draw more power than that and power supply manufacturers were building supplies with 300-watt and higher ratings, melted connectors were becoming more and more common. The terminals in the main connector overheated under such a load.

To allow for additional power from the supply to the motherboard, Intel modified the ATX specification to add a second auxiliary power connector for high power-drawing ATX motherboards and 250-watt or higher rated supplies. The criteria is such that, if the motherboard could draw more than 18 A of +3.3 V power or more than 24 A of +5 V power, the auxiliary connector is required to carry the additional load. These higher levels of power are needed in systems using 250- or 300-watt or greater supplies.

The six-pin auxiliary power connector was added as a safety or stopgap measure in the ATX motherboard 2.02/2.03 and ATX12V 1.x power supply specifications for systems in which the +3.3 V and +5 V power draw could exceed the respective 18 A and 24 A maximums allowed using only the main connector with standard terminals. These conditions would normally be met in systems requiring 300 W or higher output power supplies. The auxiliary power connector is a six-pin Molex 90331-0010 connector, which is similar to the motherboard power connectors used on older AT/LPX power supplies for Baby-AT motherboards.

The pinouts of the auxiliary connector are shown below.

ATX Auxiliary Power Connector Pinout
Pin
Signal
Color
Pin
Signal
Color
1
GndBlack4
+3.3 VOrange
2
GndBlack5
+3.3 VOrange
3
GndBlack6
+5 VRed


Each terminal in the auxiliary power connector is rated to handle up to five amps of current, slightly less than the main power connector. By counting the number of terminals for each voltage level, you can calculate the power-handling capability of the connector, as shown below.

Six-Pin Auxiliary Power Connector Maximum Power-Handling Capabilities
Volts
No. pins
Watts
+3.3 V
2
33
+5 V
1
25
Total watts:
58
Terminals are rated five amps.
Ratings assume 18-gauge wire under standard temperature conditions.


This means the total power-handling capacity of this connector is only 58 watts. Drawing more power than this maximum rating through the connector will cause it to overheat.

Combining the 20-pin main plus the auxiliary power connector would result in a maximum power-delivery capability to the motherboard of 309 watts.

Few motherboards actually used this connector, and few power supplies included it. Generally, if a motherboard includes this connector, you need a power supply that has it as well, but if the power supply includes the auxiliary connector but the motherboard does not, it can be left unconnected.

Starting in 2000, both motherboards and power supplies began including a different additional connector that was a better solution than the auxiliary connector. The most recent power supply form factor specifications have removed the auxiliary connector, rendering it an obsolete standard in modern systems.

ATX12V 2.x 24-Pin Main Power Connector

Starting in June 2004, the PCI Express bus first appeared on motherboards. PCI Express is a type of serial bus with standard slots having a single channel or lane of communications. These single-lane slots are called x1 slots and are designed for peripheral cards such as network cards, sound cards, and the like. PCI Express also includes a special higher-bandwidth slot with 16 lanes (called an x16 slot), which is especially designed for use by video cards. During development, it was realized that PCI Express x16 video cards could draw more power than what was allowed by the existing 20-pin main and six-pin auxiliary power supply connectors, especially when it came to +12 V power.

The problem was that the 20-pin main connector had only a single +12 V pin, but the new video cards required more +12 V power than a single pin could safely deliver. The +12 V connector that had already been added, as discussed in the next section, was specifically for the CPU and was unavailable to other devices. Rather than add another supplemental or auxiliary connector as it had done before, Intel eventually decided that it was finally time to upgrade the main power connector to supply more power.

The result was officially called ATX12V 2.0 and was released in February 2003. ATX12V 2.0 included two major changes from the previous ATX12V 1.x specifications: a new 24-pin main power connector and the elimination of the six-pin auxiliary power connector. The new 24-pin main power connector included four more pins supplying additional +3.3 V, +5 V, and +12 V power plus a ground. The inclusion of these extra pins delivered extra power to satisfy the power requirements for PCI Express video cards drawing up to 75 watts, but it also made the older six-pin auxiliary connector unnecessary. The pinout of the new 24-pin main power connector started to be implemented in motherboards in mid-2004. The motherboard connector pinout is shown below, as is the PSU connector.

Note: Even though one of the design goals for increasing the main power connector to 24 pins was to provide extra power for PCI Express video cards, many if not most high-end video cards need more than the 75 watts available directly through the PCIe x16 slot. Video cards requiring more will have one or more additional power connectors on the card, which are used to draw power directly from the PSU.

ATX12V 2.x 24-Pin Main Power Supply Connector Pinout (Motherboard Connector)
Color
Signal
Pin
Pin
Signal
Color
Orange+3.3 V1311
+3.3 VOrange
Blue–12 V14
2
+3.3 VOrange
BlackGND
15
3
GND
Black
Green
PS_On
16
4
+5 V
Red
Black
GND
17
5
GND
Black
BlackGND
18
6
+5 V
Red
BlackGND
19
7
GND
Black
-
N/C
202
8
Power_GoodGray
Red
+5 V21
9
+5 VSB (Standby)Purple
Red+5 V22
10
+12 VYellow
Red+5 V23
11
+12 VYellow
Black
GND
24
12
+3.3 VOrange
1. Pin 13 might have a second orange or brown wire, used for +3.3 V sense feedback. The power supply uses this wire to monitor 3.3 V regulation.
2.  Pin 20 will be N/C (no connection) because –5 V was removed from the ATX12V 1.3 and later specifications.


It is interesting to note that the 24-pin connector is not really that new; it first appeared in the SSI EPS specification released in 1998. SSI (http://ssiforum.org/) is an initiative designed to create standard interfaces for server components, including power supplies. The 24-pin main power connector was created for servers because, at the time, only servers needed the additional power. Today’s PCs draw the same power levels as servers did years ago, so rather than reinvent an incompatible connector, the ATX12V 2.0 standard merely incorporated the 24-pin connector already specified in the SSI EPS standard.

Compared to the previous 20-pin design, the 24-pin main power connector includes additional +3.3 V, +5 V, and +12 V terminals, allowing a substantially greater amount of power to be delivered to the motherboard. Each terminal in the main power connector is rated to handle up to six amps of current. By counting the number of terminals for each voltage level, you can calculate the power-handling capability of the connector, as shown in the following table.

Maximum Power-Handling Capabilities of the 24-Pin Main Power Connector
VoltsNo.
Pins
Using Std.
Terminals (W)
Using HCS
Terminals (W)
Using Plus HCS
Terminals (W)
+3.3 V4
79.2
118.8
145.2
+5 V5
150
225
275
+12 V2
144
216
264
Total watts:373.2
559.8
684.2
Standard terminals are rated six amps.
HCS terminals are rated nine amps.
Plus HCS terminals are rated 11 amps.
All ratings assume Mini-Fit Jr. connectors with 12–24 circuits using 18-gauge wire under standard temperature conditions.


This means the total power-handling capacity of this connector is 373 watts using standard terminals or 560 watts using HCS terminals, which is substantially higher than the 251 watts available in the previous 20-pin connector. Combining the 24-pin main and the four-pin +12 V power connector results in up to 565 watts (standard terminals) or 824 watts (using HCS terminals) total power available to the motherboard and processor! This is more than enough to support the most power-hungry motherboards and processors on the market today.

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33 comments
    Your comment
  • joytech22
    Quote:
    On the other hand, if you plug into a 240 V outlet and have the switch set for 120 V, you can cause damage.


    Did that when unboxing a computer, must have flipped the small red switch on the supply and boom, at the Windows XP loading bar the PSU exploded. lol.
  • cmcghee358
    Did I miss them covering efficiency and the whole 80 PLUS thing?

    I can't imagine as detailed as it is, omitting something like that...
  • cangelini
    cmcghee358Did I miss them covering efficiency and the whole 80 PLUS thing?I can't imagine as detailed as it is, omitting something like that...


    There's still one last part to go!
  • cmcghee358
    But the last part isn't for PSUs. It's just the last part in the series of PC components.
  • nikorr
    Thanx ...
  • neiroatopelcc
    I wonder how much the power_good signal prevents? is it just the powering of the cpu ?
    I recall once using two power supplies to power a sli board and accidently use a molex from the second supply to power a sli power connector on the motherboard - resulting in fans powering up if you powered the second psu even when the first wasn't on (and if you didn't, the geforces would screech due to lack of power)..... maybe that was just the creative yet rubbish asrock board design, but it certainly didn't need a power_good to power up the fans.

    ps. "Note: If you find that a system consistently fails to boot up properly the first time you turn on the switch, but that it subsequently boots up if you press the reset or Ctrl+Alt+Delete warm boot command, you likely have a problem with the Power_Good timing. You should install a new, higher-quality power supply and see whether that solves the problem."
    Could this explain why I only have 4-6GB memory at post, but 10GB after a quick power off and back on (didn't bother with a reset switch when designing case). Note that 10GB is still 2 short. It used to initialize 10GB - then power off and back on would provide the full amount. Running less than 6GB memory doesn't cause the error.
    Someone said I'd have to reseat the cpu, but maybe it's just that rubbish coolermaster power supply?
  • chesteracorgi
    Very informative and interesting. The part about single 12V vs. multiple 12V rails is important reading for system builders who opt for "safer" multiple 12V PSUs. With the current state of design of PSUs anyone planning a sli or Xfire rig is well advised to opt for the single 12V design rather than risk an imbalanced PSU that overvolts a component.
  • JohnnyLucky
    Great article. It's not just for beginners.
  • Reynod
    Compatibility Issues was a useful section.

    Overall very well written.

    Cheers,
  • kd0frg
    awesome information! nice work!
  • elbert
    cmcghee358But the last part isn't for PSUs. It's just the last part in the series of PC components.
    Quote:
    covering efficiency and the whole 80 PLUS

    If you picked one of these books up you would want the efficiency to move them. Edition 17 was huge and very heavy. These books are already to thick for many to pick up with one hand. Scott Mueller's has published 20 editions of this book and most come with CD/DVD which may guide you to online information about the subject.

    Here is a link to his online forum.
    http://forum.scottmueller.com/
  • digiex
    I'm just wondering what is the use of the floppy connector...

    Until unexpected glitch ruined the flashing if my motherboard, beyond this, I think the floppy connector is useless.
  • mayankleoboy1
    PSU: the most overlooked and underrated component
  • I fixed one of those non-compatible Dells way back with a standard PSU. Dell wanted £120 for a new PSU, I was suspicious, "how could they get away with that?". Checked online, found the incompatibility, dodged the bullet bought a PSU for £20 and an adapter for £5. Never bought Dell again nor recommend them.
  • A Bad Day
    This reminded me of a friend who bought a $5 no-name "600 watt" PSU for a +$900 rig.

    As soon as he turned on the computer, the PSU failed so badly that it exploded into flames and took out everything: motherboard, RAM, CPU, GPU, hard drive, CD drive, you name it.
  • grantmcconnaughey
    I've been reading this book lately. To me, this is absolutely the bible of PC hardware.
  • newbie_mcnoob
    I remember working on an old Dell Dimension 4100 series with the proprietary power supply and RIMM memory. I'm glad those got phased out.
  • hunter315
    Quote:
    In other words, it is far better to have a single 12 V rail that can supply 40 amps than two 12 V rails supplying 20 amps each because with the single rail you don’t have to worry which connectors derive power from which rail and then try to ensure that you don’t overload one or the other.


    Im quite disappointed to see tom's fell for the marketing BS of "a single rail is better than multiple rails". On a well designed unit it does not matter one bit, the design engineers already split the connectors so the rails were reasonably balanced, and the OCP threshold is set such that added together their theoretical current limit is more than the total limit of the 12 V source so you don't have to have your rails perfectly balanced to get the full power out of your unit.

    I wrote up a post on this a while ago, if anyone has any questions or anything they think should be added to it let me know.
    Single 12V rail or multiple 12V rails? The eternal question answered


    Also, you guys left the CPU off the +12 V part of your chart of what requires what voltages.
  • PreferLinux
    ChesteracorgiVery informative and interesting. The part about single 12V vs. multiple 12V rails is important reading for system builders who opt for "safer" multiple 12V PSUs. With the current state of design of PSUs anyone planning a sli or Xfire rig is well advised to opt for the single 12V design rather than risk an imbalanced PSU that overvolts a component.

    I guess it is better to be able to use the 12 V rail as an arc welder then? Because you could if you have a >1000 W single-rail PSU. Not to mention that it won't overvolt anything – how does a high power draw cause high voltages? It generally causes low voltages. And if the PSU is a decent one, the rails will be pretty well balanced, especially for SLI or Crossfire.
  • iam2thecrowe
    ChesteracorgiVery informative and interesting. The part about single 12V vs. multiple 12V rails is important reading for system builders who opt for "safer" multiple 12V PSUs. With the current state of design of PSUs anyone planning a sli or Xfire rig is well advised to opt for the single 12V design rather than risk an imbalanced PSU that overvolts a component.

    you couldn't be more wrong.
  • Onus
    Thank you, Hunter315. Maybe that was an issue 6-8 years ago, maybe? It no longer is; I cannot imagine any possibility of creating sufficiently unbalanced +12V rail loading creating the least difficulty for any reasonable PSU.
    Anyway, there were some interesting tidbits in there, like the specifics on the capacities of individual connectors. The connector type used is another area where I'd be certain the cheap PSUs skimp.
    Some of it was a trip down memory lane; I remember those load resistors in the hard drive cages of the IBM PC-AT.

    Edit: Oh, and your answer to the Eternal Question was very good, as was the short discussion which followed, touching on the safety issues associated with overly large +12V rails. Although I have said many of those things, I doubt I've expressed myself as clearly. Those who have read this chapter and this far into the comments would probably also like to click on your link and read that thread.
  • aidynphoenix
    It really doesn't matter weather you have a psu with a single 12v rail or several.
    what matters is the quality of the power supply and how well it performs.
    viewing a powesupply's voltages on a graph and seeing how far the voltages fluctuate and how smooth the ripple currents are is the most important thing.
    even if your powersupply is 1200w id rather have a psu that can get the job done, but stays as close as possible to the 12v specification, and the power is clean and has little spikes.
    i am a firm believer that poorly designed powersupply's is the #1 cause of premature hardisk failure aside from shipping damage and excessive heat.
    you know that when company's calculate their MTBF they are useing the cleanest power possible.
    I have had alot of experience with poor powersupply's and many HDD deaths.
    now im running a powersupply with a very smooth 12v ripple and high tolorance (thanks corsair)
    and have not had a hardisk die on me since.

    i order recommend 1 seasonic, 2 corsair, 3 antec.. i do not recommend cooler-master.. or any other brand.
  • neiroatopelcc
    neiroatopelcc"Note: If you find that a system consistently fails to boot up properly the first time you turn on the switch, but that it subsequently boots up if you press the reset or Ctrl+Alt+Delete warm boot command, you likely have a problem with the Power_Good timing. You should install a new, higher-quality power supply and see whether that solves the problem." Could this explain why I only have 4-6GB memory at post, but 10GB after a quick power off and back on (didn't bother with a reset switch when designing case). Note that 10GB is still 2 short.


    To answer my own question, as nobody else probably will, I tested it. Installed a reset switch yesterday - well two wires I could shortcircuit anyway. Only effect was that my mainboard thought overclocking had failed. It didn't fix the memory issue. So this is a fat NO. PSU power good timing isn't my issue.
  • ojas
    Chris/Don,

    Any idea when the paperback comes out??? Looking to buy it...