First of all, let me thank PC Power and Cooling for making this review possible. They were generous, and sent me the PSU for free - you just can't beat that price.
A historically underrated component, power supplies are nonetheless critical. Not only do you need enough power - you also need stable, consistent power. This is both a review, and some background info on power supplies.
Contestant Number One - Turbolink 420 Watt
This one is here to show you what NOT to buy. This is budget, clear and simple, and it not meant to be compared directly with the others. ($38.00, street)
Contestant Number Two - Thermaltake 480 Watt Purepower
A high quality, yet affordable PSU. ($62.00, street)
Contestant Number Three - PC Power and Cooling 510 Watt Turbo-Cool Deluxe
The absolute cream of the crop. You don't buy PC Power and Cooling to save money - you do it because of their reputation. ($192, street)
Out of the Box (first impressions)
Weight is an excellent rule of thumb - a heavier power supply means higher quality, in most cases. The Turbolink is just what you might expect from a cheap power supply. It is flimsy, lightweight, and decidedly normal looking. Not a showoff PSU, for sure. The cables and connectors do appear to be solid, and there are enough of them, so don't count it out yet.
The Thermaltake is a silver and black work of art - the best looking PSU I have seen. It is sturdy, rather heavy, and doesn't rattle when shaken. The fans are Thermaltake's trademark bright orange color, and they look good. It also comes with accessories - more on those later.
The Turbocool is the heaviest and sturdiest of the three. It feels like this thing, if dropped, would make a hole in the ground, not damage itself. It is black, so nothing flashy, but it just looks powerful. Form follows function, but that works here.
Cables and Accessories
The Turbolink's cables are nothing fancy. It has seven standard four pin connectors, which is enough for most. There are four connectors on one cable, and three on the other. If you have a lot of drives close together, this is great. If not, good luck - routing these cables to everything with only two strings can be difficult. The cables are also easily long enough to accomodate a full tower case. P4 lovers will also appreciate the additional 5V connector, though for others is is just another useless cable to clutter your case.
Thermaltake has provided plenty of connectors - nine four pin, three strings with three each. It has only one Serial ATA connector. Again, the layout is not optimum for me, but it depends on your preferences. I end up having extra connectors I have to tuck away. Thermaltake makes up for it, though, being the only PSU to have a fan controller included, Since different people like various setups, they provide both a PCI-mounted bracket, and a 5.25 inch bay cover. Both have adjustable knobs, so you can adjust the fan speed to meet your needs.
The Turbo-Cool has mesh wrapped wires, which is awesome.
They look much more professional, and the wires don't separate. This is not necessarily true for all, but their cable configuration is perfect for me. With two four pin connectors per cable, instead of three of more like the others, it just fits. My hard drives share one, my optical drives another, and my fans a third (cpu + fanbus). This helps eliminate cable clutter in my case, something which I am always striving against. There are seven total four pin, but one of them shares the cable with a floppy connector, so I don't use it. It also comes with two Serial ATA connectors. If you open up the box, you will find it has voltage adjustment pots. Overclockers, you'll love this. You can tweak the voltages to meet your exact needs. However, don't mess with them unless you know what you are doing - it can cause problems.
Fans, Heat, and Noise
Again, the Turbolink does well. The fans are quiet (totally inaudible in my case, in fact), but still reasonably cool. This is crucial, because every increase in temperature is followed by a drop in total power. This is one of the ways in which companies scam you. Since there are no rules against it, some companies claim the power it can produce at 40 degrees fahrenheit, which is quite unlikely to ever happen in the real world. Most PSUs can be expected to operate at somewhere between 77 and 104 fahrenheit.
Thermaltake clearly wins this one, due to versatility. With either fan controller, you can choose the amount of noise it will make, and how warm it gets. I would recommend you not leave it all the way down. It is supremely quiet, but the air coming out of it becomes alarmingly warm. Nor is max power required, at any time. Find a good middle ground, and it is more silent than the Turbolink, and still slightly cooler. There are two different fans, one slimline 80mm, and a normal 80mm.
The Turbo-Cool makes quite a bit of noise, if you listen to it alone. However, with all the fans in my case roaring, I don't mind it. The air does get mildly warm, but nothing to worry about. Since their PSU power is measured at the high end (104 fahrenheit), you can be sure that mild warmth will not prevent you from getting the quoted performance. It utilizes a single, powerful fan to cool itself.
Now, the Line is Drawn
Looks, options, and such are certainly things to consider. However, the bootm line is that you need clean, regulated power. Who can give it to you? (I used Motherboard Monitor 5 for the testing. It is not perfectly accurate, but clearly shows the difference between the different PSUs.)
The Turbolink assuredly will not provide stable power. Any time a decent load is put on it, the voltage sags dramatically. The power supply is totally incapable of reaching its stated output (420W), even in the best of situations. The voltages are all over the place, too. One of the best tests is simply to measure the highest and lowest voltages produced by each rail (3.3V, 5V, 12V). The 3.3 rail was dangerously low - 3.18, to 3.29. For AMD systems, this spells certain trouble. Many Athlons can consume over 70W, so this is very worrisome. The 5V line varied from 5.08 to 5.18, and the 12V line from 11.76 to 11.94. Avoid this at all costs, if you want a stable system. In addition to that, an earlier PSU from Turbolink I used for a while failed after about 13 months. No mission critical work for this guy.
The Thermaltake fared quite well, in comparison. The 3.3V rail varied from 3.34 to 3.36. The 3.3V rail can provide plenty of power, even for power-hungry recent AMD procs. The 5V was just a tad low, at 4.87 to 4.96, but still not a problem. The 12V line was between 11.86 and 11.98.
I was familiar with PC Power and Cooling and their reputation, but this still surprised me. I had to watch for quite a while to even see a change. They are rock steady. The 3.3V went from 3.29 to 3.3V, the 5V from 4.99 to 5.01, and the 12V from 11.98 to 12.01. Apparently, these guys do it right. They are very dedicated to providing the best power supplies, and it shows. With a five year warranty, this is also your best bet for longevity. The performance not only meets the official specs - it exceeds them. Impossible to go wrong here, if you can afford one of these.
Turbolink should not be considered at all, if you can help it. The Thermaltake is not much more expensive, but it offers much better stability and reliability. The Thermaltake is the best value of the three, but the Turbo-Cool Deluxe is unquestionably the highest quality, and well worth paying for. It will probably last longer, it will protect your components, and you can truthfully claim you have the best power supply out there. If you can afford it, I recommend the Turbo-Cool, with the Thermaltake as a budget option.
Trivia: Another indication of overall quality is the size of internal components. Since you are ill advised to open your PSU, I did it for you. The Turbolink is half empty, with tiny components. The Thermaltake is almost full, but not packed tightly. The Turbo-Cool is absolutely crammed, with giant capacitors and heatsinks.