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Review: HEXUS PSU (Power Supply Unit) Roundup - Taoyuan 2005

by Ryszard Sommefeldt on 23 September 2005, 00:00

Tags: Aopen, Enermax (8093.TWO), Zalman (090120.KQ), Akasa, Thermaltake (3540.TWO), OCZ (NASDAQ:OCZ), Tagan, SilverstoneTek, FSP Group (TPE:3015), Hiper, ETASIS

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Certification

Ever picked up a power supply box and wondered what all the logos mean?

Certification Logos

That's the kind of stuff that I'm on about. It puzzled us too until we did a bit of research into just what it means to be able to stamp some of those logos on your box, and what it means for you the consumer.

I'm going to go into some of the specific details about PSU certification, especially in the European Union, so if you've got no desire to wade through it all with me, I'll completely understand. It's pretty dry stuff, and with me at the helm for this article you can bet your bottom dollar that some Gobi Desert Madskills (© 2005 Rys) are going down right about now.

The CE mark, daddy of all certifications in the EU

CE stands for Conformité Européene. European Conformity, in other words. To sell a gargantuan range of products in our little fishpond here in Europe, you need CE certification which gives you the right to stamp the CE mark on your product. A series of Product Directives govern that list and PSUs, and indeed all other home electronics (absolutely anything with a plug that's fed by a ring main), fall under the EU Low Voltage Directive. While you might think that Euro-zone ring main voltage is fairly high at 240V, anything between 50 and 1000 volts AC is classed as low voltage.

Low Voltage Directive (LVD) 73/23/EC covers a whole bunch of health and safety, suitability and conformity aspects of the devices that fall under its remit. CE certification of a device covered by the directive ensures that everything in the Directive has been met by the product and it's fit for sale and use by you. There's also an EMC Directive (89/336/EEC) that governs electronic emissions. Passing EMC doesn't imply you pass the LVD (the more important directive, since it concerns product safety and fitness for use).

Additionally, governments in the European Union may also have their own guidelines, rules and laws in place to back up the wider Directive covered under EU law. Here in the United Kingdom (feels good to expand the acronym sometimes) we've got the Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994, a section of the Consumer Protection Act 1987 and also incorporated into the 1972 European Communities Act that mimics LVD 73/23/EC and makes it a part of UK law.

The only problem with CE is that you can issue it yourself. I'll say that again. A manufacturer can issue CE certification themselves, without any guidance, checking or validation by any governmental body or higher watchdog. It's enforced mainly by the consumer in reality, irate consumers complaining to their local Citizen's Advice Bureau that something with the CE mark isn't doing what it should be doing. The CAB can then inform the right people that then have the right, under the rules set out for CE in the use of the mark on a product, to investigate on your behalf and really check.

What backs up that self-certifying process are acknowledged and trusted testing houses that can verify CE certification before sale. The TUV is probably the most widely recognised CE certification body (and they'll certify all manner of things for all manner of markets, worldwide). See the TUV's logo alongside the CE mark and you get the reassurance, hopefully, that the TUV has done the CE certifiation for you. Hopefully.

The BEAB are another famous testing body over here. British Standard kite marks are often doled out by that lot. So the combination of CE and TUV/BEAB/elsewhere on your PSU box means it's going to rock and do the business, right?

UL certification for the US, Canada, Europe and other former British Colonies

I'm jesting. It's the dryness of all of this you see. Anyway, the UL mark and that odd third mark in the image above are the property of Underwriters Laboratories Inc.®, who certify pretty much anything you can think of for compliance in all manner of markets. It's even more wide-ranging than CE, since the good lads and lasses at UL have a European presence. The great thing about UL is that you can't apply their marks yourself. You need to submit your product to an independant testing lab affiliated and certified by UL, or even UL themselves, before you can use their logos and marks on your products. Result.

UL testing often follows the same guidelines as CE, whereby testing to make sure a product meets things like the LVD, the UK EESR 1994 and Consumer Protection Act and other applicable laws. So you can often, at least in the area of PSU testing, think of the UL mark as a superset of CE, since it requires validated testing before you can use the mark.

Of course that might not stop a vendor from just applying the mark anyway and hoping you don't notice or hit a snag in the use of your PSU, before complaining. And how often do you think users of duff PSUs actually bother getting on the phone to UL or whoever did a PSU's CE testing, to check? That's our job.

60950, the magic number.

EN 60950, which is the core compliance test to pass the EU LVD, is certified by CB, CE and UL using that number. Pass UL, IEC or EN 60950 and you comply with LVD 73/23/EC, which is the important one.

So, is anyone breaking European and wider consumer laws by falsely using certification marks on their products?

Absolutely awesome question, glad you got this far to ask me. What we did, when we'd finalised the list of PSUs we'd be testing, was to ask the manufacturers of those power supplies for their certificates. You absolutely need CE certification to sell in Europe, with absolutely no exceptions. And if a PSU is to be sold in multiple markets and outside of the EU, which is the case for loads of supplies, their UL certificates would be nice, too. "Give Rys your certs, or he'll get VERY VERY ANGRY WITH YOU", said Paul. That seemed to do the trick. Want to see who sent what? Click for the next page please and remember, PSU vendors need to have the facility to show their certificates to anyone who wants to look at them. Putting them in the manuals for the units is a great start.

No certs exist that prove CE certification and LVD compliance? No legal sales.