Convert an ATX Power Supply Into a Regular DC Power Supply!

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Introduction: Convert an ATX Power Supply Into a Regular DC Power Supply!

A DC power supply can be hard to find and expensive. With features that are more or less hit or miss for what you need.

In this Instructable, I will show you how to convert a computer power supply into a regular DC power supply with 12, 5 and 3.3 volt outputs. For about $10!

Why use a computer (ATX) power supply? Well, they're available everywhere, and they can output tremendous amounts of power in a small form factor. They have overload protection built right in, and even a 500W model can be reasonably priced with high efficiency. The voltage rails are incredibly stable. Giving nice, clean DC current even at high loads.

Plus, it's likely that many of you simply have an extra one lying around doing nothing. Might as well get the most value for your investment.

Step 1: Getting Started

The first order of business is that of safety. While I'm reasonably sure that there isn't enough residual energy to stop your heart, those capacitors can still bite, and that can cause significant pain and maybe even burns. So be paranoid when getting close to the internal circuitry. It would probably be a good idea to put on some insulating gloves. Also (obviously) make sure the thing is unplugged. You are responsible for your own safety!

Here are the tools/parts needed:

Drill
Needle-nose pliers
Soldering iron
3 x "Banana Jack" Insulated Binding Post sets
1 x bag of "#6" Ring Tongue Terminals (16-14 gauge)
Rubber feet
Small bit of heat shrink.
Screwdriver
Wire strippers

Ok, let's get to voiding some warranties!

Step 2: Opening Up

Open the PSU and make an assessment of the space you have to work with. Make sure that there won't be any clearance issues for the binding posts or wires.

Once you have decided how your PSU will be configured, mark with pencil where you want to drill the holes later on. This will help you in cutting the wires to the appropriate length.

Step 3: Wires, Wires Everywhere

You will be met with the daunting task of sorting through a hundred wires of different colors. The only colors we care about are Black, Red, Orange, Yellow and Green. Any other colors are superfluous and you can cut them at the circuit board.

The green wire is what tells the power supply to turn on from stand-by mode, we want to just solder it to a ground (black) wire. Put some heat shrink on this so it won't short out on anything else. This will tell the PSU to be constantly on without a computer.

Cut all of the other wires down to about a foot, and remove any zip-ties or cable organizers. You should have a forest of wires with no connectors.

The colors represent:

YELLOW = 12 Volts
RED = 5 Volts
ORANGE = 3.3 Volts
BLACK = Common Ground.

Now, theoretically, you could be done. Just hook the wires to 4 large alligator clips (one for each color set) or some other terminals. This might be handy if you're just going to be powering one thing, such as a ham radio, electric motor or lights.

Step 4: Grouping Wires

Group the 4 wire colors together and cut them to length to where you marked where the posts would go. Use the wire strippers to take off the insulation and stick about 3-4 wires into one tongue terminal. Then crimp them. The exact number of wires per voltage rail depends on the wattage of the PSU. Mine was a 400W and there are about 9 wires per rail. You need all these wires so that you can get all of the current rated for that rail.

Step 5: Holes

Now we come to the drilling. With most power supply units, you won't be able to completely remove the circuit board from the chassis. But you should be able to remove it partially and wrap it in plastic so that it doesn't get contaminated by metal shavings.

Onces you have the holes drilled, file away any rough spots and wipe down the chassis with a damp cloth.

This might be a good time to figure out something for that hole the old wiring harness used to go through. I used a washer and the head of a bolt to make a cap, and epoxied it in there. But this is purely cosmetic and unimportant.

Step 6: Putting It Together

Now comes the fun bit. Install the binding posts while using a small screwdriver to make sure they're all orientated right when you're tightening them down.

Install the tongue terminals onto the back of the binding posts and tighten them down good and snug with the pliers. This might be tricky if you have a high-wattage PSU as you will have more wires. The most the posts shown in these pictures can take is 4 tongue terminals.

After that's done, close up the power supply.

I had some clearance issues with mine- the 90mm fan just wouldn't fit. I figured since it will not be acting as the exhaust fan for a computer anymore, it wouldn't be needed anyway. So I removed it.

Step 7: Make It Pretty

You need some way of clearly marking which post is which voltage. You could go super polished and make a color-coded decal in Illustrator and print it at your local print shop, but I'm lazy... and cheap. So I used some permanent markers.

You could also take some plastic or vinyl paint and color each post. Whatever puts a bee in your bonnet.

Lastly, stick on the rubber feet on what you want to be the bottom.

Step 8: Conclusion

My 400 Watt power supply can deliver 23 Amps through the 12V rail, and 40 Amps through the 5V. That's very good for something that, aside from the initial cost of the PSU, cost about $10.

Step 9: Updates


Originality

This project is not necessarily original and has been done by many people.

The most "together" project is that of this guy: http://www.wikihow.com/Convert-a-Computer-ATX-Power-Supply-to-a-Lab-Power-Supply

There are a multitude of other projects, but I feel mine and his are the best I've seen so far.

Issue of the Resistor

Power supplies need a certain minimum load to work properly. The min. load for mine is around 0.8 amps. Thus if you plan on powering LED's or other such low-power device exclusively, you'll need a resistor to provide a load. Otherwise you will damage the PSU.

A meaty 10-Ohm, 10 watt resistor from Radio Shack is a good choice. Wire it across 12 volt and ground.

-12V and -5V lines

It has been brought to my attention that the -12V and -5 lines are pretty handy for diversifying the voltages this thing can produce. These are the white and blue wires I told you to cut earlier.

Of course, adding them is simple, it's just a matter of getting two extra binding posts and connecting the wires to them. It's just a question of "Do I need these?"

I didn't, all I really needed was the 12V line. But as I said, if you need them, they're easy to install.

UPDATE 12-1-11

Still going strong! This little PSU has been super handy. 

22 People Made This Project!

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385 Discussions

Yes. Amps kill, not voltage. So long as you don't have it plugged in while working on it you're fine. Once work is done and cover back on, these are well grounded and safe.

nope not enough voltage .....i wouldnt stand and pee on it holding a cold water pipe tho either ....gettiing ur hands across a 12 v car battery makes a burning sensation at 12 v ....if u have alot of cuts on ur hands then u could have a problem ...a guy in a junk yard carrying a half dead car battery fell down both hand on the terminals they determined 6v and half an amp stopped his heart ...thats blood contact ...

but if ur at the work bench dont worry much about it ..just watch the sparks when u mess up

How did you calculate the amps you could draw on each leg 12v, 5v, and 3.3v? Thanks

Is it possible from na ATX power supply, gater the 12V output and get 24V in some way.

What i wanna do is give power to a board wich can handle max 24V 5-8A so i'm considering using old ATX but but grabing those 12V lines. Is it possible?

2 replies

I don't think so for more than a slight bit of current. If you used +12 and -12 (instead of +12v and ground) it would give you the 24v differential, but for example, my power supply only delivers .8A on the -12v rail

you need a 2nd power supply and disconnect ground on 1. Can't remember exactly how, but they essentially get piggybacked. the is a Russian guy on Youtube that does it: not Crazy Russian Hacker, but another guy. his video are pretty popular, and he explains how you can get more voltage in the above way.

what is the maximum power you get out of it? my conversion can't supply 1/4th the power it is rated to

how can i get 12v 5A ?

I made it using the instructions, connected each of the colors together and put a 10 watt 1 ohm resister between the 12 volt wires and ground thats all I could find and everything works fine I have the correct voltages on the wires but when i connect up a 12 volt light strip to it they light up fine but I get a buzzing kinda high pitch whine noise im assuming thats not good sorry but im new to this and have no idea whats goin on can anybody help me out ? thanks

1 reply

Try a 10 ohm resistor, not a 1 ohm resistor. 1 ohm will pass 12 amps on that output, which is possibly close to the limit of your PSU, but also way beyond the power rating of your resistor (12V @ 12A = 144W). Personally I'd use a 15 ohm 10W resistor myself, but whether that works depends on the particular supply.

I have a psu that worked perfectly before I cut the wires. Now i've got it all done and the current is not steady for any of the rails. I've tried lights and resistors but nothing is helping. Just getting a pulsing light wherever I hook one up. Same light worked fine before I started. What am I doing wrong?

1 reply

Sounds like you are one of those people who has a power supply that requires a minimum load to function correctly. One thing I have noticed that most tutorials fail to mention is while a load resistor may be required on the +5v rail in some PSU's, they should be included any time you repurpose an ATX power supply. It will not only stabilize the voltage on all rails, it will raise the +12v rail closer to 12 volts if it is slightly low. (And without a resistor or other +5v load, it probably is...)

The preferred load is a 10 ohm 10 watt sandstone resistor, like this:

Find the flattest side and smooth it on an emory board. Smooth the inside of your PSU to remove any burrs then wire-tie the resistor to the case using heatsink compound like this:

Solder it to one of the +5v (red) wires and ground.

One other possibility, if your PSU is fairly new: It may have 'sense' wires that monitor the voltage and prevent it from operating without proper voltage on the sense wire. The rule of thumb is: If any of the power pins on the 24 pin connector of your PSU has two wires attached to it, make sure to keep them together whether you use that rail or not. Even if you cut them, be sure to wire them back together. Usually the second wire will be the same color as the power wire, but a slightly lighter shade, but it will be much thinner.

Remember, an ATX power supply is specifically built to power a computer, which are fairly voltage sensitive items. As such, modern power supplies monitor the voltage they supply and will shut down in order to protect the computer. The allowable range of voltage needed on the sense circuit has a much wider tolerance than the allowable voltage of the PSU for the most part, but it will not operate at 0v!

Oh, I forgot to suggest that a good repurpose for the large hole is to insert a nice LED or other ref light to indicate the unit is powered up or not!

Really enjoyed this instructable!!
The only problem I ran into was that one yellow wire came right out of the pcb! I tried to examine the soldering on the bottom of the pcb but was unable to find where the one yellow wire came from.
My PS is rated at 500 W so I'm not too alarmed about this one wire.
I'm being extra careful with the "sea" of wires.
Question: what to do with brown, purple, blue light pink, and gray wires? I'm going to finish the build and then explore these wires with VOM. Maybe then I'll understand what they are for..
Thanks again for an excellent tutorial!
Joe Gates
Clarksville, TN

Is there any way to get a higher voltage out? I would love to get 24 and higher.How do you determine which bundles connect to which rail? Could a potentiometer, mini multimeter and an ammeter be added without too much more effort?

2 replies

I think it should be possible to combine a 12V and -12V to get 24V.

You can change the output voltage. Here is a link,
use translator http://www.webx.dk/oz2cpu/radios/psu-pc400-mod.htm

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Shoyun

2 years ago

Hi ! I've done this to plug a lipo charger but i have a problem. When i plug the lipo charger, the screen light for a second and the atx cut off. On the voltmeter i have 12v showed, so no problem, but it seems that when i apply some little load (just the charger without charging anything) it goes away.

Any idea ? :/