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ATX to Lab Bench Power Supply Conversion

In my sophomore year of college at the University of Minnesota, I started into my main


electronics classes, and needed a good power supply for working on lab projects at home. My
roommate Adam told me about somebody online who had converted an ATX computer power
supply into a lab bench power supply, so I decided to do the same thing. You can also check out
this link for a very similar guide by their user Abizarl. I have also documented this project on my
website at http://www.mbeckler.org/powersupply/ if you are interested.
Warning! There are several large capacitors in ATX power supplies, that will store a dangerous
charge for a long time. Please let your power supply discharge, completely unplugged from the
wall outlet, for a few days before opening it up. You can probably be seriously hurt, so please be
very careful. I am not a lawyer, but I hereby release myself from as much liability as I can, for any
sort of injury you sustain, or any trouble you get into.

Step 1: Background
First, a bit of background on a typical ATX power supply:
Computer power supplies are Switch Mode Power Supplies (SMPS), which use high-frequency
switching circuit elements to provide a high-quality output voltage, with good energy efficiency.
One side effect of this technology is the minimum load requirement that each power supply has. In
order to function properly, the power supply needs at least a very small electrical load connected
to it. In other words, ATX power supplies will only work if you have something connected to it. We
will be using a power resistor to provide this minimum load.
Also, modern power supplies do not simply have an OFF/ON switch, they have what is known as a
"soft" power switch. This normally makes no difference to the user, as the computer behaves the
same, but when you shutdown your computer, the motherboard can turn off the power supply
when it has finished shutting down. This requires us to add our own power switch to the power
supply chassis.
To protect our circuit from accidental (and careless!) short circuits, we will install some fuse-holders
and fuses, which will disconnect the circuit supply lines if too much current flows. The size of the

fuses are up to you, but a 1 amp fuse will work just fine for most circuits. You really should put
fuses on all supply lines.
Update: While the diagrams show fuses on all voltage rails and no fuse on the ground line, when I
actually built my power supply, I was young and foolish and only put a fuse on the ground wire. It's
much safer and a better idea to put fuses on all signal lines and not the ground line. Thanks to
many emails and messages on Instructables about this oversight.

Step 2: Planning

Planning is the most important step of any successful project. To plan this project, I created a few
images. I am going to be using four binding posts, a power switch, a fuse holder, a power resistor,
and two light emitting diodes (LED's) with current-limiting resistors. The first image details the
circuit connections inside the power supply, where everything will be connected.
When the power supply is connected to the wall socket, but not yet turned on, it provides a +5v
standby signal, that can be used by the motherboard for things like wake-on-LAN functionality. We
use this signal line to indicate when the power supply is plugged in with a red LED and a 330 ohm
resistor. On my power supply, this signal line has a purple wire, and is labeled "+5VSB" on the
circuit board.
When the power supply is first turned on, it must go through a start-up sequence, to ensure that
everything is working, and that it is able to provide stable power to the computer. When the startup sequence has completed, it signals the motherboard by providing +5v on the "Power
Good/Steady" signal line. We will use another red LED and 330 ohm resistor to indicate when the
power supply is running. On my power supply, this signal line has a gray wire, and is labeled "PGS"
on the circuit board.
The power resistor is a 10 ohm, 10 Watt resistor, commonly called a "sandbar", because they are
usually coated with a material that feels like sand. Most power supplies need a minimum load to
keep them running, so this sandbar resistor provides a constant minimum load between the +5V
rail and Ground. I've heard that newer power supplies also need a load on the 3.3v rail, your
mileage may vary.
In the second image, you can see the diagram for the front of the power supply. Here I have
marked where the components will go, including the LED's, the binding posts, the fuse holder, and
the switch.

The third image is what the power supply looks like without any modifications. You can see the
various voltages I am going to use along the front edge.

Step 3: Drilling holes

Here, I planned out and drilled the holes in the case. My power supply was a smaller form factor, (It
was from a mini-tower case), so there wasn't a lot of space to work with.

Step 4: Connecting front-panel items

Here, I am connecting the appropriate wires to the binding posts, power switch, fuse holder, and
LED's.
In an ATX power supply, there should be a wire that is used to turn on the power supply. You can

see this wire (It's green) in the second picture; it is the green wire in the middle, where it says
"ON/OFF" on the PCB. I connected this to the switch, and the other pole of the switch went to
ground. The +5, +12, and -12 are connected right to their wires on the PCB. The ground wire is
connected through the fuse holder before the binding post.
Initially, I was going to use green LED's, but I realized I had many more red LED's than green LED's,
so I switched them over to reds. In the first picture, you can see the holders I installed into the
front. I connected the LED's through a common resistor to ground. The LED on the left (from the
front view) is a standby LED. It is lit whenever I have the power supply plugged into the wall. It is
connected to the +5V standby wire on the PCB. In my PS, it's purple. The other LED is the "Power
On" LED, and it is lit when I have the power supply turned on. It's connected to the "Power OK"
signal wire, which goes to +5V when the power supply detects that it has stabilized the voltages.
In my PS, it's the gray wire.

Step 5: Power Resistor

Most modern ATX power supplies require a small load to stay in the ON mode. I added a 10 ohm,
10 watt resistor between +5V and ground to provide this small load. It is strapped to the back wall
of the power supply, where it should get plenty of air flow. It doesn't actually even get warm during
normal operation so it's not a big deal.

Step 6: Finished Project

Here you can see the finished project, both with and without the cover. If you have any questions,
please leave a comment and I will try to check back often to answer them. Thanks for looking, and
good luck!

Keep in mind that while I built my power supply many years ago with only the ground line fused,
you should put fuses on all your signal lines and leave the ground line directly connected.

Look online or at your local computer store for an ATX computer power supply, or dismantle
an old computer and remove the power supply from the case.

Unplug the power cable from the power supply and turn off the switch on the back (if there is
one). Also, be sure you are not grounded so that remaining voltage doesn't flow through you to ground.

Remove the screws that attach the power supply to the computer case and remove the
power supply.

Cut off the connectors (leave a few inches of wire on the connectors so that you can use
them later on for other projects).

Discharge the power supply by letting it sit unconnected for a few days. Some people suggest
attaching a 10 ohm resistor between a black and red wire (from the power cables on the output side),
however this is only guaranteed to drain the low voltage capacitors on the output - which aren't
dangerous to begin with! It could leave the high-voltage capacitors charged, resulting in a potentially
dangerous - or even lethal - situation.

Gather the parts you need: binding posts (terminals), a LED with a current-limiting resistor, a switch
(optional), a power resistor (10 ohm, 10W or greater wattage, see Tips), and heat shrink tubing.

Open up the power supply unit by removing the screws connecting the top and the bottom of
the PSU case.

Bundle wires of the same colors together. If you have wires not listed here (brown, etc), see the
Tips. The color code for the wires is: Red = +5V, Black = Ground (0V), White = -5V, Yellow = +12V, Blue
= -12V, Orange = +3.3V, Purple = +5V Standby (not used), Gray = power is on (output), and Green =
PS_ON# (turn DC on by shorting to ground).

Drill holes in a free area of the power supply case by marking the center of the holes with a
nail and a tap from the hammer. Use a Dremel to drill the starting holes followed by a hand reamer to
enlarge the holes until they are the right size by test fitting the binding posts. Also, drill holes for the
power ON LED and a Power switch (optional).

Screw the binding posts into their corresponding holes and attach the nut on the back.

Connect all the pieces together.


o

Connect one of the red wires to the power resistor, all the remaining red wires to the
red binding posts;

o
o

Connect one of the black wires to the other end of the power resistor, one black wire to
the cathode (shorter lead) of the LED, one black wire to the DC-On switch, all the remaining black wires
to the black binding post;
Connect the white to the -5V binding post, yellow to the +12V binding post, the blue to
the -12V binding post, the gray to a resistor (330 ohm) and attach it to the anode (longer lead) of the
LED;

o
o
o

Note that some power supplies may have either a gray or brown wire to represent "power good"/"power
ok". (Most PSU's have a smaller orange wire that is used for sensing-- 3.3V- and this wire is usually paired
at the connector to another orange wire. Make sure this wire is connected to the other orange wires,
otherwise your lab power supply won't stay on.) This wire should be connected to either an orange wire
(+3.3V) or a red wire (+5V) for the power supply to function. When in doubt, try the lower voltage first
(+3.3V). If a power supply is non ATX or AT compliant, it may have its own color scheme. If yours looks
different that the pictures shown here, make sure you reference the position of the wires attached to the
AT/ATX connector rather than the colors.
Connect the green wire to the other terminal on the switch.
Make sure that the soldered ends are insulated in heat shrink tubing.
Organize the wires with an electrical tape or zip-ties.

Check for loose connections by gently tugging on them. Inspect for bare wire, and cover it to
prevent a short circuit. Put a drop of super-glue to stick the LED to its hole. Put the cover back on.

Plug the power cable into the back of the power supply and into an AC socket. Flip the main
cutoff switch on the PSU if there is one. Check to see if the LED light comes on. If it has not, then power
up by flipping the switch you placed on the front. Plug in a 12V bulb into the different sockets to see if
the PSU works, also check with a digital voltmeter. Make sure you do not short any wires out. It should
look good and work like a charm!

How to Add Variable Voltage to Your ATX Based


Bench Power Supply

If you've built a bench power supply using an old ATX computer power
supply, you may feel limited by the choice of voltages + 3.3V, + 5V, and +/12V DC. Suppose you're breadboarding a circuit that's meant to be run off a
9V battery? This is how to build an add-on variable-voltage "module" for
your power supply.
The hand drawn circuit is the same circuit drawn in a bit more pcb
board friendly way using a LM317 regulator. There is one caveat of using
+12V and -12V to achieve 24V as we will be doing: the +12V can typically
supply lots of current - 6A minimum for a really small supply, often double or
triple that. The -12V line, however, can often only drain a fraction of that. My
supply is rated for .3A on the -12V line, for example. Before you add this
module, you'll have to make sure that your -12V line is rated for 1.5A at a
MINIMUM. If you're drawing for your project much less than the 1.5A max of
the regulator, you may be fine, but you could very easily run into problems
later.

1
Gather the materials required and construct the circuit from the
circuit diagram. It would be a good idea to get the datasheet for the
regulator from the manufacturers website.

Get some banana leads and connect the +12V and -12V outputs
from your modded ATX supply and connect it to the input of your
variable module. Use a multimeter to measure the output voltage.

Once you have built the circuit test it carefully and measure the
output voltage. You should be able to vary the voltage from about 1.5V up
to 22V by turning the variable resistor. If you are using the LM317 the output
current will be restricted to 1.5A, if using the LM338K it should be slightly
higher check the datasheet for exact information.