Research Sample: A qualitative analysis of the personal computer power supply unit (PSU) market (2009)

Methodology and initial results

Searches of Lexis/Nexis’ full-text news database were conducted, resulting in 1,237
articles about Antec, Corsair, Thermaltake, Coolermaster, and PC Power & Cooling
power supplies. From these 1,237 articles, press releases, non-adjectival statements, and
irrelevant articles were then discarded, yielding 644 articles mentioning Antec in the context
of “power supply” or “PSU”. These 644 articles contain 311 statements made with regard
to specific products, excerpted into spreadsheet format in attached work.

Searches for Corsair, Thermaltake, Coolermaster, and PC Power & Cooling within the
context of power supplies yields 593 articles, from which 86 distinct adjectival
statements can be discerned.

  • easy to work on – 83 phrases
  • quiet – 79 phrases
  • included in a review or testbench build – 65 phrases
  • good build quality – 60 phrases
  • is stylish – 49 phrases
  • has good value – 44 phrases
  • has good cooling – 37 phrases
  • powerful (power supplies) – 22 phrases
  • brand preference for Antec products/reputation – 21 phrases
  • convenient features in product – 20 phrases

Summary

Reviewing and analysis of existing review literature suggest that, in order of importance,
these are the questions most relevant to hardware reviewers of Antec power supplies,
based on how commonly they appear:

1. Is the product easy to work on? These factors include: the presence or absence
of modular cabling, cable length, product form factor, product weight, presence or
absence of power connectors. These are phrases like “easily fits into smaller
cases”, “found it easy to build a PC with the product”, “we liked the layout and
found it easy to work with”.

2. Is the product quiet? These statements discuss noise levels under load.

3. Does the product have good build quality? These are statements that discuss the
type, origin, and branding of internal components (caps, transistors), as well as
product reliability.

4. Is the product stylish? These statements cover features like black or colored
enclosures, LED-illuminated fans and/or outlets, and product styling (e.g. the
“racing stripe”).

5. Does the product present good value? These statements weigh price against
performance.

6. Does the product provide good cooling? Statements specifically addressing
internal temperatures of PC builds that contain reviewed power supplies (phrases
like “provided good cooling”, “dropped average temperatures”).

7. Does the product provide good power output? Raw wattage figures and
continuous power ratings fall under this category. Statements discussing the
suitability of a certain level of output (“powerful enough for a quad-SLI system”)
also fall under this category.

8. Is the product from a reputable quality brand? Statements that ascribe product
quality or features to a brand reputation (“the type of quality that we expect from
Antec”, “Corsair has a reputation for making quality hardware and this is
similar”)

9. Does the product have convenience features? Presence or absence of features
like USB pass-through ports, multimedia connectors, or lighter overall product
weight fall into this category.

Ease of working with the product and product noise levels are nearly dead-even for
importance to reviewers. Overall build quality is a close third.

Implications on marketing and product management

Power supplies must be easy to connect and install and more importantly positioned as such – Power supplies are distinguished
from each other first and foremost by seemingly small factors like having sufficiently
long cables, the presence or absence of extra SATA connectors, product form factor and
compatibility with specific cases, and excessive or insufficient cable length. Small,
inexpensive design changes that ensure that customers have a smooth, comprehensible,
problem-free installation process pays dividends in product reputation: for instance,
Thermaltake’s practice of diagramming and labeling its connector inputs directly on the
side of its power supplies; or the increasingly common practice of including extra 12V
cables and ATX cable extenders with power supplies.

Noise level is more noticeable than build quality, efficiency, product styling or even
product value
– Reviewers are significantly more likely to make positive or negative
statements about PSU noise levels than they are about any aspect of the product.
“Greenness” or environmental friendliness is only mentioned 5 times, by comparison.
Most of the negative statements made about Antec power supplies, in fact, deal with
noise levels. Besides the presence or absence of gross malfunction, noise level is the most
noticeable aspect of a power supply’s workings; most consumers do not have the
equipment or the knowledge to test power delivery in detail, and consumer evaluations
tend to focus only on what they can observe of the power supply in operation. Thus, noise
is a highly salient factor in formation of reviewer and customer opinions.

Brand reputation is more important than this study makes it appear – An important caveat
should be mentioned with regard to this study’s low placement of statements about
overall brand reputation (#8). As the PSU market is currently dominated by firms that
purchase and re-brand OEM PSU units, it may come as a surprise that brand reputation is
less frequently cited than other buying factors. It should be remembered, however, that
this analysis covers what reviewers think – not necessarily how end users make buying
decisions. Moreover, as this study focuses upon review literature, no evidence is
presented that would suggest that brand reputation is not a compelling factor.
Though not in evidence in print literature and thus slightly outside the scope of this initial
report, there is significant Internet evidence that overall brand reputation is, in fact, a
compelling factor for end users. The preponderance of Internet reviews (user reviews on
Amazon and Newegg, as well as professional review sites like Anandtech and HardOCP)
suggest that consumers have difficulty discerning fine details of product features and
positioning. In the absence of sufficient technical knowledge or empirical reliability data
to base buying decisions on, end user reviews show that consumers tend to base buying
decisions on brand reputation more than this study would suggest.