What is AWG in source cables and why is it important in PC?

It is a great unknown and although it is true that we try to give it its importance in some articles, AWG continues to tiptoe into the vast majority of users who are willing to buy a new power supply. That is why we are going to tell the story behind this term and in passing we will explain what it is and the types that exist.

We are heavy, it is true, but it is that today we are seeing real atrocities of configurations on the forums, the Internet in general and in some stores that, the truth, are creepy, we are not going to lie at this point. With the abysmal consumption that the series GPUs have, touching very high voltage peaks, with times of state change less and less, a quality power supply is essential and with this AWG cables to match.

What is AWG and when was it introduced to the desktop PC world?

As we have already briefly explained from time to time, AWG is the acronym for American Wire Gauge, and is nothing more than a classification measure for metal gauges and thicknesses of circular section (in the case of PC).

So it was AMD with the Radeon R9 295X2 that introduced this to the PC world, but AWG’s history dates back to 1857, when James Buchanan, then US President, installed the first OTIS elevator in that country, thereby creating a new standard classification measure, logically called AWG.

The problem is that today and although it is interesting for the user as such, all manufacturers outside the US do not offer any AWG value in their power supplies. In fact, many brands do not do it either, so sometimes it is really difficult to know what type of cables each model includes.

Although AWG helps classify PC PSU cables, it is actually quite strict, it seems, because it has not been updated in many years. For this reason, many manufacturers do not give importance to it, especially because outside of that country people do not understand these metrics.

What are the correct settings for PC and why?

Let’s start with a basic table that identifies the diameter, the area, the electrical resistance and the admissible current in copper to understand a little how this standard works:

AWG Diameter Area Electrical resistance in copper Electrical resistance in copper Current carrying copper
at 40 ° C to the outdoor 
4
Approximate equivalence in metric standard
  (in) (mm) (kcmil) (mm²) ( Ω / 1 km) ( Ω / 1000 ft) (TO)  
1000 1.0000 25.40 1000 507 0.0339434602425   870  
900 0.9487 24.10 900 456 0.0377397682959   800  
750 0.8660 22.00 750 380 0.0452877219551   740  
600 0.7746 19.67 600 304 0.0566096524439   650  
500 0.7071 17.96 500 253 0.0680210843595   580  
400 0.6325 16.06 400 203 0.0847750460244   500  
350 0.5916 15.03 350 177.3 0.0970633634684   460  
250 0.5000 12.70 250 126.7 0.135827421807   370  
0000 (4/0) 0.4600 11.68 211.6 107 0.160834900401   335  
000 (3/0) 0.4096 10.40 167.8 85 0.202462756976   287  
00 (2/0) 0.3648 9,266 133.1 67.4 0.255331370073   247  
0 (1/0) 0.3249 8,251 105.5 53.5 0.324704421565 ~ 0.1 214  
1 0.2893 7,348 83.69 42.4 0.405880526956   180  
two 0.2576 6,544 66.37 33.6 0.512182569731   150  
3 0.2294 5,827 52.63 26.7 0.644544357414   125 196 / 0.4
4 0.2043 5,189 41.74 21.2 0.811761053913   117  
5 0.1819 4,621 33.10 16.8 1.02436513946     126 / 0.4
6 0.1620 4,115 26.25 13.3 1.293934913   89  
7 0.1443 3,665   10.5 1.63898422314     80 / 0.4
8 0.1285 3,264   8.37 2.0560733982   66  
9 0.1144 2,906   6.63 2.59567637149     > 84 / 0.3
10 0.1019 2,588   5.26 3.2772 0.9989 30 <84 / 0.3
eleven 0.0907 2,305   4.17 4.1339 1,260 25 56 / 0.3
12 0.0808 2,053   3.31 5,210 1,588 twenty  
13 0.0720 1,828   2.62 6,572 2,003 17 50 / 0.25
14 0.0641 1,628   2.08 8,284 2,525 fifteen  
fifteen 0.0571 1,450   1.65 10.45 3,184 12 > 30 / 0.25
16 0.0508 1,291   1.31 13.18 4,016 10 <30 / 0.25
17 0.0453 1,150   1.04 16,614 5,064 7 32 / 0.2
18 0.0403 1.02362   0.823 20,948 6,385 5 > 24 / 0.2
19 0.0359 0.9116   0.653 26,414 8,051   <24 / 0.2
twenty 0.0320 0.8128   0.518 33,301 10.15   16 / 0.2

As we can see, the lower the numbering, the more thickness, the less resistance in the copper and the higher the admissible current. So what factors cause these metrics as such to alter? Well, the thickness or diameter determines everything, but the temperature and the length as well.

For this reason, only three metrics are currently used in the industry on PC:

AWG Diameter (Ø) in mm Cross section in mm2 Equivalent mm²   (metric)
16 1.29 1,305 1.5
18 1.02 0.79 0.75
twenty 0.81 0.51 0.5

AWG 20, why high-end sources use these cables?

Taking into account the table above we can see that the AWGs are always the thinnest. As we have commented above, the determining factors are the temperature and the length, but it must be clarified that there are two temperatures to calibrate the cables, including these AWG 20: the temperature of the cable and the ambient temperature.

The certification implies that an AWG cable at an ambient temperature of 25 degrees Celsius , with a maximum cable length of 55 cm (disputed by manufacturers) the maximum temperature that the cable can withstand is 50 degrees.

But if these types of cables can carry almost 10 amps in the best of cases or 120 watts, being able in the best of cases to offer up to 360 watts in PC, what is the problem? Very simple, it is not surprising that before such consumption these 20 AWG cables end up with temperatures above 50 degrees, that is, we touch the cables and they are burning.

For this reason, manufacturers use these types of cables for 6-pin connectors for GPUs, which provide up to 150 watts as standard. The problem is that some high-end sources also include these AWG cables and many users start to overclock their components very high or even extreme, which shoots the amps and therefore the temperature. As we do not usually touch the cables we do not realize it, but it is more than likely that the cable is at the melting point.

So be careful with the PSUs with these cables, especially if they are high-end, better not to expect too much from those that include them, since this is done to save costs exclusively.

AWG 18, one cable to dominate them all, right?

Well, here comes an eternal debate about those who complain to certain manufacturers and those who say that it is enough. And it is that any 18 AWG cable should be more than enough for any current PC component, including extreme overclocks.

The problem is that many manufacturers deliberately lie about the use of their cables, since they “fatten” 20 AWG cables with coatings and layers, so you would have to cut a cable and see what type of cable we have. Just think about the fact that a user uses a dual 8-pin cable for a GPU like the RTX 3090. 350 watts with peaks above 400, yes momentary and per milliseconds, but there they are. If we believe that we have 18 AWG cables and there are 20 we may have a more than interesting problem.

AWG 16, long live the king

This cable is of such quality that practically no manufacturer uses them in their PSUs, only in extreme range. The problem is that with the amount of cables that have to be installed today in a PC, the cost of the source skyrockets and everyone wants to compete on price, but it is rare that they do marketing on a detail like this.

In any case, with these cables we have the best of the best for PC and we will have above all the best efficiency in the power supply. Are they worth it? Only if we are going to have components with high amps and consumptions, either stock or overclock, because we will have less resistance and perhaps greater length in these cables, something that the Full Tower towers will appreciate.

Apart from the terminations of the cables, it must be taken into account that many manufacturers do not include pure copper in their cables, but alloys that are much easier to manufacture and therefore cheaper. This can create long-term problems, such as micro breaks, a thermal bridge that raises the temperature of the cable or simply that it ends up outside the connector due to a weathering that is not able to hold it any longer.

In short, an AWG cable must be at least 18, of the highest possible quality in terms of materials, and if it can be, AWG 16 to ensure correct operation and stability of the system, especially in the long term

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