I need a 5 ohm resistor that can handle 5 watts. I don't know if the one that I have (a typical one, if that can be said) can handle it. Here's an image of one:


I do not have the datasheet otherwise I could check there.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Datasheets are good indicators of these kinds of things. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 8, 2013 at 11:55
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ No, it can't. Typical small through-hole resistors are rated 0.25W to 0.6W, depending on the type. Maybe 1W if they are a little bit bigger (common at values < 10 Ohm). \$\endgroup\$
    – starblue
    Aug 8, 2013 at 11:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Post a picture! We can't know what you think "typical" is. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 8, 2013 at 11:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, share the data sheet, if you have it. Typically, that's a trustworthy source of information about what a device can and can not handle. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 8, 2013 at 12:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Very briefly! I hope you're not planning on a 100% duty cycle... \$\endgroup\$
    – Brooks
    Aug 8, 2013 at 12:48

5 Answers 5


For through hole carbon film resistors (usually light brown body) there is a conventional power rating for each physical size. According to some datasheets I just checked (links at end of post) 1/8W is 3.2mm long and 1.5mm diameter. 1/4W is 6mm long and 2.3mm diameter, 1/2W is 8.5mm long and 2.7mm diameter. 1W is 12mm long and 5mm diameter. In my experiance by far the most common size is 1/4 watt.

Metal film resistors (usually light blue body) sometimes have a higher rating for a given size. It's fairly common to see metal film 0.4W in the same body size as a carbon film 1/8W and metal film 0.6W in the same body size as a carbon film 1/4 watt. However this is not always the case.

The conventional through hole film resistors seem to stop at just over 2W.

Beyond that you tend to get into wirewound resistors. Smaller wirewound resistors are often blocks of a cement-like material. Downside of these is there is no good way of cooling them. Larger wirewound resistors often have a metal outer case designed to be bolted to a heatsink. Be aware with this style that they actually do expect you to bolt them to a heatsink and if you simply operate them in free air their power handling is singificantly reduced.

Resistors will usually tolerate some overload in the short term. Just how much I don't know.

http://www.rapidonline.com/pdf/64-0014e.pdf http://www.rapidonline.com/pdf/62-0310e.pdf http://www.rapidonline.com/pdf/62-0500e.pdf http://www.farnell.com/datasheets/91309.pdf

  • \$\begingroup\$ Indeed. I'm fairly surprised it took a year for this question to get a decent answer. It's possible bracket a resistor's power dissipation pretty well based on its size. The only exception are the AlN [SMD] resistors like vishay.com/docs/60125/pcan.pdf, which pull well above their size. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 30, 2015 at 18:48

Typically, 5W might be a bit much. If it's just a regular axial lead, you're probably not gonna handle 1A through it.

But, to be more scientific, you would just want to put enough current in it to get to something like 75C. You can measure this with a thermocouple, an infrared camera, or "heat wax". If you're nowhere near 1A when you get to that point, I would seek out a different resistor.

enter image description here

I use these all the time and they can handle plenty of power.


What you are probably calling a "typical" one is probably 0.25W or thereabout. A 5W resistor is normally a wirewound resistor that will look like this and be marked with its power rating:

enter image description here

Photo taken from http://www.me.umn.edu.


There is no one "typical" resistor. Common packages are 0805, which are good for around 1/8 W, and 0603 which are limited to less.

A 5 W resistor is going to be physically big and should not by "typical" in most senses. Even just 2 W resistors come in 1210 packages, and then can only do 2 W with proper pads and heat management. At 5 W probably implies thru hole. I have some 2 W thru hole resistors here that are over 1/2 inch long and maybe 1/4 inch in diameter. A 5 W resistor will be bigger.

Note that you can make a effective 5 W resistor by parallel and series combinations of smaller (power wise) resistors.


Now that you have posted a picture, we can see your resistor isn't typical at all. That is a old thru-hole 1/4 Watt resistor, which hasn't been "typical" for a long time. 1/4 W thru-hole resistors are only used in rare cases today, like old legacy products where it is not worth the expense to redesign them with modern parts and by hobbyists. I don't know when the volume of SMD resistors exceeded that of 1/4 W thru-hole, but I suspect it was at least 20 years ago.


Re your picture, that looks more like 5.1K ohms to me! Unless I'm missing a band. And that means you'll have to put 160v across it for it to have to dissipate 5w...

  • \$\begingroup\$ Pretty sure it's a stock photo of what the OP considers a "typical" resistor form factor. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nick T
    Dec 25, 2014 at 10:10

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