Taming the Energy of Gaming Computers

Gaming PCs consumed roughly 75 billion kilowatt-hours per year of electricity

By Dr. Jon Peddie, President, Jon Peddie Research, publishers of “Tech Watch” and “Graphics Speak” with Nathaniel Mills of “Greening The Beast” and Evan Mills of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

In the journal “Energy Efficiency”, Evan Mills of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has published a study that presents a novel analysis of the energy use of gaming PCs. We were able to assist him by providing marketing data and some background information on the gaming markets.

About one billion people around the world today engage in digital gaming. Gaming is the most energy-intensive use of desktop computers and the high-performance “racecar” machines built expressly for this purpose comprise the fastest growing type of gaming platform.

Mills found enormous performance-normalized variations in power ratings among the gaming computer components available in today’s market. For example, central processing units vary by 4.3-fold, graphics processing units 5.8-fold, power supply units 1.3-fold, motherboards 5.0-fold, RAM 139.2-fold, and displays 11.5-fold. Similarly performing complete systems with low, typical, and high efficiencies correspond to approximately 900, 600, and 300 watts of nameplate power, respectively.

While measured power requirements are considerably lower than nameplate for most components we tested–by about 50% for complete systems–the bottom-line energy use is massive compared to standard personal computers.

Based on our actual measurements of gaming PCs with progressively more efficient component configurations, together with market data on typical patterns of use, Mills estimates the typical gaming PC (including display) uses about 1400 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. The energy use of a single typical gaming PC is equivalent to the energy use of 10 game consoles, 6 conventional desktop computers, or 3 refrigerators. Depending on local energy prices, it can cost many hundreds of dollars per year to run a gaming PC.

While gaming PCs represent only 2.5% of the global installed personal computing equipment base, our initial scoping estimate suggests gaming PCs consumed roughly 75 billion kilowatt-hours per year of electricity globally in 2012, or approximately 20% of all personal desktop computer, notebook, and console energy usage combined. For context, this corresponds to about $10 billion per year in energy expenditures or the equivalent electrical output of 25 typical electric power plants.

Given market trends and projected changes in the installed base, Mills estimates this energy consumption will more than double by the year 2020 if the current rate of equipment sales is unabated and efficiencies are not improved. Although they will represent only 10% of the installed base of all types of gaming platforms globally in 2020, relatively high unit energy consumption and high hours of use will result in gaming computers being responsible for 40% of overall gaming energy use.

This significant energy footprint can be reduced by more than 75% with premium efficiency components and operations, while improving reliability and performance. This corresponds to a potential savings of approximately 120 billion kilowatt-hours or $18 Billion per year globally by 2020.

There is a significant lack of current policies to achieve such improvements and very little guidance is available to help consumers make energy efficient choices when they purchase, upgrade, and operate their gaming PCs. Key opportunities include product labeling, utility rebates, and minimum efficiency standards.

You can download the report here.

Published by

Jon Peddie

Dr. Jon Peddie is one of the pioneers of the graphics industry, and formed Jon Peddie Research (JPR) to provide customer intimate consulting and market forecasting services. Peddie lectures at numerous conferences on topics pertaining to graphics technology and the emerging trends in digital media technology. Recently named one of the most influential analysts, he is frequently quoted in trade and business publications, and contributes articles to numerous publications including as well as appearing on CNN and TechTV. Learn more about Jon and his services at www.jonpeddie.com

18 thoughts on “Taming the Energy of Gaming Computers”

  1. It doesn’t help matters that many of the people buying gaming machines tend to be spec-oriented buyers, who have been gulled into thinking they need far more powerful components than are actually required for the games they play on the monitors they own. For example, a glance at gaming-oriented review sites will reveal that 1000 watt power supplies are very popular with this set, despite the fact that nearly all gaming rigs will be just fine with a 400 watt power supply, and a 300 watt power supply will be just fine unless you’re buying a truly ridiculous video card. Overpowered power supplies lead to significantly reduced efficiency and higher electricity bills.

    Even before I transferred 99% of my gaming to my ipad, I knew that the non-twitchy bargain bin games I wanted to play didn’t require more than a 10-20 watt video card, and speced my systems accordingly. The most inefficient desktop computer I’ve ever owned (back in the p4 era) idled at around 40-50 watts. Sadly most gamers don’t know or care about the actual power needs of their gear.

    1. If nearly all gaming rigs will be just fine with a 400 watt power supply, then that’s how much electricity they’ll consume, even if the power supply is capable of delivering 1000 watts.

      1. Power supplies 101: the power supply becomes less efficient at lower load percentages. The 80+ efficiency rating of a PS is measured when it’s at 50% load, and efficiency drops off fast as you get down into 10% or lower loads. An 80% efficient 1000 watt power supply running a 100 watt load will have significantly more wasted power than an 80% efficient 200 watt power supply running a 100 watt load. All other things being equal, the 1000 watt PS will draw more power from the wall and run hotter than the 200 watt PS. To have the lowest wastage going on in the power supply, you need to scale the power supply to the load it’s going to be running.

          1. “1000W is a bit extreme though.”

            It was an example of a larger phenomenon — how quite a few of the people who buy gaming rigs buy based on numbers (the bigger the better) without necessarily knowing or caring about what those numbers mean. Instead they’re treating the gaming computer like a sports car — as a sort of phallic symbol. Regardless of whether or not they will ever need all those watts, all those CPU cores, or (in the car) all those horsepower, they get it anyway because it has lots of big numbers on its spec sheet.

  2. What percentage of total household electricity consumption is taken by a gaming PC over a 24 hour period?

  3. Basic physics. With all the “jobs to be done” talk, here we have a high workload. At perfect efficiency “energy consumed” = “work done”. The problem here is energy wasted as heat. To consume less total energy one either has to reduce the work (better code) or reduce the waste, and that is only to a point.

    What’s required is is a good theoretical minimum estimate of the workload, so that waste can be estimated. I don’t know if one gaming PC versus 6 conventional ones is a bargain or a huge waste.

  4. These numbers are disturbing. But think how much worse it would be if we had to shoot real zombies.

  5. I’m always wondering about context. Is the energy used by gaming PCs relevant in the grand scheme of things, or does it meld into the thickness of the “wasted energy” line on graphs ? Raw figures sure sound big, but they’re equivalent to what, 1/10th of US drivers having their tires at the correct pressure ? 1/10th of a degree of air conditioning across the board ? Should 3D gamers take their cars and drive somewhere instead ?

    I’d think the gaming PC problem is mostly small, better than many alternatives use of one’s time from an energy consumption standpoint (are we still racing cars & stuff in big circles ?), intractable, and bound to get rather worse: generated heat is proportional to GPU power, and the requirements for that GPU power are rising, with ever more realistic effects, higher resolutions, VR, … Every drop of Moore’s law is more than sucked dry.

    If gaming’s power consumption does justify working on it before or parallel to anything else (which I doubt), the one avenue of least resistance I could think of is to optimize idle consumption, that seems to be out of line.

    Here are some graphs:
    – power consumption (idle and load) with no graphics card (Intel or AMD iGPU)
    – idle w/ graphics card
    – load w/ graphics card
    from http://hothardware.com/reviews/intel-core-i7-5775c-with-iris-pro-graphics-review?page=10 and http://www.anandtech.com/show/7103/nvidia-geforce-gtx-760-review/16

  6. I built my dream machine a year ago and the reality of its energy use became apparent when the temperature in my office jumped by at least 10 degrees, especially after gaming. These stats though shock me. I really don’t understand my PC makers are not focusing on more efficient parts.

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