Taming the Energy Use of Gaming Computers

New report on the surprising energy appetite of gaming PCs -- More info and link to the full report here.

While not part of the building envelope or primary systems that home energy pros usually engage with, it's important to know about this increasingly popular source of residential load which can have significant HVAC impacts not to mention confounding efforts to hit overall net-zero types of targets.

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.

We found enormous performance-normalized variations in power ratings among the gaming computer components available on 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 that of 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, we estimate that 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 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 that 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, we estimate that 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.

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Comment by Evan Mills on July 23, 2015 at 2:40pm

Cool - you might send him the power bill, too ;)

Comment by Leo Klisch on July 23, 2015 at 2:37pm

Great study, I will pass along to my son.

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