Gaming PCs offer huge energy savings potential, says Berkeley Lab

Gaming PCs offer huge energy savings potential, says Berkeley Lab

By eeNews Europe

The Berkeley Lab investigation examined the aggregate global energy use of personal computers designed for gaming – including taking direct measurements using industry benchmarking tools. The energy saving corresponds to $18 billion per year globally by 2020, or 120 TWh, which is equivalent to 40 Rosenfelds, or 40 standard 500-MW power plants that will not have to be built. The results have been published in the journal Energy Efficiency in a paper titled "Taming the energy use of gaming computers."

"It’s remarkable that there’s such a huge overlooked source of energy use right under our noses," says Berkeley Lab scientist Evan Mills, who co-authored the investigation. "The energy community has been looking at ordinary personal computers and consoles for a long time, but this variant – the gaming computer – is a very different animal."

Gaming computers represent 2.5% of the global installed personal computer (PC) base but account for 20% of the energy use. Mills calculated that a typical gaming computer uses 1,400 kWh per year, or six times more energy than a typical PC and 10 times more than a gaming console.

"Your average gaming computer is like three refrigerators," said Mills. "When we use a computer to look at our email or tend our Facebook pages, the processor isn’t working hard at all. But when you’re gaming, the processor is screaming. Plus, the power draw at that peak load is much higher and the amount of time spent in that mode is much greater than on a standard PC."

Gaming is a fast growing market segment, as console sales wane and the number of gaming enthusiasts skyrocket. Mills estimated that gaming computers consumed 75 TWh of electricity globally in 2012, or $10 billion, and expects that will double by 2020 given current sales rates and without efficiency improvements. "There are one billion people around the world who are gaming now," said Mills. "And it’s a really diverse demographic. There are a lot of women; the median age is 31. And the popularity of these giant desktop gaming computers is growing fast."

The good news, Mills says, is that there is ample opportunity – for consumers, manufacturers, policymakers – to save energy. On the regulatory side, displays and power supplies are the only components that have energy ratings today, and those ratings are voluntary. Additional ratings for motherboards, hard drives, peripherals, and other parts are "an opportunity area," Mills said. The gaming software itself can also be designed to use energy more efficiently.

Consumers lack ready access to information that can help them to make efficient upgrades. The study measured and charted the performance versus nameplate (or rated) power consumption of many popular components. One problem the authors found was an immense variation in the nameplate power; for example, graphics processors ranged from 60 to 500 W. Their computing performance varied considerably as well, by as much as five-fold. And there was little correlation between the two, meaning some units that were highest in performance had lower power consumption.

The researchers also built five gaming computers with progressively more efficient component configurations, then followed industry protocols for benchmarking performance while measuring energy use. They were able to achieve a 50% reduction in energy use while performance remained essentially unchanged. Additional energy savings were achieved through operational settings to certain components, yielding total savings of more than 75%.

"The huge bottom line here is that gamers don’t have to sacrifice performance to save energy," said Mills. "You can have your cake and eat it too. In fact, the efficient systems run cooler and quieter, both of which are desirable attributes among gamers."

Berkeley Lab:

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