Making gaming computers more efficient could save $18 billion a year in energy costs

gaming pc
CC BY-NC 2.0 Pablo Bigatti

Unless you're a gamer yourself, you probably don't give much thought to gaming computers. They are a different class of personal computer that boast super-fast graphics cards, very powerful processors, the highest-resolution monitors, and decorative lighting. All of these features mean they also consume a lot of energy, so much so that even though they only represent about 2.5 percent of PCs around the world, they account for 20 percent of the energy use.

A new study finds that this doesn't have to be the case. Gaming computers could easily be at least 75 percent more efficient by making a few setting changes and changing some components while actually improving performance. Those upgrades could save about $18 billion a year globally in energy costs by 2020 and 120 TWh of energy use, which is equal to 40 500-MW power plants.

We've written before about how gaming consoles are one of the worst energy hogs people have in their homes, but gaming PCs use about 10 times more energy than a console and there are a billion people around the world using them.

"Your average gaming computer is like three refrigerators," said Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researcher Evan Mills who co-authored the study. "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."

The good news is that this presents a great opportunity for energy savings around the world. Mills set out to see how he could improve the gaming computer by building them from the ground up. His team built five gaming computers that were each more energy efficient than the last while also following the industry benchmarks for performance. The team was able to cut energy use by 50 percent without affecting performance. By changing some operational settings, they were then able to boost that to 75 percent.

"The huge bottom line here is that gamers don't have to sacrifice performance to save energy," Mills said. "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."

The lesson learned is that if consumers are made more aware of energy efficient options, they can cut their energy use without having to give up any of the performance they're used to and they'll save money in energy costs. Much like how TVs and other household electronics and appliances have energy ratings, these gaming computers need the same treatment.

Making gaming computers more efficient could save $18 billion a year in energy costs
These powerful computers use a lot of energy, but a new study says that a few easy fixes could slash energy use while improving performance.

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