Gaming Computers Could Reap 75% Energy Savings And Improve Performance

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A first of its kind study has found that gaming computers could achieve 75% energy savings while improving their overall video reliability and performance.

As noted by the authors of the study at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), bragging rights “are not bestowed upon those crowing about the energy efficiency of their system” — “bragging rights are accorded to those who can boast blazing-fast graphics cards, the most powerful processors, the highest resolution monitors, and the coolest decorative lighting.”

And they are right. As a decades-long gamer myself, I have experienced the thrill of a “blazing-fast” gaming computer that allowed me to play the highest of high-end video games available to me.

Save 75% Energy & Increase Performance. Yes Please!gaming pc

Berkeley Lab researcher Evan Mills co-authored the study, which investigated the aggregate global energy use of gaming computers, and which included taking direct measurements using industry-standard benchmark performance testing tools, and concluded that gamers have an opportunity to achieve energy savings of more than 75% simply by changing some settings and swapping out a few components.

Most importantly, however, is that the side-effect of these changes is actually an increase in reliability and performance, not the presumed decrease.

“It’s remarkable that there’s such a huge overlooked source of energy use right under our noses,” Mills said. “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.”

“Your average gaming computer is like three refrigerators,” Mills continued. “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.”

Specifically, the study found that while gaming computers represent only 2.5% of the global PC install base, they account for 20% of the energy use, with a typical gaming computer using 1,400 kWh per year — that’s six times the average PC and 10 times more than a dedicated gaming console like an Xbox or Playstation.

And the number of gaming computers are growing, too, thanks at least in part to the drop-off in popularity of gaming consoles and the wider variety of top-flight games and performance available on a dedicated gaming PC.

Next Steps

Thankfully, we don’t necessarily have to rely on 18-year old gamers getting a sudden desire to be environmentally friendly for these savings to be made in the gaming PC industry. There is an opportunity to not only enforce existing voluntary regulation on displays and power supplies, but introduce regulation on the wider variety of components and peripherals. There is also an opportunity for the designers to improve their own manufacturing.

However, one way to ensure that energy efficient gaming PC’s are wanted by the masses is to focus on the benefits they will get out of it.

The researchers behind the study built five different gaming computers with “progressively more efficient component configurations” and were able to achieve a 50% reduction in energy usage while keeping performance “essentially unchanged.”


Further energy savings were found by tweaking the operational settings to certain components, pushing the total energy savings up past 75%.

“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.”

Father-Son Gaming And Research

Maybe the best bit of this whole story is the fact that Evan Mills, who has “analysed everything from the impact of climate change on the insurance industry to energy use in African villages, modern buildings, and data centres” was originally made aware of the potential for energy use savings in video gaming when his son decided to get into gaming himself.

Like most of us, the first step was to build their own computer, and through the research required — especially into the power ratings for their parts — Mills quickly realized, “we’re building a power plant here!”

Together, the father-son team not only measured and studied the energy use of the computer they were building, but took it further to research and co-author the report itself.

Gaming might have stopped for Evan’s son, but together the pair have launched Greening the Beast — a website “dedicated to helping the gaming community green up its act, while improving performance, trimming temps, and saving a few bucks.”

Take it from me, the better your performance and the more you can save makes for a very happy gamer in the long run.

Image Credit: Flavio Ensiki via Flickr

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Joshua S Hill

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (, and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at for more.

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35 thoughts on “Gaming Computers Could Reap 75% Energy Savings And Improve Performance

  • Quick tip: if getting more efficient hardware is out of reach, software settings can help a lot too. Three big ones:

    – AMD Catalyst and its Nvidia equivalent allow you to set FPS to a maximum level (say 60 FPS). This allows your GPU to work a lot less hard, especially in older games – without the difference being visible! Civ 5 can make your GPU render the menu screen at several thousand FPS if you let it for example.

    – Choose the most efficient anti aliasing algorithm available (FXAA or similar rather than super sample). Modern implementations look as good as super sample at a fraction of the computional cost.

    – Keep your drivers up to date. Many newer games can become much less taxing after a few driver optimizations.

    Switching to console saves quite a bit of power over a gaming PC too, but no real gamer would gave up his mouse and keyboard 😉

    • Also, sometimes I’ll run 720p depending on the game! Sometimes I can’t see the difference, but that’s for a specific reason. Most people can probably pick up the difference quite quickly.

      Also the AA differences are very interesting, I don’t even use them, as rarely can I remotely tell a difference, but I’m trying to figure it out.

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      • If 720p is acceptable to you, great! It cuts the amount the GPU load in half, so that’s an even bigger improvement than any of my suggestions manage. Problem is that many people simply find it looks horrible (myself included).

        Same with AA: doing without it is even better than an efficient AA algorithm, but some games really look terrible without it.

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  • Even with insanely overclocked power gobbling rigs I cannot comprehend how PC gaming would be more energy then many other hobbies. Say golfing or bowling both of those involve actively moving yourself to a location and back the maintenance of infrastructure and the employees that work to provide service. That has to be more than staying home i a single room and burning couple of KW/hrs an hour in one room?

    My woodworking hobby probable burns at least 3-4 KW/hr not including the driving around in my truck to attain wood and other materials.

    • True, but I’m not sure how relevant it is how wasteful gaming is relative to other hobbies.

      There is huge potential for reducing energy use by gaming PC’s at no net cost. What more do you need to know?

      Low hanging fruit must be picked if we want to reduce carbon emissions fast enough. Picking efficient hardware is a prime example.

  • It’s a pity that ARM, the company whose efficient architecture and often designs run the world’s energy-sipping smartphones, don’t think the fixed gaming market (and in general the stagnant desktop one) worth bothering with. They have left it to Intel’s and AMD’s power hogs. Fortunately they do think Intel’s server market worth going for. So the latest ARM 64-bit processors, aimed at servers and high-end smartphones, are desktop class, and Intel in response is dropping the power consumption of its pricey Xeons. The huge, clunky 500-watt desktop box won’t be with us much longer.

    It’s not me making the desktop class claim: Apple did it for its last SOC but one, and Anand confirmed it.

    • X86 pattens make the PC market essentially a monopoly.

    • and Intel in response is dropping the power consumption of its pricey Xeons

      Yep, and they are really expensive — I paid $256 (what a number!) for my CPU, but damnit, if that’s what it takes to tell intel, I want an efficient CPU, well then I got my money’s worth.

    • Intel has been reducing the power consumption of it’s chips for a while now. But by the same token, it’s going to be a while before ARM can match an intel core for single threaded performance, which is where most people will notice it most. No one is going to be replacing my dev box with ARM any time soon…

      • According to ARM, their top-of-the-line A72 core matches Intel’s Core M (link) now. The competitive ARM ecosystem is simply more efficient than Intel’s old-style monopoly: Apple pay Samsung around $25 each to manufacture their very capable iPhone SOCs. The erosion will be gradual, the way PCs and Macs replaced SPARC workstations. Eventually the market for power hogs will become too small to be worth writing new games for.

        • If you’re talking about this test:

          It’s really *REALLY* rigged. They tested a 4 core 2.5 Ghz ARM chip, under ideal circumstances, against a cheap laptop chip @0.8 Ghz, with 2 cores in a crappy $200 dell tablet, with insufficient cooling, so the chip had to thermally limit itself to avoid overheating.

          There is a *really* long gap between something like that and an i7. No one is scaling down into the sub-watt space better than ARM, I’ll give them that, and Intel won’t be replacing the ARM in cell phones or tablets any time soon. But no one is scaling up into the blistering single threaded performance regions that Intel is.

          Intel is going to continue to be around for a good long time.

    • You are aware that according to AnandTech Intel CPUs now rival ARM on a performance-per-watt basis?

      And that the CPU is actually a fairly minor user of electricity in a gaming PC? Its the GPU that sucks most of the power, and ARM’s offerings there are laughable.

      Apple’s latest SoC is “desktop for watching home movies and writing a Word document”-class. Not competition for a gaming PC (it’s graphics performance is below that of an ancient Nvidia 7xxx series GPU as per Anand)

      • Can confirm… 25 watt TDP CPU. 200 watt TDP GPU.

        And I run out of GPU before I run out of CPU…

      • It’s fun teasing the dinosaurs. I admit you serve a social function by creating a niche demand for performance which 90% of ordinary “browser plus Office” desktop users don’t need and can’t use.

        • I kind of agree. The Chromebook, or equivalent is all most people need.

  • Well the article didn’t have much detail. Here is how to pick energy efficient parts:

    Do not use AMD CPU or GPUs.
    Use Intel **Xeon, and Haswell v4** CPU that idle at 20 watts or less, have no GPU at all, zero ziltch NADA, so you need to have a GPU.

    Use Nvidia 9xx graphics cards if you play heavy graphical games a lot, but unless you have something older than the GTX 6xx series — don’t upgrade yet, just wait until the card dies (good luck haha).

    Set your monitor brightness to the MAXIMUM setting in the morning if you frequently use your monitor then, and you’ll be more alert during the day. Just please please take down the brightness really really really low (even reduce contrast if you need to), and install f.lux (

    f.lux warms up the colors on your screen at night, and it doesn’t suit all games well, PlanetSide 2 just really doesn’t look good with it, but TF 2 is wonderful!

    Set your computer HDD to spin down after 5 minutes. This is available in the Windows 7 Power options

    Set your monitor to standby (on the monitor itself if possible, to ensure it goes off even if something software wise prevents it) to about 10 minutes. Really, how long does it take your screen to come out of standby? I had an old monitor that took 10 seconds…. yeah. I think my new Ben Q 27″ monitor takes 3-4.

    Oh, set your computer to sleep after 10-15 minutes as well, no less though, as there is a voltage spike with LED (and … other light sources) of about 400-600 volts, so don’t turn off your screen after three minutes then turn it back on again. That will actually use much more power than just leaving it on for five minutes.

    I think hard drive activity (installing programs) should reset the sleep / standby timer for the computer, but I don’t know, you’ll have to experiment with that.

    • F.lux is awesome. I have it on my phone* and PC. It works great if don’t want to accidentally wake up your girlfriend with the light. Also its super easy on the eyes at night. Its especially good if you are in a poorly lit room. Also great for the movie theater. I really can’t say enough good things about it.

      *its not android yet but there are apps that do the same thing.

    • – A CPU without IGP will not save you any power. Modern CPU’s are fully voltage gated; areas not in use remain switched off and have no measurable power draw.

      – Why would you want your monitor at max brightness? I find half more than bright enough even during the day, but it of course depends heavily on your actual monitor.

      – f.lux is great. I’d also mention Twilight, which does the same for an Android smartphone.

      – Yep, use standby. And while you are in that menu, do look at advanced power settings. There are some nice savings to be had there, especially for PCs with multiple HDDs or peripherals.

      • My monitor can max out at 337 nits on “movie mode” with maximum dynamic contrast on a white webpage.

        The light coming from two south facing windows is just not enough in the morning and the monitor is much brighter than the run. But it’s probably brighter than the monitor if you go outside so. .. hopefully that’s not too much for the eyes, I hope not.

    • LED LCD screens use 20-25W these days..

  • I can’t see a gamer building his PC with the very best parts then finding a way to make it use less electricity and run faster. So this story is more about a father-son combo with mediocre hardware tweaking it a little to make it run better. The story is not about top of the line equipment.

    For instance there are only so many 4K monitors. There are only a few MBs that can handle 64GBs of RAM at top speeds with the fastest CPUs. There are only a few RAID cards able to max out a gen 3 bus. There are only a few GPUs.

    Why am I even replying to this article. I feel used.

    • RAID cards? Wow, your gaming PC (or at least its MB) must be ancient 😛

      But more to the point: the best (lowest ripple) PSU units are also the most efficient ones (look for 80Plus Platinum or Gold).

      And what gamer uses 64GB of RAM? Even the most demanding ones like Arma 3 or Watchdogs run fine on 8GB. Besides, RAM barely uses any power.

      Look at the advice section of fora like Tom’s Hardware. Gamers are sensible enough not to buy the absolute-top-of-the-line in any department other than the GPU, since games only seriously stress that one part. Games are GPU bound rather than CPU-bound or memory-bound, as we say in the jargon.

      • Interesting ideas but you’ve got a lot to learn before I’ll start correcting you.

        • I disagree with Larmion on almost everything. But not this…

          Please point out what issues you have, and we can discuss, as I’m not seeing anything wrong.

          • There are very many different games and not all of them are dependent on the GPU. Some can be macro’d and many accounts played at the same time. Ram disks make a big difference when loading new scenery which sometimes happen in game. You can suck up 20 GBs quickly. Fast hard disks always help too and there is no reason not to have an IO system capable of saturating a gen 3 PCI-E bus. Sure you can build a computer system for a game that only takes a good GPU. But a universal system should have everything optimized.

          • A good SSD can saturate a PCI-E bus on sequential read, and isn’t expensive. There’s no need for a ramdisk, and almost no gamers I know run ramdisks. The advantage vs a good SSD is minimal, and unnecessary.

            It’s true that some games don’t max the GPU, but that’s the exception not the norm. For most situations, a midrange i5 or i7 is sufficient for pretty much any game you come across, with sane settings.

            Most gamers are absolutely not spending this kind of dough on a system, like you’re talking about, as evidenced by the fact that mid-range GPUs in the $200 range are the perennial best sellers in stand-alone GPUs.

          • Single SSD speeds are less than 600MB/s. PCI-E v3 needs about 6,000MB/s to saturate it. Ram disks are a cheap alternative to RAID.

            No reason not to buy the best GPU but that’s just one component.

            I’ve been building my own towers for over 30 years. Many components can be upgraded. So it’s not that expensive. Also I troll craigslist/ebay and get great deals at often 10% of actual price. A business here or there collapsing and I pick up on the latest RAID card. Or a husband and wife separating for dramatic reasons and I get their 4K monitor. So you can see it’s kind of a hobby for me. (Like keeping up with RE.)

          • Sorry, I meant SATA3, not PCI-E. There’s no reason to have a RAID array of SSDs to max out a PCI-E bus, with some fancy raid array. Your disk isn’t going to be maxed most of the time, and what really matters is request latency, which SSDs excel at. Which is also why a ramdisk is ridiculous. SSDs are relatively cheap, and awesome. That SSD will let me boot to windows in about 8 seconds. I can load pretty much any game in a handful of seconds. I think you’re just practicing technological masterbation, because you can.

            Also, there’s no reason not to buy the best GPU? How about the $1000 price tag for an nVidia Titan? Especially when a $300 GPU will play pretty much any game out there at reasonable settings? Exactly how disconnected are you from reality here?? And like, why not buy 2 for twice the price! No reason not to, right? It’s not like people have limited resources, and are trying to balance value / performance.

            The system that you’re describing is in excess of what most Alienware systems are doing, and those are definitely the ‘retardedly overbuilt’ systems of the gaming industry. And they’re only running 32 GB ram… And in all honesty, 16 GB is more than enough for pretty much any game on the market now.

            In short: You’re on crack.

          • I call it yak shaving.

          • Its all about getting the 2nd or 3rd best GPU. They are essentially just as good as the #1 card but almost half the price.

            A quick check on newegg showed


            Unless you are in the top 1% of 1% of gamers you won’t even know.

            I paid $600 for my last card in 2011. It still runs fine. Not ‘ultra max super’ anymore but just ‘high’. 🙁

        • First of all, thanks for the edit. Your original post was rather less polite.

          Our difference in opinion has a very simple cause: you seem to believe that the best gaming system is the one that posts the best benchmark returns.

          I instead look at components with a different question in mind: “is the performance advantage this offers not just measurable, but also noticeable in real world usage?”

          If you work from that mentality, you quickly find that for most PC components the top-of-the-range model is overkill and that a cheaper, more efficient one is preferable.

          That is if your PC is intended for programming and gaming, as mine is. If tinkering with the PC is a hobby in itself, I can see why you want to go for the absolute best.

  • Apparently, CleanTechnica has a lot more computer nerds than I would have guessed.

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