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.
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.
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