Gamers aren’t exactly at the forefront of the fight against global warming.
Sure, we’ll save the planet when there’s aliens involved, but when it comes to using power, we go out of our way to use more. Be it our desire for bigger TVs and monitors, overclocking our PCs, installing two video cards in SLI or leaving the PS3 on to crank up our [email protected] scores, we tend to increase rather than decrease our power consumption.
But have you ever stopped to consider the numbers?
I‘d like to see if I can get my fellow gamers to be a little greener while saving them money. Let’s establish some good habits, before Aunty Helen decides it’s time for an electricity tax.
Enemy number one when it comes to your power consumption (and therefore your power bill), is a helpful little function called “standby”. Most devices operate in an On/Off/Standby state. Even devices that appear to be completely off are in fact using power. Nearly everything you own that uses electricity has a chip in it of some sort. Even your washing machine. In fact, a typical washing machine will use more power simply sitting plugged into the wall for 24 hours, than it will doing an actual wash.
When you stop and think about it, the money you spend on power simply to have your TV turn on faster, or have your devices sitting idle, really starts to add up. I measured my power usage in watts per hour, using a $19 meter sold at most major electronic outlets, and used a power cost of 21 cents per kWh to work out the dollar value.
It turns out that to have my PC off, but plugged in to the wall, was drawing 57 watts constantly. This is my gaming/general purpose machine, consisting of a Core 2 Duo @ 3.3 GHz, 8 GB ram, two hard drives and an ATI 4870 video card. It’s a fairly powerful system for today, but not too dissimilar to many gamers machines. When you do the sums (0.057 kilowatts × 8,760 hours × $0.21) that 57 watts is actually $105 dollars a year.
What is even scarier is that it uses more power in this ‘standby’ state, than my 32” LCD TV, Xbox 360, HTPC, 5.1 sound system, and two routers combined. The total standby power consumption of all my devices - lounge, kitchen, bathroom, office, bedroom etc, is about 120 watts. This works out at $221 a year just to have things on standby, without adding in the cost of using them at all!
[email protected] on a PS3 may be an admirable distributed computing project, but you should be aware that it will result in power consumption of 234 watts. When using the screensaver, it uses around 215 watts. Use it 24x7 and you're donating over $390 a year to the cause.
As an aside, I have a geek dungeon all to myself. Consider the costs involved in a three-person flat when you have gamers living together. I’ve been to flats with a TV in every bedroom, one in the lounge, not to mention three PCs, a server, home theatre system and the list could go on and on. Every single thing plugged in and on standby all the time.
By doing something as simple as turning things off at the wall when they aren’t being used, you can save hundreds of dollars a year in power bills. Obviously there are appliances that are a pain the backside to turn off at the wall, such as microwaves and DVD players with clocks in them.
I’m not suggesting you unplug your fridge freezer to save power. But do what you can.
The next step is to look at your PC. When you aren’t using it, do you shut it down? Or, like most of us do you turn off the monitor and walk away? Do you turn it off at all? I know some of us like to build the most robust rig we can so we can brag about uptime, but I wonder what that uptime is actually worth? If I left my rig running idle, it would draw a constant 185 watts. That alone could cost me $340 a year if I never shut it down – that's nearly $30 a month.
Think of your gaming rig as a giant laptop, with a battery fast approaching empty. When you walk away from it, turn it off. If you can’t turn it off, set it to hibernate after 10 minutes. Windows users can change the computer's inactivity behaviour in Control Panel > Power Options. This way, it will use a rather small amount of power, and won’t take too long to come back to a usable state. You can even set how long before specific components turn off, such as hard drives spinning down after a certain time.
Next, if you have a modern CPU, go into the BIOS and ensure that the power saving and power management features of your chipset are turned on. Intel has a feature in its newer processors called Speed Step, which adjusts the speed of the CPU depending on the amount of work it’s doing. This can save a fair bit of power as you aren’t running at full speed all the time, only when needed - and you won’t notice the difference.
When building a new rig, another factor to consider when choosing components is efficiency. For example, many modern power supplies come with an 80+ certification, meaning they are at least 80% efficient. So only 20% of the input power is potentially wasted. It is likely that future versions will have better efficiency ratings – 90% and even higher.
Motherboards are another component getting the green treatment. Asus, MSI, Gigabyte - among many others - offer motherboards with varying green designs, from basic high efficiency rates, to specific chips such as Asus’s EPU-6, which manages the power draw of the components on the board to ensure maximum efficiency. More and more manufacturers are jumping on board every day.
Careful selection of hardware can result in a far more efficient machine. It may not make a huge financial difference for one machine, but when you extrapolate it out to a flat with three or four machines, or even right out to a major company with thousands of computers, the savings really start to add up.
Alternatively, if you are only surfing the web, and you have a laptop - use it. As a general rule, laptops are far more power efficient, given that they are designed to operate on a battery. Most modern laptops have specially designed mobile AMD or Intel chips which use very little power.
At the end of a computer's life, don’t put it in the landfill. Recycle it if possible, or if not, give it to a student or relative. Or build that Linux box you’ve been thinking of.
Of course, gadgets are not the only draw on your power supply. Hot water cylinders are the biggest cost, generally followed by heating and refrigeration, then lighting. But geeks like the dark, never wash anyway, and our computers give off plenty of heat. So all we need to do is ensure the fridge is working to its maximum efficiency. How? Put more beer in it. The more full the fridge, the less air it has to cool. Easy.
There are many things you can do to save power and money, but my suggestion would be to rock down to your nearest electronics store, and pick up a power usage meter. Check out the standby power draw of your electronics, do some quick calculations, and work out the cost. You might be quite surprised to learn the true cost of convenience.
I say we should do our bit as gamers to keep NZ green. Especially since green is the colour of money.