This project is being conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a publicly-funded R&D institution founded in 1931 and managed for DOE by the University of California. LBNL's mission is to address the most challenging and important scientific and technological questions of our time, at scales from the subatomic to the galactic. Project sponsorship has been provided by the California Energy CommissionThe overarching approach is to partner with the gaming industry to accelerate advances that maintain or improve gaming user experience while optimizing energy efficiency. We have assembled a team of seasoned energy researchers, IT applications specialists, and game developers. The project began in mid-2016 and will run well into 2018.

Two to three billion people around the world engage in digital gaming. Roughly 20 million gaming platforms are in use in California include mainstream personal computers and laptops used partly for gaming, specialized high-power PCs and laptops known as “Gaming PCs” (GPCs), and Video Game Consoles (VGCs) together with other media streaming devices. No organized efforts have been made by the energy R&D and policy communities to address this large plug load.

Emerging technologies such as Virtual Reality and 5K displays promise to have enormous effects on energy use in the near future. Gaming software design is also a prime driver of energy demand and an opportunity area for savings. While this project focuses strictly on locally-installed gaming applications, the trend towards network-based gaming will entail new and potentially substantial energy uses upstream from the gamer's meter.

Based on preliminary research conducted by our team prior to the start of this project, PC gaming with purpose-built computers is a highly energy-intensive trend (1400 kWh/year per average unit for the more avid gamers, including display), with each new generation using more energy than the last. [1] These results suggest that the gaming computers use substantially more energy as the average mainstream PC. An average VGC paired with a television uses, about far less than a gaming PC. The energy use of GPCs is steadily rising, due to increasing computational expectations, while that of mainstream PCs, VGCs, and other TV-linked gaming devices is declining. 

These differences are partly driven by technology: peak energy use of the conventional PC was 80W (c. 2002), while that of a powerful GPC is over 500W. Behavior also plays a role: GPCs have a very different modal energy consumption profile than mainstream PCs. A previous Energy Commission project found that mainstream PCs drew more than 90% of their energy in idle mode; while our research finds that a typical GPC draws only 15% there, with 59% in active gaming mode.

The project commences with a detailed market segmentation and baseline energy demand assessment. This is followed by the development of measurement and benchmarking protocols for gaming software and hardware that combine gaming performance and energy use. A representative array of GPCs and games will then be cross-benchmarked and retrofitted to achieve maximal energy savings beyond what commercialized products currently attain. An energy reporting system will be devised and deployed in a test bed of approximately 100 in-use PCs, and then offered to the gaming community at large. 

Anticipated Benefits

Results will spur component and integrated system manufacturers and game developers to bring more efficient offerings to the market. The project will also identify promising avenues for policy. Millions of California ratepayers stand to benefit from the project through lowered energy costs without compromising on their video game choices. Specific benefits for California include:

  • Energy Cost Savings: The project supports near-term savings of $500 million annually (3 TWh) by reducing the energy required for digital gaming, an R&D cost associated with this project of $0.0005/first-year kWh saved, resulting in a 340:1 return per R&D dollar invested. The energy “bill” for a typical GPC is $236/year (with a 75% savings potential), perhaps more than any other miscellaneous plug load. Savings will free up money to be spent instead on gaming software and hardware, further improving the gaming experience.
  • Environmental benefits: The targeted energy savings corresponds to 1 million tons of CO2eq emissions each year, at a cost of $1.51/first-year tonne avoided.
  • Consumer appeal: Gamers are intently focused on noise, heat management, and thermal comfort. Energy efficiency improvements help garner these non-energy benefits.
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[1] Mills, N. and E. Mills. 2015. "Taming the Energy Use of Gaming Computers," Energy Efficiency. DOI 10.1007/s12053-015-9371-1.

Evan Mills,
Mar 2, 2016, 1:16 PM