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.

Two to three billion people around the world engage in digital gaming. Roughly 15 million gaming platforms are in use in California, and include mainstream personal computers and laptops used partly for gaming, specialized high-power PCs and laptops, and Video Game Consoles  together with 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 8K 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, with each new generation using more energy than the last. [1] Gaming computers use substantially more energy as the average mainstream PC. The energy use of GPCs is generally rising, due to increasing computational expectations, while that of mainstream PCs, VGCs, and media-streaming 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 larger share of total energy in active mode).

The project commenced with a detailed market segmentation and baseline energy demand assessment. This was 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 were cross-benchmarked and retrofitted to achieve maximal energy savings beyond what commercialized products currently attain. Energy used in the Internet and cloud-gaming servers was assessed. An energy reporting system was devised and deployed in a test bed of approximately 100 in-use PCs. 

Benefits

The results of our work enable component and integrated system manufacturers and game developers to bring more efficient offerings to the market. The project also identified 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: We found a 50% energy savings potential for PCs and 40% for consoles.
  • Environmental benefits: Efficiency improvements can garner significant reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions.
  • 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.