FAQs

  1. How did LBNL get interested in this? One of our sons wanted to build a gaming PC.  
    • When we saw the potential power requirements we turned it into a scoping study that eventually grew into the current project. He is first author on the original journal article.
  2. Who is funding this work and does the industry have input?
    • Our current sponsor is the California Energy Commission, through a R&D program called EPIC which runs on funds collected through electricity tariffs .  We are assembling an industry advisory board and working with consultants and other groups to ensure that the research is relevant and usable.
  3. What is interesting about this work? 
    • It's a rare example of a specific end-use domain that has been unstudied.  There is potential to make a big difference. While the energy use of conventional PCs has been falling for some time (thanks in large part to energy policies), that of gaming PCs continues to rise, as do the number in use.
  4. What do you think are likely to be the most effective ways to cut energy use by gaming PCs and why?  
    • There are three main "prongs": hardware, software, and user choices.  On the hardware side, the graphics card ("GPU" is the greatest single node of energy use.  We have seen a huge range in energy use per unit of performance (e.g. frames per second rendering rates), and so are very optimistic in that regard.  On the software side, we are confident that given games can be designed with greater efficiency in mind without compromising user experience. On the user side, there are many untapped operational fixes (such as turning off unused slots in the motherboard).
  5. What are the biggest challenges in this work?  
    • The full magnitude of the problem and the diversity of efficiency opportunities are not yet on the radar within the industry or the user base, so there is a large learning curve to address.  There are also no widely accepted benchmarks of energy use, and so this is the place we must begin so as to have a common framework for talking about and describing energy use and savings in a consistent manner.
  6. Have you found any surprises in this work?  
    • One example is that we initially thought that virtual reality would bring with it some autonomous energy savings (since the display is eliminated), but have learned that the computational requirements of the graphics cards (a shift from 30-60 frames per second to 90-120 fps) will increase such that those savings will be more than offset. We're still in the early stages of the project and are sure there will be many more interesting findings as we go along.
  7. From what you know so far, what kinds of policies might be most effective?  
    • As this market segment is virtually untouched by the energy policy community, a wide array of possibilities exist.  These include component labeling, full system labeling, R&D into improved technology, consumer information, utility financial incentives (e.g. rebates).  If voluntary strategies such as those listed don't suffice, policymakers may look to mandatory efficiency standards.
  8. How has the gaming community and industry responded to the research? 
    • We've had the whole gamut of reactions. Many people react to brief news summaries without reading the actual report.  People tend to compare their particular machine and personal utilization to our "average" one and balk at any differences.  Of course, no one person is average but one needs to use averages in order to extrapolate to large scales.  Lots of people assert that it's not cost-effective to save energy, but this is a red herring insofar as some things can be done that cost nothing, other things will have a reasonable payback time, and others will yield non-energy benefits such as noise and heat reduction that are certainly valued by gamers.  Some people are in disbelief that energy use can be reduced without taking a performance hit, but the data show clearly that this is quite possible.
  9. From comments in the blogosphere, it seems that  some gamers don’t much care about the environmental - what’s one thing you would say to those groups? 
    • Many people say that they simply don't care about energy or environment and that gaming is a necessity rather than an option.  We are actually not advocating that people stop gaming or even reduce it, only to look at ways of specifying more efficient rigs.  Even if environment isn't regarded as important, an inefficient gaming PCs also release tons of heat and are noisier than efficient ones, so, it's a win-win proposition to improve efficiency ... not to mention saving money. The younger set may count on their parents to pay energy bills, but they will begin to become aware now and it will be a shock. Others care, but think our attention is misplaced.  It's easy to dismiss any particular use of energy as being insignificant, and easy to point to "big polluters" elsewhere.  The reality is that energy use is highly diffuse and there is no magic bullet or single type of use that will solve the problem.  Gaming computers use more energy than previously thought, with each one consuming as much as three new US refrigerators. And gaming PCs are about the only piece of equipment left that has had a free ride in terms of no energy labeling, standards, or incentives for improvement ... this double standard will no doubt soon be resolved.
  10. Are there free/cheap things that gamers can do to monitor their energy use, and if so, is there a place for crowdsourced data?  
    • Crowdsourcing would be a great idea.  I don't know of anywhere that does it at any scale.  However, before this could be done meaningfully there would need to be standard, accepted methodologies for measuring ... otherwise we will just have a lot of inconclusive apples-and-oranges data.  This is one of the goals of our current project.
  11. What single piece of advice would you give to someone building a new gaming PC? 
    • Carefully do the math to determine your total cost of ownership (purchase + operations).  A $2000 machine could use again that much energy over just a few years....   If you're in a place with high electricity prices the operating cost can be particularly prohibitive.  Take the challenge of improving efficiency as a cool challenge and geek out on it!
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