Turn down the power, turn up the performance

Can you really do that?

Gaming is a major social and technological phenomenon, engaged in by a third to a half of humanity. Unfortunately, the associated energy use has been understudied, and passed over in most energy policy and planning initiatives.

Power in games uses power.

Seeking to correct an important oversight in the relationship between energy use and computers, The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL) associated with University of California developed a profile of the California PC gaming marketplace for the purposes of performing energy analysis. The resulting analytical platform is based on best-available data and industry expert opinions.

Constituent data include an array of 25 individual gaming systems, operated by four user types across multi-step duty cycles, and running a representative assortment of game titles. This market segmentation spans the spectrum of gaming experience, system performance, and power requirements, and is leveraged to develop a characterization of the installed base of gaming equipment and its use.

LBL found there are currently more than 15 million video-gaming devices in use in California. While the absolute number is projected to decline somewhat in response to the increasing popularity of mobile gaming, the mix of platforms and their applications will shift towards increasingly energy-intensive configurations. This analysis also sheds light on significant energy efficiency improvements occurring in the marketplace and other drivers of energy demand. In subsequent phases of this project, the specified gaming systems will be bench-tested and the results used to generate aggregate baseline energy demand assessments for California and scenarios for the future.

This report reviews available energy-relevant information on the non-battery-powered video gaming market, including associated technology trends and gaps in the consumer information environment.

LBL points out that extensive gaming market data are available, although the information is almost universally collected and analyzed without energy analysis in mind. Survey methods also vary widely, and are often undisclosed. The marketplace is highly heterogeneous—from both technology and user-behavioral standpoints—representing perhaps the most complex energy end-use. Measured energy use estimates for gaming PCs and laptops are almost non-existent. Console energy use estimates vary widely, with a range of IO-fold. Other highly energy-relevant questions not adequately addressed in the existing market data are:

  • The changing size and mix of gaming technologies in the installed base
  • Total time spent in active gaming and non-gaming modes, by platform type
  • User behavioral choices (activation of power management, overclocking, etc.)
  • Changing performance expectations and power requirements of gaming software and associated hardware.
  • The popularity of cloud-based gaming will shift significant workload, and thus energy, from local clients to data centers.
  • Emerging technologies. Virtual reality may prove to be the most important emerging technology. From an energy perspective, new power requirements will be created by VR equipment. Perhaps more importantly, it will place extra computing demands and performance expectations on the gaming PC’s graphics processor.

The LBL report assembles a comprehensive profile of the video gaming market in California for the purposes of energy analysis. LBL has identified gaming hardware configurations, and associated user settings. Combining these data streams produces a novel platform for integrated assessment of unit energy use and aggregate demand, based on best-available data, actual measurements, and industry expert opinions. This platform includes the installed base and duty cycles while defining specific, measurable gaming systems that span the full spectrum of gaming experience, performance, and power requirements. LBL found that there are multiple factors that stand to drive the energy use of gaming PCs higher in the near term. The next step in the process is lab- bench product testing to quantify the energy consumption in each major usage mode (active gaming, web browsing, idle, sleep, etc.). These results will be combined with information on the installed base to obtain baseline aggregate energy demand and develop scenarios for the future.

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