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How green is your PC?

When will gamers destroy the planet? The day after tomorrow, suggest scientists...

The end is nigh. Ice caps are melting, polar bears are being forced to beg for coins outside bus stations, and everyone is moving to the Midlands as coastal areas shrink
and temperatures soar. Good god, we're doomed. OK, so global warming scaremongers occasionally get carried away with stories about our impending demise, but even the most delusional flat-earthers can no longer deny it. Things are definitely heating up.

Homo sapiens have been farting obscene amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, but what's that got to do with you and me? After all, incinerating zombies in Half-Life 2 is hardly the same as incinerating lumps of rainforest. Or is it? The more electricity you use, the more blokes in a factory somewhere burn stuff. The average UK citizen has a carbon footprint of 11.81 tonnes and research shows that home entertainment gizmos are hefty contributors.


What's more, gaming PCs are the Chelsea Tractors of home technology. A single graphics card can consume about 145 watts, and many high-end PCs run two cards at the same time. Plus of course, there's additional drainage from high-end processors, hard drives, fans and peripherals.

Fiona Gatt, editor of the VIA Arena website, recently ran an experiment using a PC with an AMD FX55, 2.41GHz processor and an ATI X1900 GT graphics card. A Thermaltake power supply displayed the total wattage for each PC activity. Email drew 175W, Windows Movie Player drew 188W, but at the top of the pile were two games: Call Of Duty (292W to 334W) and Blazing Angels (240W to 338W).

Combine these fi ndings with the fact that many of us leave our machines on almost 24/7, consuming around 150 watts when we're nowhere near them, and PC gamers might as well drive to the ice caps and start a bonfi re with baby seals.

PC ZONE's hardware editor Phil Wand says: "Most people don't have a clue about being energy efficient, least of all when it comes to luxury items." Nicholas Carr, author of the book Does IT Matter, agrees. "There are to kicking a football to having sex, that leave far smaller carbon footprints (than gaming). If the choice is between playing World Of Warcraft and flying a private jet, you're going to use less energy playing the game. But for most people, that's not the trade-off."

Carr recently estimated the electricity consumption of the average Second Life citizen by combining an individual's PC usage with SL's power grid. It translated into 1.17 tons of CO2 production per virtual citizen per year - the equivalent of driving an SUV for 2,300 miles.


"Gamers should be concerned about this, just as they should be concerned about other ways they consume energy. But I don't think they need to feel guilty about it," Carr reassures us.

Much of the responsibility lies at the feet of the games industry itself, especially MMOG hosts. A 2007 survey entitled 'Estimating Total Power Consumption by Servers in the US and the World' revealed that online servers account for 1.2% of all power consumption in the United States and 0.8% worldwide.

"Blizzard are rumoured to have 500 servers for World Of Warcraft alone," says Wand. "Add in all the other titles, all the other genres, add in the games-mad Koreans, then consider that a fully occupied server will be using more power than a colour TV, and you have some serious power slurping going on. And that's before you consider the millions of people actually playing the games at the other end."

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