How much is your computer heating up your home?

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Whether you work from home all day, play hard after hours, or both, your computer adds a measurable amount of heat to your home. Here’s why and how to calculate exactly how much you’re heating the place up.

Computers are surprisingly efficient heaters

Certainly everyone who uses a computer knows that they generate heat. If you put a laptop on your actual lap, it heats up pretty quickly. Anyone who has been gaming on a desktop computer knows that the room slowly heats up as the session progresses.

So the idea that a computer adds some heat to the room it’s in while it’s running isn’t necessarily shocking to most people. However, what surprises many people is how efficient computers are at converting electricity into heat.

Every bit of electricity a computer uses (as well as all the electricity used by peripherals like monitors, printers, etc.) is eventually released as heat.

In fact, assuming you set a heater to use the same power the computer uses, there would be no ultimate difference in room temperature between the heater and computer operation. Both use electricity to operate, and both “spilt” waste heat into the room at the end.

You can run the test yourself, but if you prefer to read the results from someone else running a computer vs. Confronting space heaters, you can rest easy knowing it’s been done. In 2013, Puget Systems, a custom PC building company, ran a fun test to see if a computer would actually perform exactly like a space heater under equivalent conditions.

They loaded up a PC with enough GPUs and hardware to match the output of the small basic 1000W heater they had purchased for the experiment and tested them in a room isolated from the building’s HVAC system. Did the ending work? Running the gaming PC under load to force it to match the 1000W output as closely as possible yielded an equivalent result in terms of ambient temperature rise.

Why is My House Cold with Heat On

We are sure that this will not surprise any physics student reading at home. The electrical energy put into a system has to go somewhere, and it enters the room as heat. Whether the source is an electric motor in a fan, a computer, a space heater, or even a toaster, the heat eventually finds its way into the room.

Besides, we would say that computers are, in a philosophical sense, not a strictly physical one, even more efficient than a space heater. A heater converts 100% of the electrical input to heat, and a computer converts 100% of the electrical input to heat, but a heater simply heats or doesn’t heat.

A computer, on the other hand, actually does all kinds of useful and interesting things for you while making the room a little warmer. You can run Condemn on a lot of things, after all, but you can’t run it on your space heater.

How to calculate how much heat your computer generates

A computer photographed with an infrared camera to show thermal energy.
Ivan Smuk/Shutterstock

It’s one thing to know that the electricity your computer uses will eventually end up as heat. It’s another thing to delve into the exact amount of heat you’re actually pumping into your home.

However, there is a wrong way and a right way to get to the bottom of the problem, so let’s dig deeper.

Do not use the rating of the power supply to estimate

The first thing to avoid is looking at the power supply’s rating as an indicator of how much heat your computer generates.

Your desktop PC’s power supply unit (PSU) may be rated at 800W, or the small print on the bottom of your laptop’s power brick may indicate it’s rated at 75W.

But those numbers don’t indicate the actual operating load on the computer. They simply indicate the maximum upper threshold. An 800W power supply doesn’t draw 800W every second it’s running: that’s the maximum load it can safely provide.

To further complicate matters, computers do not have a steady state when it comes to power consumption. If you have a heater with low, medium, and high settings of 300, 500, and 800 watts, respectively, you’ll know exactly how much power is consumed at each setting level.

With a computer, however, there’s a whole power curve beyond something as simple as High/Low. This curve includes everything from the small amount of power a computer needs to stay in sleep mode, to the modest amount of power it uses for simple daily tasks like browsing the web and reading email, to the largest amount of power required. to run a high-end GPU while playing a demanding game.

You can’t just look at a power label and calculate anything based on that, aside from calculating the absolute maximum amount of power the device could use.

Use a tool to measure the real power

Instead of estimating based on the label, you need to actually measure. To measure accurately, you need a tool that reports the wattage consumption of your computer and peripherals. If you have a UPS unit with an external display that shows the current load (or you have software that allows you to check load statistics via a USB uplink), you can use that.

We’d consider a UPS to be a crucial piece of hardware for everything from your desktop PC to your router, so if you don’t have one, now is a great time to pick one up.

If you don’t have a UPS (or your model doesn’t report power usage), you can also use a standalone power meter like the Kill A Watt meter. We love the Kill A Watt meter and you’ll see us use it often when showing you how to measure your power usage or answering questions like how much does it cost to charge a battery.

Simply plug Kill A Watt into the wall, connect your computer’s power strip to the device (so you can measure both the computer and peripherals), and then check the reading. Easy peasy.

If you use the actual measurement, you will quickly see that the power supply rating is not the actual power consumption, by a wide margin.

Here’s a real world example: I monitored my desktop computer’s power consumption with the meter built into the UPS and a Kill A Watt meter just to verify that the UPS reading was accurate.

The power supply for this machine is rated at 750W. But when it’s on and idle (or doing very basic tasks like writing this article or reading the news), the power draw is around 270W. Playing relatively light games got it into the 300W range.

When put under load, whether playing more demanding games or running a stress test-type benchmark application like 3DMark that taxes the processor and GPU, power consumption rises to around 490W. Despite a few moments flickering slightly above 500 W, at no time was the PC even close to reaching the 750 W power supply rating.

This is just an example of course, and your setup may have consumers with more or less power than mine, which is why you have to measure it to get to the bottom of things.

What to do with that information

Unfortunately, we can’t tell you “Okay, so your computer is adding 500W of power to your room, so it will raise the temperature of the room by 5 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour,” or anything like that.

There are simply too many variables at play. Maybe your home is a super-insulated concrete structure with triple-pane windows and an R-value insulation rating on par with a YETI cooler. Or maybe you live in an old farmhouse with no insulation, a constant draft, and single-pane windows.

The time of year also influences. When the sun beats down on your home in the summer, that extra bit of heat radiating from your gaming PC can make an otherwise bearable room unbearably hot. But in winter, it could feel quite cozy instead.

So while that 500W power value (or whatever that value is for your setup) will enter the space regardless, because all the electricity will eventually be converted to waste heat, which means that waste heat for your comfort level and room temperature is quite variable. If you want to see the actual Fahrenheit change before your eyes, place a tabletop thermometer in the room; This model is great for both at-a-glance information and tracking data with your phone.

In general, though, whether or not you throw a thermometer on the desk next to your game, you’ll have to assess based on your computer’s configuration, your home setup, and what kind of cooling options are available to you. you, how much energy use (and subsequent heat) you are willing to tolerate.

Also, you may want to consider changing your use depending on your needs and the weather. For example, if you’re really gaming with a lot of need for my GPU, you may need to turn on your desktop PC to get the experience you want.

Responding to emails or just doing light office work? Maybe turn on the laptop and drop the thermal power being pumped into the room from 300W to 50W or less. Many “light” games also work well on a laptop, so you don’t always need to turn on the desktop rig to play.

Just flipping through Reddit or reading the news? Maybe skip the desktop or laptop altogether and do those activities on your phone or tablet. In that time, it reduced power expenditure from hundreds of watts to just a few watts, keeping your living space significantly cooler in the process.

But hey, if you don’t want to give up all those gaming hours (nor do you want to add heat to your home and sweat in the process), you can always use a window air conditioner in the game room of your choice to both stay comfortable and they extract the extra heat that your gaming rig introduces.