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PC power consumption is getting out of control

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Innovation in the PC space is accelerating these days, but that comes at a cost. As the hardware in our PCs continues to improve, power consumption is spiraling out of control. AMD, NVIDIA and Intel continue to push the limits, but at what price?

The problem

The big hardware releases of 2022 from NVIDIA, AMD, and Intel are absurdly powerful. However, that speed comes at a cost, and is the continuation of a problem that has been slowly developing in recent years.

The NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4090 graphics card works with its predecessor, the RTX 3090. But it draws 450W from its power supply to run. That’s 100W more than the RTX 3090 and the same as the RTX 3090 Ti. A possible RTX 4090 Ti, if it ever sees the light of day, will probably consume around 550-600W alone, if not more: the AD102 die used by the GPU is power capped at 800W.

Intel Core 13th gen processor on blue background.

What about the CPUs? Well, AMD’s Ryzen 9 7950X CPU, with 16 cores and 24 threads, has a TDP of 170W – leave room for at least 230W for peak power, as that’s the power limit of socket AM5. That’s a dramatic increase from AM4 chips, where the top-end Ryzen 9 5950X had a TDP of just 105W. Intel’s Core i9-13900K has a TDP of 125W, but Intel CPUs have been known to spike Aggressive power outputs: Its predecessor, the Core i9-12900K, is known to hit 250 W.

In general, everything consumes more energy, even though new products use more efficient processes. Both the new Ryzen chips and the new RTX graphics cards use TSMC’s 5nm process. Intel uses 10nm and was already using 14nm in 2021, but that’s another story.

Why is energy efficiency important?

Gaming PC with RGB lights inside and an open glass door.
Syafiq Adnan / Shutterstock.com

The fact that everything uses more energy is important for several reasons. It means that the consequences of that energy consumption difference are transferred to you, the user.

For one thing, you need to buy a more powerful (and more expensive) power supply to power your PC components. Looking at the 2016 gaming PC build guides, we can find that for a PC equipped with an Intel Core i7-6700K and a GeForce GTX 1080, a 650W power supply is recommended.

Meanwhile, for a high-end gaming PC in 2022, 650W just isn’t enough. With the RTX 4090 graphics card and AMD Ryzen 9 7950X CPU, you’re looking at 620W of power between just two components, leaving no room for potential power spikes, or any other components. You need at least an 850W PSU for such a PC, and opting for a 1000W one wouldn’t be entirely unreasonable. You may need even more, if you plan on overclocking.

While a 1000W PSU would have been considered overkill years ago, it’s now a reasonable choice for some PCs. That should say a lot on its own.

We also have to talk about the problems that come with drawing so much power from your wall. Playing games on your PC consumes more and more power every time, and that has a double effect. You will have a higher electricity bill, especially if you tend to put yourself through intense multi-hour gaming sessions. There are also the obvious environmental costs of increased electricity use.

What can be done to change this?

CPU power supply circuit on a motherboard.
Skrypnykov Dmytro / Shutterstock.com

It’s not that the chipmakers don’t know. The purpose of die shrinks is to fit more transistors onto a chip while using less power at the same time. But at the same time, making chips better and better continues to cause power consumption to rise. Basically, the innovation is outweighing any energy efficiency gains we’re making. And while innovation is good, more needs to be done to improve performance per watt and energy efficiency metrics without necessarily hurting that innovation.

One thing you can do to help is to stay on top of how much power your PC is consuming. If you’re shopping for a power supply, you can buy one that’s certified 80+ Platinum or 80+ Titanium. These are the most efficient and will help you reduce the idle power consumption of your PC. If you’re willing to get more technical and don’t mind sacrificing some performance, you can also lower the clock or lower the voltage of various parts of your PC.

For now, the power consumption problem will continue to get worse, but PC space is changing fast, so it might not be like this forever.

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