New generation GPUs might literally be making the world worse in unexpected ways.
In fact, turns out the whole way enthusiast approach PC Gaming is kinda unsustainable long term.
All right, let me explain. The last year or so has either been fantastic, or terrible to be a gamer. Companies have released both amazing new generation hardware and games and also struggled like the rest of the tech world to keep the hardware in stock.
Still, PC Gaming is in a better position in general than it has been in a long time, and people’s interest in the hobby continues to grow. But there are a couple of things about a lot of the new hardware that, for the last two generations, has secretly been irritating me, and I just had no excuse to mention it on a Blog.
Open almost any review of any recent GPU and there occasionally is a section about power consumption and the cost of a power supply needed, but this is something that is rarely mentioned in the conclusion or that rarely sticks in people’s minds. If you ask any average enthusiast following this hobby about the new GPUs you will usually hear something like:
“The Nvidia GPUs are very good,
because they deliver much better performance compared to last-gen for the same price”. I do not think I have ever been in a conversation when anyone mentions the sharply increasing power consumption of these things, and that is… interesting.
Here is another example of how this topic seems to be always ignored. I did a video not that long ago, talking about the GTX 1650, NVidia’s last-gen “budget” offering. Part of what motivated me to do that is that if you ever suggest that GPU online, you are inevitably met with a deluge of people answering with some variant of: “Just buy an older gen AMD GPU like the RX 580 or 570.
Better performance and can be found cheaper, new”. And my main criticism in the past to that argument had to with AMD’s not so great power supply and pricing, but the fact is these older AMD GPUs use way, way more energy for that. And that is rarely mentioned.
The way power consumption is generally taken out of the PC gaming conversation led me to an unexpected research rabbit hole, which reached a fever dream point of weirdness, when LowSpecGamer actually got an opportunity to work in partnership with Bill Gates,
yes! That Bill Gates. To put this obsession of mine into an actual Blog. Bill Gates is releasing a new book on what humanity needs to do to avoid climate disaster,
that has to be one of the best and more complete beginner-friendly explanations I have ever read,
about just how to navigate this topic as a non-scientists, and it helped me realize that a lot of what
I thought climate change was wrong. Now here is an important disclaimer in case it was not clear. I am very far from being a climate expert, and I defer most of the bigger ideas about this to people who actually study things like this for a living, and have been doing so for years like my colleague Simon, a person with an actual Ph.D. in climate science.
What I am is someone that spends way too much time asking questions about pc gaming and gaming technology that no one else seems to be doing.
And this book gave me a lot of questions, that I feel few people in PC Gaming are asking, and by the end of this, I think you are going to have a bunch of questions too.
Let’s start somewhere: if you break down the source of all the greenhouse gases in the world,in totals it’s the equivalent of about 51 billion tons of carbon emissions.
The second-biggest with a whopping 27% is power generation, electricity.
Now, what got me into this whole line of thought in the first place, was wondering the effect my gaming time had on power consumption and climate change in general based on a few facts.
While it is a given that power consumption for gaming machines tend to increase over time,as they become more powerful, things like video game consoles have been doing a rather impressive job at keeping somewhat consistent power consumption requirement.
High-end PC gaming? It’s not. It is shocking how just graphic cards have increased in power consumption generation over generation.
While it is true that there are increases in performance and features, our industry rarely seems to care about power efficiency.
AMD is doing a bit better in this regard, in fact, they made a big deal about their improvement on performance per watt during their GPU presentations: We designed RDNA specifically for gaming, and our first-gen RDNA products deliver 50% better performance per watt over our GCN architecture.
But this is likely the side effect of their GPU architecture being the one powering consoles, which the console market does care more about heat and power consumptions than the PC gaming market does. However, you probably noticed how I am using high-end GPUs as a reference, which is very unusual for me.
The reason I started there is because when you look at entry-level GPUs, things change dramatically. Architectural improvements mean that entry-level GPUs dramatically increase in performance generation over a generation, with very little increases in peak performance.
I am always shocked at how little conversation there is on how entry-level GPUs constantly improve performance per wat.
This just never comes up. Now, to be fair, one thing this book helped me understand is that, general increases in power consumption, in a population, are not always a bad thing.
As countries develop and people have access to more commodities to make their lives better, their power consumption increases, which is usually a sign that people are living better and longer lives; and the reason why it is so important to make renewable energy a valid option for developing countries.
However, there’s a point where this relation breaks. There is a reason why people in developed countries, particularly places like the United States consume way, way more power than someone in most of the rest of the world.
The impact of more luxury-oriented items on carbon generation is disproportionally high. Now the problem is that in PC Gaming, so many people act like high-end is the standard, rather than the deluxe option.
Imagine if some of the PC budget gaming options received a significant amount of attention from enthusiasts, as it happens in the console world for things like the Xbox Series S. Ok, to be fair, as the book kept reminding me,
it’s not that simple. For example, if you are someone like me in a country in the European Union, like Spain, where a big chunk of energy generation is renewables or nuclear energy; your weather impact is going to be less than someone in a developing country, where most of the energy can come from coal or oil.
And as renewables technologically improve, there is a pathway to 0 emission electricity there somewhere.
So, another thing this book has taught me is: to think about it more globally. Our entire way of life is so tied with greenhouse gas emissions, that it crops up in all the places if you were not paying attention to it.
Not electricity, or cars or planes. Why this is so big is a large topic that is better summarized by the book, and it has to do a lot with raw materials like steel and concrete.
But I wondered at this point so… are you actually doing better by buying new, more power-efficient components; or sticking to your existing components for longer?
Answering that question in any capacity took a bit more than I expected. Major companies release annual corporate responsibility reports that usually, only mention greenhouse gases in the context of how much work they have done to lower how much they generate, with some very sneaking wording on the fact that they have actually increased their emissions as the company grows, they are just increasing slower than they normally would.
But if you dig hard enough, you can find things like this page from HP: As part of their sustainability reports, HP makes surprisingly detailed documents of the carbon footprint of a lot of their