How to make your PC more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly


It’s funny how gamers will jump through all sorts of hoops to save a fic­tional planet if they’re asked to by a quest-giv­ing NPC, but rarely think about do­ing the same when it comes to the real thing. The en­ergy-guz­zling PC sit­ting on, or be­low, your desk may not com­pare to a coal-fired power plant when it comes to en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact, but a 2015 study ( en­er­gypc) found that a typ­i­cal gam­ing com­puter uses about the same amount of en­ergy as three re­frig­er­a­tors (or ten Xbox con­soles). So here’s a quest for you—how can you make your PC more en­vi­ron­men­tally-friendly, and qui­eter and cheaper to run in the process?

Let’s out­line the prob­lem first. It prob­a­bly hasn’t es­caped your at­ten­tion that the planet is get­ting warmer and hu­mans are re­spon­si­ble. The Earth can reg­u­late its tem­per­a­ture over long time spans, but our fond­ness for dig­ging up and burn­ing coal, oil and gas is tip­ping the scales. The green­house gases that are re­leased in the process act as a blan­ket that in­ter­cepts heat as it’s be­ing vented out into space and redi­rects it back to the sur­face. If your com­puter was pow­ered by re­new­able en­ergy, this wouldn’t be such a prob­lem. But more than half of the UK’s elec­tric­ity in 2016 came from burn­ing fos­sil fu­els.

The study men­tioned above found that gam­ing PCs only ac­count for about 2.5% of PCs world­wide, but they ac­count for about 20% of global com­puter en­ergy use. Those num­bers have prob­a­bly changed since then with the rise of cryp­tocur­rency min­ing, but the truth re­mains that gamers— while rel­a­tively few in num­ber com­pared to other PC users— bear an out­sized share of en­ergy us­age.

An in­con­ve­nient truth

Cli­mate change is not the only prob­lem. The com­po­nents that your com­puter was built from con­tain ma­te­ri­als that were once buried be­low the ground. Min­ing these sub­stances in­vari­ably means de­stroy­ing the habi­tat around the mine, and pol­lut­ing a much wider area. Huge chunks of the pro­ceeds of min­ing of­ten go to the cof­fers of cor­rupt gov­ern­ments, which use it to wage war. And the raw ma­te­ri­als and fin­ished com­po­nents are trans­ported around the world by cargo ships, which use some of the dirt­i­est fu­els in the world.

If none of that con­vinced you that this is some­thing you should care about, then here’s the kicker—en­ergy and ex­otic ma­te­ri­als are ex­pen­sive! Mak­ing your PC greener also means mak­ing it cheaper and qui­eter. Build­ing a PC ex­plic­itly de­signed to use less re­sources may cost a lit­tle more in the short term, but the long-term sav­ings on your elec­tric­ity bills will be worth it.

So, how do we get started? Let’s be­gin with soft­ware— first, dig into your power man­age­ment set­tings. This lets you au­to­mat­i­cally shut off your dis­play and/or al­low your

com­puter to go to sleep when you’re not us­ing it. Pick set­tings you feel com­fort­able with, and re­mem­ber that these things only kick in when you step away from the screen—so be ag­gres­sive. You can al­ways tone it down later.

Next up, visit your GPU set­tings. Ad­just them for max­i­mum ef­fi­ciency (which of­ten also means smoother fram­er­ates). If you’re an AMD user, you might have ac­cess to Radeon Chill, which keeps an eye on your in-game move­ments, and ad­justs your fram­er­ate so that it’s high when you need it and low when you don’t. V-Sync is an­other good one to switch on if you haven’t al­ready—it’ll stop your GPU pro­duc­ing frames your mon­i­tor can’t phys­i­cally dis­play. You might also want to pick a tar­get frame rate for the GPU. This lets you cap your FPS, so you’re not dis­play­ing a menu screen at 2000fps. The goal of all of these kinds of fea­tures is to main­tain per­for­mance while re­duc­ing power us­age, so they’re ba­si­cally a win-win sit­u­a­tion. Lower power us­age means fans don’t need to run so hard, so your ma­chine will be qui­eter too.

price and per­for­mance

If you’re build­ing a new ma­chine then there are a few more things to keep in mind. Nor­mally a PC build means trad­ing off two things: Price and per­for­mance. But adding power ef­fi­ciency to that list brings ben­e­fits in both of those cat­e­gories. You’ll spend less in the long term, and get more bang for your buck at the same time. When shop­ping for com­po­nents, this means check­ing the ratio of power use be­tween ac­tive and idle modes. This can vary wildly be­tween seem­ingly sim­i­lar parts, and you want it high—which means the com­po­nent isn’t suck­ing power when you’re not us­ing it. These specs aren’t al­ways avail­able, so don’t be afraid to contact the maker or look up third-party mea­sure­ments.

Pick the right power sup­ply for your build—not too small, ob­vi­ously, but also not too big. Power sup­ply cal­cu­la­tors are easy to find on­line, where you pick the make and model of each of your com­po­nents and it’ll tell you what you need. Some of them even let you man­u­ally set clock speeds, for if you’re plan­ning to over­clock your system. Once it spits out a recommended PSU wattage, round the value up to the nearest 50W and you’re good to go.

You should also con­sider sec­ond-hand parts. Not only are they good value, they come with a huge en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fit over a new com­po­nent. Why? Be­cause the re­sources and en­ergy that went into their cre­ation are still be­ing used, and not be­ing sent to landfill. If you’re think­ing about the whole life­cy­cle of a com­po­nent, it makes en­vi­ron­men­tal sense to pro­long its lifespan as long as pos­si­ble.

Some­times the world’s en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems can seem over­whelm­ing, and it might feel like setting your screen to auto turn off won’t make any tan­gi­ble dif­fer­ence. But just think­ing about the prob­lem has a real im­pact—putting it in the fore­front of your brain means you’ll start mak­ing bet­ter en­vi­ron­men­tal de­ci­sions in all parts of your life. Worst case sce­nario? You’ll have a lean, mean, quiet, and ef­fi­cient ma­chine to dis­tract you when the apoc­a­lypse comes. Dun­can Geere

Mak­ing your PC greener Also means mak­ing it cheaper and qui­eter

FAR LEFT: Pick the right parts when build­ing a PC to make it more ef­fi­cient.

LEFT: A greener PC will help the en­vi­ron­ment and save you money.

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