What Do High-End Graphics Cards Cost In Terms Of Electricity?

Initial Idea And Power Consumption Definition

Initial Consideration and Basic Idea

The initial concept behind this article was that maximum graphics card performance is not always needed. In fact, it's rarely needed. And over long periods of time, you'll experience something closer to the middle of what a given GPU can do. The average user will not just play games continuously, and even the most demanding and graphics-heavy titles do not always use one hundred percent of the available graphics card resources and performance.

Thus, we first first considered what sort of user would install a high-end graphics card at all, and then we monitored common usage habits. This is where personal preference, prices, and available budget situation play large roles.

User Profiles and Software Use

We decided to use a couple of popular old stereotypes, because they are actually not that far from the truth. For starters, we imagined a young gamer who mostly plays intense, graphically-demanding shooters, heavily focused on high frame rates dependent on online communication and media consumption. As a counterpart, we imagine an older enthusiast who has the money to buy expensive technology, purchases it mostly out of interest, but sometimes uses his toys for playing very demanding games at high resolutions.

Somewhere below these extremely high-end cases, we have a more typical user (for example, a child or spouse of an enthusiast), who is using last year’s technology. This could be because because it was handed down to them, or because they buy a bunch of expensive hardware every few years, but not much in between that. The folks who fit this profile use a variety of mixed applications without any particular focus.

We chose some popular software and a couple of modern games with varying performance demands in an effort to regarding performance.

The Real Cost of Buying and Owning Hardware Includes the Power Bill

We take a slightly different approach in defining power consumption. The more well-endowed your graphics card, the more your CPU has to work in order to feed it with data. Again, at the extreme end, we see this when we try to match a mainstream processor up to a CrossFire- or SLI-based configuration and observe severe bottlenecks. So, while it is possible, it is actually not perfectly relevant to separate the power consumptions of the graphics card and CPU. We are more interested in their combined values, as that is more useful for calculating the real cost.

In order to get a low reference power consumption value, we installed a very basic graphics card and measured the total system consumption. The values of the other test system setups used in the test are based on the measured difference compared to this low reference value. The power consumption values are thus relative to what we measured for the basic graphics card, and not absolute power consumption values.

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  • scook9
    They are also neglecting the positive side effects like not needing a space heater in the winter....you recoup alot of energy right there :D
  • damric
    I don't get it. Are they saying that a GTX 480 will cost a hard core gamer $90/year in electricity? Seems like a drop in the bucket considering my power bills are over $90/month in the winter and over $250/month in the summer. Just think of all the money the hard core gamer saves from not having a girlfriend :D
  • Other Comments
  • alikum
    Nvidia cards consume power like crazy
  • damric
    I don't get it. Are they saying that a GTX 480 will cost a hard core gamer $90/year in electricity? Seems like a drop in the bucket considering my power bills are over $90/month in the winter and over $250/month in the summer. Just think of all the money the hard core gamer saves from not having a girlfriend :D
  • scook9
    They are also neglecting the positive side effects like not needing a space heater in the winter....you recoup alot of energy right there :D
  • porksmuggler
    ^Tell me about it, warmest room in the house right here. Turn the thermostat down, and boot the rig up.

    Typo on the enthusiast graph. calculations are correct, but it should be 13ct/kWh, not 22ct/kWh.
  • jimslaid2
    Glad I bought the 6870 over the gtx 460 1g
  • aznshinobi
    The fact that you mentioned a porsche. no matter what the context. I love that you mentioned it :D
  • AMW1011
    So at worst, my GTX 480 is costing me $90 a year? Sorry if I'm not alarmed...

    Also I can't imagine having 8 hours of gaming time every day. 5 hours even seems extreme. Sometimes, you just can't game AT ALL in a day, or a week.

    Some people do have lives...
  • nebun
    alikumNvidia cards consume power like crazy

    who cares....if you have the money to buy them you can pay for the electricity...it's just like SUVs, you have the money to buy them you can keep them running
  • nebun
    AMW1011So at worst, my GTX 480 is costing me $90 a year? Sorry if I'm not alarmed...Also I can't imagine having 8 hours of gaming time every day. 5 hours even seems extreme. Sometimes, you just can't game AT ALL in a day, or a week.Some people do have lives...

    i run my 480 sli rig to fold almost 24/7...do i care about my bill...HELL NO
  • Darkerson
    Very nice article! Keep it up!
  • Kodiack
    Your enthusiastic profiles aren't all that enthusiastic. :( I'm sure my Radeon 5970+5870 tri-CrossFire combination will cost me quite a few dollars over the months. Fortunately, I've got some pretty good power-saving features in use to lighten the pain.
  • ohseus
    I;d be curious to see a toaster, a microwave,a light bulb or ceiling fan (some thing of hat sort) added the power consumption list for comparisons sake.
  • eddieroolz
    A very interesting article. I only game once every few days if at all now, so I guess it makes sense for me to stay with my GTS 250 for now.

    By the way, space heater ftw!
  • compton
    It would be really useful to know what a folding setup running 24/7 costs. Perhaps one day you could use it to get a "Folding for the Future" tax credit on the books. Maybe Toms can lead the lobbying effort in Washington.


    Compared to the 4000w, 240v industrial space heater I was using over Christmas, my computer will have to work all year to match the utility cost.

    I second "space heater ftw!"
  • pinkfloydminnesota
    Great article. I hope you can somehow include these costs in reviews as electricity costs go higher and video cards get more powerful.

    I am able to lower the heat in my Minnesota corner room tx to the pc on the floor and the screens on the desk!
  • sudeshc
    absolutely right that if you can buy them you can run them.
  • Anonymous
    39$ / year? Why an article about it? Lobbying?
  • liquidsnake718
    Yes! Score for my (now og) 5850!!!!!!!!!!!! What about in crossfire though?
  • emergancy exit
    i think the main power burners are the people who buy high end graphics cards and then use them on old displays. wasting money on power your power bill without getting the benifit of higher resolution. that and cheap power suplies. i ALLWAYS see people use the cheapest power suply that fits their needs paying the extra $15-50 dollars really pays off in the long run. i still believe that your power suply can effect your power bill more then your other equipment.

    what i got from this article is that it really pays to have a power profile schedule and making use of puting yoru computer in sleep mode when your not useing it. and useing the windows power profile "balenced" and only use the high performance profile when you are gaming/number cruncher/redering/video editing
  • adamcom25334
    Switchable Graphics - many laptops have it, but how many desktop MoBos allow for that?? None that I know of, even the ones with on-board video. Hoping that Sandy Bridge X68 will.