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

Measuring Specific Power Consumption Per Application

What We Measure, And For How Long

There are applications where the GPU load remains pretty much the same during the whole period of use (for instance, simple 2D and 3D applications in windowed mode), and those where the load fluctuates a lot more (games). Because of this, it is of no use to sample power consumption just once, but it has to be measured over a long period of time and then turned into an average value. 

For games, we selected different levels and tested for at least 15 minutes. Of course, we measured the consumption at idle as well. Each measurement was done with our low-end card first and then repeated with each of the high-end cards.

What We Measure With

We used a standard power consumption data logger, so that our results are easier to reproduce for anyone.

Despite the relatively low purchase price, it provides a usage log that is quite sufficient for analysis. The Voltcraft Energy Logger 4000 from Conrad Electronic is a product available in Germany, but we found that there are similar products available in other markets, including the US. Our device also outputs the power consumption in volt-amperes, as well as in watts. Of course, we chose the latter.

We would also like to point out that many cheap devices are not capable of measuring the consumption of hardware with switching power supplies with sufficient accuracy. Our device should be fine, as long as the measured values do not fall below 1-2 W.

The device stores all data on a regular SD card. Charts are created easily by importing the data files into Microsoft Excel or something similar. In the end, the important value for us is the average power consumption of the overall system, per specific application, in watts.

Measurement Accuracy and Value Determination

Since the measurement interval (sampling rate) of one minute can be a bit too long to catch the varying values when playing games, we instead set the logger to record the total consumption for our 15 minute gaming period. This way, we get a value with much higher resolution through a simple calculation: a measured power consumption of 57 Wh over a 15 minutes period of time equals an average consumption of 228 W.

Create a new thread in the US Reviews comments forum about this subject
This thread is closed for comments
103 comments
Comment from the forums
    Your comment
    Top Comments
  • 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.