[How To] Reduce Power Consumption on Your PC: Detailed Guide
Every month I fear the day when the mailman brings the bills, and the one bill I fear the most is the electrical bill. This is the one that usually emptied my pocket, and for that reason I started looking towards ways to reduce the power drain in my house. Apart from the usual things: fridge, microwave, TV and others, the biggest power drainer is my PC.
How to Reduce Power Consumption on Your PC
We all know PC’s use a lot of power, especially if you have a gaming rig of multimedia station. These can have a big impact on your power bill, but fear not, there are ways to save some money. If you are worried that your PC is using too much power, then you should look up these simple tricks to reduce your electricity bill. I’ll try to talk about the best ways to do this, and here you have 3 main categories:
- Hardware upgrades
- Intelligent usage
- Software tweaks
First, we’ll look at what you can do to reduce your PC’s power consumption by altering your hardware and the way you use it. I know some of these will be counter intuitive, but bear with me and try them out for yourself. Some of you might ask: how is that possible? I’ll take you through each component that uses big amounts of power, and how to make them work with less.
1. CPU (Central Processing Unit)
The “brain” of your PC. This is a huge power user, averaging 100W (up to 150W in some high end CPUs). There are a few tricks you can try to reduce this power consumer.
Upgrade Your CPU, Get More Cores
Yes, that is correct. Some newer models of CPUs have better power management features that allow them to use less power, and there is the other benefit in having a better CPU: more performance. The bigger the numbers of cores, the better it is. First of all, the performance will drastically improve. But the most important, if you’ll have more cores, then your load management will decrese.
For example, if you have a single core CPU in full load (100%) it will use a great amount of power do work. If you have a quad core CPU (4 cores), each core only works at ~25%, so there you go. Your CPU will work at 25% load, that means lower temperature, a longer life for your CPU and less power consumed.
Built-in BIOS Power Saving
Open your BIOS menu, CPU settings and find the power options, according to your CPU maker:
- AMD Cool’n’Quiet
- Intel SpeedStep
- ACPI (Advanced Configuration and Power Interface, where you will find 2 options: S1, it stands for “Sleep” and S3 “which stands for Hibernate”)
If you have access to these features, then it would be good to enable them for better power management. They regulate the power that the CPU uses depending on the lead it has. The less power it requires, the lower the temperature, lesser the coolers have to work and therefore, the CPU saves power.
This is the opposite of overvoltage, which means an increase in the VCore (or Core Voltage) of your CPU. You have to lower the value of VCore in CPU settings. When you do an undervoltage, it means you decrease the voltage under the default value. Say, your CPU works at 2.375V, an undervoltage would mean making it work at 1.965V, or even less. But be careful when making changes to the voltages of your computer. Although there is not much harm you can cause, there is the risk of instability (for those who know what I’m talking about, this is the BSOD – Blue Screen of Death).
A BSOD is in itself harmless, it only relays that there is a problem with your computer. So I suggest after making ANY modification to your BIOS settings to do a stability test (with benchmark programs such as OCCT, SuperPI, Prime95 etc). These are the main ways to save power on your CPU. But keep in mind, if you want to overclock or benchmark your PC, then you might see a slight decrease in performance.
2. RAM Memory
As with the CPU, bigger RAM Memory is better for both the performance of your computer, but also as a power saver. In the RAM memory, your computer saves instructions that it uses regular. So it’s better to have more memory to store more instructions than for it to wipe and re-write them.
This will save a few Watts of power and it will also make a big difference in the performance of your PC. Also, you have to be careful how much RAM you use on your computer. As I will explain later on, more RAM will decrease the space of your HDD (Hard Disk Drive) in Hibernation Mode. But if you are not worried about this detail, then go with no less than 4 GB of DDR memory (I would recommend from 8-16 GB DDR3). Read more about our PC buying guide to find out what are the best options for you.
3. Bigger and Better HDD
Probably the most counter intuitive so far. How can a bigger HDD save more power? Well, the answer is simple when you know how a HDD works. If you have ever opened one before, you know that it looks like an old school record player. It has metal disks and a reading head that moves up and down the disks in order to find the information needed. Another thing you must know is the fact that the information is not in one place, but it’s spread on the entire surface of the disk (in tiny fragments).
A Bigger Hard Drive Saves Power
And so, in order to access that information, the reading head has to move on the entire occupied surface of the disk. Now, let’s imagine I have a 500GB HDD. The HDD is full and I want to watch a movie. The reading head of the HDD has to piece together the entire movie from the entire surface of the disk. That means that it has to move up and down the entire disk in order to read the information and find my movie. Now let’s imagine I want to watch the same movie on a 1TB HDD. Now, with 500GB, the HDD is only half full, the reading head has to move on only 50% of the disk in order to find the same information. That is half the distance it has to travel, which equals in less energy used.
Of course, you can find other solutions to the HDD problem, such as using a RAID configuration. For those who don’t know what RAID is, it’s the process of using 2 or more identical HDDs to store the same information. This will drastically increase the speed of your computer, and what that means is that the disks work for shorter periods, and therefore, they use less power.
SSD Provides Speed and Silence
Also in the Hard Drive section, I’ll mention another way to store your files that can save money in the long run: SSD (Solid State Drives). These are the fastest drives so far. They have no moving parts, they run lightning fast compared to HDDs, they are dead silent and use only a fraction of the power that a normal HDD uses, because they do not have complex mechanical systems, just integrated circuits.
The only downside of SSDs is the price. They cost wayyy more than HDDs and have much smaller sizes (32-256 GB, but there are a few that go up to 1.2 TB, but they cost a lot). But let’s think about it, if you do not have lots of files on your computer, you only use for web surfing and emailing, a 64GB SSD would be great for you. Top of the line performance with only a fraction of the power cost.
4. Video Card
Remember when I said the CPU uses an average of 100W of power? Well, that’s just a fraction of what video cards use. The latest models of video cards can push up to 200W power consumption, and the sad part about it is that you can’t do much about it. The only way to make your video card use less power is to do an undervoltage and reduce its frequency. This will lower your card’s performance but it will make it more power hungry (not by much though).
If you do not use your computer for gaming, then you might want to look towards a motherboard that has an integrated video card, that uses less power, but it does not have nearly as much performance as a regular card. Although, if you do decide to change the voltage or the frequency of your video card, remember to test its stability with dedicated programs such as MSI Afterburner and Kombustor, RivaTuner, OCCT etc. Also, be very careful! Unlike CPUs, you CAN break your video card if you do not know how to modify its parameters.
5. Power Supply
This is your best bet if you want to reduce the power consumption of your PC. If you have an older power supply, you might just want to throw it out the window and get yourself a new one. Older PSUs (Power Supply Unit) are not very efficient (somewhere at 50%), that means they only use 50% of the power drained from the socket to actually power your PC, the rest is wasted with heat. Newer PSUs have 80-90% efficiency, so they use the power more efficient and have lesser power loss. An added bonus of using a bigger and more efficient PSU is that it can power more equipment, so you won’t have to upgrade it when you upgrade your computer.
Old CRT monitors use lots of power, so if you have one, it might be time to think of upgrading to a LCD monitor, that uses less power and does not hurt your eyes as much, or even to a LED backlit monitor, which has the best image quality available and the best power management possible. LED monitors are the best power savers of all displays.
Use Your PC Wisely
Even if you do not use the, the peripherals use power when in idle mode. External HDDs, printers, speakers and anything else uses power even if you do not use them. The best thing is to unplug them when you do not use them.
2. Don’t Let Computer Idle
If you are not using your computer, then you might want to put it on sleep or hibernate. Sleep uses less power than idle mode simply because it partially shuts down your computer. Although your computer is not powered off, it uses less power because the sleep mode keeps only the necessary components “awake”.
An even better way to reduce power consumption is to put your computer on hibernate when not in use. This freezes your last known configuration and stores it in the RAM memory. That is why the amount of RAM memory you have will be taken out of your HDD. Hibernate is the best way, short of unplugging your PC, to reduce its power drain.
3. Energy Efficient Products
You can see that these products have the Energy Efficient logo, and that means that the product has been tested and it uses less energy than a regular one. So look for the blue logo whenever buying a new product. You’re also helping mother nature with this choice.
4. Use Substitutes
Yes, if you have to send an email, or something that does not require a high performance machine, try using your smartphone or tablet to do so. Even your Laptop, they all consume less energy than your computer and they all get the job done. These are the main tweaks and upgrades you can make on the hardware of your computer to make it more energy efficient. Keep in mind that if you do only 1 or 2 of these, you might not see a big difference on your electrical bill.
The key is to find a way to use most of these and then you will see a big difference in the long run. Hardware upgrades are very important in making your computer more energy efficient, but there are a few more tricks you can use to decrease your power consumption even more. That is to use the power management features that programs and operating systems provide. In the software part, you do not have as many options as on the hardware part. But they can make a difference.
1. Windows Power Plans
If you configure your computer to enter sleep or hibernate when idle, dim your display or close your display, then you might save some power when not using it. But, if you have downloads or other tasks, then you can program your computer to sleep and wake up according to your schedule. This option is available from BIOS, under Power-Up.
2. Power Plan Softwares
You might want to check out PowerSlave, this program can automatically change your power plans according to the load of your computer. For instance, it will use Power Save for emailing, web browsing or typing, and automatically switch to Performance Mode when you start playing a game. Or, you can use WakeUpOnStandby app to put your computer to sleep and wake according to a predefined schedule.
3. Close Background Programs
This will make the load on your PC lesser. And that mean a lower load on your CPU, therefore, lower power consumption. Here, Task Manager is your best friend for closing those programs. You will be surprised too see how much do some programs eat up.
4. Don’t Use Softwares That Eat Resources
For instance, VLC Player will reduce the load of your CPU when playing a video, as opposed to Windows Media Player. Also, IE8 has a lesser impact on your CPU than other web browsers, but, then again, it’s not that secure. Let’s hope that Internet Explorer 10 in Windows 8 will make a better job.
5. DO NOT Use Screen Savers
Yes, that’s right, screen savers use power, as specially graphic intensive screensavers. You are better off dimming your display or just closing the monitor when in stand by. If you are using an old CRT monitor, then until you change to an LCD or LED, try to avoid coloured desktop backgrounds or screensavers. It has been shown that black images reduce a CRT’s power consumption.
Ok, these are my tips to decrease your power bill, I would recommend using as many as possible of them in order to see a big difference in your overall computer power consumption. But the best way to consume less is to turn off your computer when you are not using it. If you do make these changes and still unplug it when you do not need it on, then you will see a great difference.