UPDATE: Adding comments in regards ATI Radeon X1800-series lowered power consumption on the latest driver versions.
Both graphics adapters and central processing units (CPUs) used to consume so negligible amount of power ten years ago that no one cared about it: mainstream personal computers used 200W power supply units for years and we could not imagine that once we’ll need more. But the times have changed and today graphics cards alone can eat up to 120W of power, whereas dual-core processors can consume nearly 180W , therefore, we have to consider power consumption when buying or assembling new computers.
Is Power Consumption A Problem?
While the problem of power consumption for desktop computers is hardly as significant as some companies would like people to think, the consequences of high power requirements are growing dissipation of heat, complexity of cooling solutions and noise of fans. Modern gaming computers should feature at least four fans: one on the CPU, another on the graphics card, one to suck fresh air from outside while cooling-down the hard disk drive and one to throw the hot air out of the computer case. Contemporary high-end gaming systems – such as Alienware ALX – that include two graphics cards, also use more fans causing enormous noise.
A lot of companies, analysts and journalists recently started to talk about performance per watt ratio on modern hardware for personal computers. While the idea to limit power consumption is a good one, we have to keep in mind that energy use of flagship computers built using current silicon-based technology has been consistently rising for decades along with the performance and capabilities.
It is the speed and the amount of tasks that can be done on a computer that made people to switch from systems featuring Intel Pentium 100MHz processor and S3 Trio graphics card to PCs sporting Intel Pentium Extreme Edition chip and ATI Radeon X1900 visual processing unit. Today’s technologies allow makers of microprocessors to have more performance in mobile phone than there were in the aforementioned ten year old system, but would you like to have a computer with that speed today, even though it has power consumption of an advanced calculator? Or would you transit to a system that has similar performance as your three year old gaming computer, but has lower power requirements? Hardly.
To sum the things up: customers have been buying personal computers for years considering performance and feature-set only. There are merely a couple of reasons to start thinking about power consumption of a personal computer today: noise created by the fans and the question which power supply unit to get in case of do-it-yourself (DIY). It is inevitable that a tangibly higher-performance PC will consume more than a lower-performance one and exceptions of this general rule just manage to prove this rule.