Calculating Power Requirements and Costs

To find out now how much your PC actually costs to run, you will first need to know your power consumption. For this article, we will use three sample systems representing differing levels of hardware and performance. The specifications for the sample systems can be found in our previous article on power supply units. Power consumption is as follows:

System Power Consumption (Watts)
  Idle Load
System 1 90 140
System 2 160 350
System 3 310 550

Electricity providers report power use in kilowatts hours, since the power consumption of your entire house is going to be large compared to a single PC. Every light bulb, TV, microwave, refrigerator, vacuum cleaner, etc. requires power. Unless you are running a lot of computers, it may not even be necessary to think much about how much your computer uses without addressing those other areas first. Still, there's a large difference between an entry-level PC with EIST/Cool & Quiet sitting at the desktop and a high-end PC running the latest 3D game.

For our comparisons, we will look at two states in the US (North Carolina and California) and Germany will represent Europe. We used an exchange rate of $1.30 per Euro. Power use is calculated by the above chart, factoring in the efficiency of the power supply. For simplicity's sake, we will start by assuming 82% efficiency on all systems and loads. Divide the power consumption by the power supply efficiency and you end up with the actual power use in Watts. Converting Watts into kWh requires a bit more math: take the power draw in Watts and multiply that by the number of hours a device is running, and then divide that number by 1000. The results are as follows:

System 1 Power Costs
  Cost/kWh Outlet Power 1 Hour 8 Hrs 24 Hrs 1 year
(8 hrs/day)
1 year
(24 hrs/day)
Idle - NC $0.075 110 $0.008 $0.066 $0.198 $24.09 $72.27
Idle - CA $0.128 110 $0.014 $0.113 $0.338 $41.11 $123.34
Idle - GER € 0.220 110 €0.024
Load - NC $0.075 170 $0.013 $0.102 $0.306 $37.23 $111.69
Load - CA $0.128 170 $0.022 $0.174 $0.522 $63.54 $190.62
Load - GER € 0.220 170 €0.037

System 2 Power Costs
  Cost/kWh Outlet Power 1 Hour 8 Hrs 24 Hrs 1 year
(8 hrs/day)
1 year
(24 hrs/day)
Idle - NC $0.075 195 $0.015 $0.117 $0.351 $42.71 $128.12
Idle - CA $0.128 195 $0.025 $0.200 $0.599 $72.88 $218.65
Idle - GER € 0.220 195 €0.043
Load - NC $0.075 427 $0.032 $0.256 $0.769 $93.51 $280.54
Load - CA $0.128 427 $0.055 $0.437 $1.312 $159.60 $478.79
Load - GER € 0.220 427 €0.094

System 3 Power Costs
  Cost/kWh Outlet Power 1 Hour 8 Hrs 24 Hrs 1 year
(8 hrs/day)
1 year
(24 hrs/day)
Idle - NC $0.075 378 $0.028 $0.227 $0.680 $82.78 $248.35
Idle - CA $0.128 378 $0.048 $0.387 $1.161 $141.28 $423.84
Idle - GER € 0.220 378 €0.083
Load - NC $0.075 671 $0.050 $0.403 $1.208 $146.95 $440.85
Load - CA $0.128 671 $0.086 $0.687 $2.061 $250.79 $752.38
Load - GER € 0.220 671 €0.148

If you've ever wondered why Europe seems to be pushing for higher efficiency devices than the US, the above charts should provide an easy answer. Sure, very few systems actually consume 400W or more continually, but plenty of businesses run hundreds of 100W-200W PCs 24/7. Of course, other business expenses generally far outweigh power costs if you have that many PCs -- for example, the hundreds of employees sitting in front of those PCs likely cost 100 times as much per year, give or take. Still, the cost of leaving a high-end system running even eight hours a day at your house is not trivial, with idle power consumption costs ranging from around $100 to $300 per year. So let's delve a little deeper.

Index Actual System Power Costs


View All Comments

  • The0ne - Friday, November 14, 2008 - link

    I would have to agree. If only power requirements were more accurate or rather stated for general usage some of us wouldn't have to go out and buy these 700-1000W PS for a system that draws half of that.

    All in all though, I have to put things in perspective. I waste more time and thus money playing games on my PC; Heroes of M$M 3 and FFXI. So while I can save a little by turning off the PC once in a while and getting more efficient parts, I'll save even more if I just cancel my FFXI account :)
  • Mr Perfect - Friday, November 14, 2008 - link


    It's especially important to have reviews of reasonably size PSUs when you take a look at efficiency curves on PSUs. PSUs achieve their best efficiency at higher loads, which is why 80+ testing only requires 80% efficiency at 20%, 50% and 100% output to qualify. So a 80+ certified 1000watt PSU will be at least 80% efficient if you're pulling over 200Watts, but if your system draws less then that, efficiency can tumble down into the 70s or 60s without breaking any rules. On the other hand, if you have a 500 watt 80+ PSU, you'd have to draw less then 100watts before you get into the low end of the efficiency curve. For people with HTPCs or budget boxes that really do draw under 100watts, they'll probably want something even smaller, like 300watts.
  • Clauzii - Friday, November 14, 2008 - link

    Agree! Most systems use under 300W total, so a bit more of those would be nice. Reply
  • nilepez - Tuesday, November 18, 2008 - link

    I also agree. I have a Core2 CPU and GTX260, and at idle it's pulling around 120w from the wall. I don't recall what it was pulling at 100% CPU/GPU, but I believe it was roughly 220-240.

    A few years ago, I was talked into buying a 500W PSU, because I needed
    that to power a Athlon 64 and an X800XL.....of course it idled between 70-90w (from the wall) and never hit 200w....ever.

    I did replace it with another 500ish PSU, but in this case, I bought it because the Corsair is very quiet and has modular cables. Power wise, I would have been fine with a smaller psu.

  • mpjesse - Friday, November 14, 2008 - link

    This is a great article. What would be even cooler is if ya'll made some sort of web calculator that could compute the total cost of running your system based on a few known variables (CPU type, GPU type, # of hard drives, time spent idling, etc) and maybe even each U.S. state's electricity rate. That'd probably be a lot of work, but I'd certainly use it everytime I start a new build. Reply
  • Clauzii - Friday, November 14, 2008 - link

    You can try this:">
  • TennesseeTony - Friday, November 14, 2008 - link

    From what I've seen and read, my ancient power supply is at best 65% efficient. Judging by the many comments I've read here on this site, many many others are still using their ancient P4 3.06Ghz systems on a daily, often 24/7 situation, as well.

    I for one don't consider the efficiency rating to be marketing hype, and am very glad to see these better designs.

    Fortunately for me, I held off on the Conroe, saved my pennies, and next week (hopefully) I get to place the order for the final component in my new build...a Nehalem Core i7 920. (Got the Asus p6t ordered from last night.)

    Just a few more days and I get to fire up my new 85plus power supply...Woohoo! At idle, with the increased efficiency, perhaps my power costs will remain the same? I could pinch those pennies really tight and reus my old PS, but the new one will pay for itself in short order in my situation.
  • joseps75 - Sunday, November 1, 2009 - link

    My PSU for my 5 computers varies from 3 to 5 yrs old. Mostly I keepupgrading my MB AND CPU'S. Now all my 5 boxes are running quad cores processors. Since I runn them 16hrs daily, I hook up a KILL A WATT EZ to each box to check how much power each box consume. Here are my data for each box tagged by MB NAME: 1) #1 P5K-E $0.0164/HR, 2) #2 P5K-E, $0.0144/hr, 3) P5K-V, $0.0125/hr, 4) #4 P5Q-SE, $0.0156 and 5) #5 M3N78-VM, $0.0105.
    I use my computer hobby to run volunteer research on medical cure for human diseases at Rosetta@home and World Community Grid. They are worthy non profit research to find cure for human diseases HIV, AIDS, ALSHEIMER, CANCER ETC.
  • whatthehey - Friday, November 14, 2008 - link

    I don't think anyone is suggesting that a six year old power supply shouldn't be retired. I looked at the spreadsheet they gave on the last page - damn sweet, I must say! Anyway, I was poking around with some numbers to see what it says about lesser PSUs. If you have a 60-65% efficient PSU with your old system and the PC drew 125W to 250W (for the components, not at the wall), and you run it 8 hours per day with half the time at full load and half at idle, you can get a result for your savings per year.

    Assuming the spreadsheet is correct and I put things in the proper spot, you're looking at a yearly power savings of around $15 to $30 using the above scenario. If you run all the time, your savings would be anywhere from $40 to $100 per year. That's all going with equal power requirements and 60% idle/65% load efficiency to 84% idle/85% load efficiency. The new power supply might pay for itself in a year or two, but for power requirements your PC would take much longer to pay off. But then, more performance is its own reward, right?

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