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Hacking down on video game energy use

The Nintendo Wii tops the list as most energy-efficient game console in a study which recommends console industry adopt easy-to-use power-management features.

Individual gamers and console makers could significantly reduce energy use from video games, according to study that identified the Nintendo Wii as the industry's most efficient "juice sipper."

Gamers waste a lot of energy simply because they don't turn their machines off when they're not playing, according to environmental advocacy group the National Resources Defense Council and consulting firm Ecos. The analysis, published last week, found that turning off machines when idle could save gamers $100 a year.

Estimated energy usage from different consoles, with comparisons between people who turn off games when idle and those that don't. NRDC and Ecos

The authors said the industry should adopt automatic power-down features and make it easier for consumers to locate these features. Idle machines consume nearly as much energy as when machines are turned on.

The XBox 360, for example, has a power-down feature, but it's turned off by default and is hard to activate because its buried deep in the menus. (For instructions on how to find existing power-down features, click here.)

In terms of energy consumption, Microsoft's XBox 360 is in the middle of the pack, consuming 119 watts in active mode, more than many desktop PCs.

The Nintendo Wii, meanwhile, consumes just 16 watts--less than most laptops--and the Sony PlayStation 3 burns through 150 watts in play mode. PlayStation 3 can update its software to add a power-management feature, but it's disabled by default, too.

The NRDC and Ecos recommend that gamers take the sensible step of turning their machines off (and saving where they are in the game) when they're not using them, a move that would lower their electricity bills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It also recommends that the next generation of video game machines have power-management features built in, such as an auto-save feature, a "sleep" button on the console, and automatic power-down after three hours of inactivity.

Energy-efficiency efforts in the computing industry, such as Climate Savers consortium, resulted in more standardized parts and measurements in things like as power supplies.

The study's authors estimate that taking similar steps in the gaming industry would cut the U.S. electricity bill by more than $1 billion per year as well as avoid 11 billion kilowatt hours of electricity and avoid seven million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Because about 40 percent of U.S. homes have video games, the numbers on energy usage add up. The NRDC and Eco estimated that gamers consume roughly as much electricity in a year as the city of San Diego.