High-end desktop power test reveals hidden costs of PC gaming

Our first high-end gaming desktop power results reveal the hidden costs of PC gaming performance.

Rich Brown Former Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness
Rich was the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, Kentucky. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D printing to Z-Wave smart locks.
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Rich Brown
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Digital Storm's 950Si carries hidden costs for gamers. Sarah Tew/CNET

If you're a PC gamer, you might willingly pay $15 a month to stomp around the World of Warcraft. What if we also told you that depending on your rig and daily play time, you might also be paying a hidden fee of $10 or more a month to play even single-player PC games?

After our debut round of all-in-one PC power efficiency results, we've had a chance to test the power consumption of a few other kinds of desktops. The most intriguing system so far has been a $3,600 gaming desktop from Digital Storm.

It's no surprise that a quad-core, overclocked gaming system with a 1,000-watt power supply and dual-chip 3D card sucks up energy. We also weren't shocked that the Digital Storm PC drew more power by itself than even the most inefficient all-in-one, which includes the power draw from its display. But once we crunched the numbers, we admit we didn't expect to find such a large disparity.

Consider the following comparison, drawn from the power consumption tests in each system's review:

Annual power consumption cost - Apple iMac (24-inch, 2.66GHz): $16.20

Annual power consumption cost - Sony Vaio LV250B: $29.40

Annual power consumption cost - Digital Storm 950Si: $118.27

Annual power consumption cost - Digital Storm 950Si (2.4 gaming hours/day): $134.77

(See our power testing methodology here.)

Digital Storm has the unfortunate honor of submitting the first high-end gaming rig since we implemented our power testing, so let us be clear that we have no way to say (yet) how its results compare with those of systems from other boutique PC vendors.

As a $3,600 configuration, though, this system represents the middle ground for performance gaming nicely. It didn't set any performance records, but it can play most current games at decent image quality settings on a 24-inch LCD at full resolution. And while we will allow that an extra $120 to $130 in annual power charges might not present a financial challenge to someone who's paid $3,600 for a gaming PC, anyone might pause to consider that even with a nongaming workload (aka our multimedia multitasking test), a system such as this Digital Storm 950Si will consume roughly four to seven times as much energy as a high-end all-in-one PC.

Most performance-driven gamers will consider the added power consumption simply the cost of racking up more kills, but that hasn't stopped vendors from trying to bring that cost down. HP's Firebird was an admirable first attempt, and we're eager to see what Maingear has accomplished with its forthcoming Pulse. Hopefully Maingear, unlike HP, can keep the power draw down, without charging you more for the privilege of fewer frame rates and limited upgradability. We'll know once we get one in for review.