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System-Specific Factors Impact the Power Consumption of Graphics Cards in Desktop Computers

Graphics cards are utilized to enhance computer graphics performance – in computer games, video editing software, computer-aided design programs and ultra-high resolutions.  Due to the high energy use of graphics cards, appropriate energy allowances (adders) are critical to setting effective standards and labeling specifications for them. 

In 2012, CLASP and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) initiated a study designed to provide policymakers with data on discrete graphics card energy consumption in desktop computers. This data was gathered to support the establishment of effective energy consumption allowances (or “adders”) for graphics cards in the Version 6.0 ENERGY STAR computer specification, as well as in other labeling initiatives and mandatory standards that use the ENERGY STAR computer specification as a framework.  Most computer energy efficiency standards and labeling programs worldwide use the framework of the ENERGY STAR computer specification. 

In contrast to the component approach, this study measured the net power impact of discrete graphics cards by measuring the difference in system-level power demand between a computer with the card and the same computer without the card. This provides a more accurate assessment of the net power impact of the graphics card on a computer system.

CLASP and NRDC conducted laboratory testing on 12 discrete graphics cards that represent over one-third of the desktop discrete graphics card models introduced on the U.S. market in 2011.

A full assessment of the test data revealed that the power impact of each discrete graphics card varied significantly from computer to computer, indicating that a number of system-specific factors, other than the card, itself impact system power demand when a discrete graphics card is installed.

Based on this result, among other key findings, the report recommends that graphics card adders should be set using system-level test data rather than individual card-level power.  The report also provides adder values corresponding to the study’s test data.

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See preliminary test data and results