Energy hogs: Servers vs. desktops vs. set-top boxes

The energy devil (set-top boxes) is most likely in your home, not your data center

Set-top boxes supplied by cable companies are likely using more power than desktop and laptop computers, and about 25 per cent of the power used by a two-socket server.

More than 160 million set-boxes are in use in the U.S. A typical system with HD-DVR uses 446 kWh annually, according to a recent report by the National Resources Defense Council.

"These things [set-top boxes] never power down, so it's actually not surprising," said Mark Davidson, sustainability officer at JouleX, maker of energy management systems for data centers.

The set-top box industry is currently building devices with energy management improvements, and the council's report says that more recent models of set-top boxes with HD-DVR use about 275 kWh annually.

But in the aggregate, set-up boxes used 27 billion kWh of electricity in the U.S last year, the council said.

The last time aggregate power usage of all servers in the U.S. was studied was five years ago, so it's difficult to benchmark the overall power usage of set-top boxes. But in 2006, a government study put total power usage of all servers in the U.S. at about 24 billion kWh.

Davidson supplied some estimates on power usage for servers, desktops and laptops to make a comparison.

Newer, two-socket x86 servers with up to eight core chips will run at rest somewhere between 150 to 200 watts. At full utilization, this energy usage can double to as much as 400 watts.

In terms of annual energy usage , a two-socket server may use approximately 1,314 kWh a year (which is simply just powering it on) to about 2,600 kWh per year.

Allowing for variations in workload demand, the average annual power use for a two-socket server is around 1,800 to 1,900 kWh annually.

Servers are expected to run 24x7, which isn't necessarily true for most desktops and laptops. But if these systems did run continuously, here's how much power they will take up.

Desktops use between 45 watts and 90 watts, so if they ran 24x7 they would use between 394 kWh annually and 788 kWh annually.

A laptop running between 30 watts and 75 watts will use between 262 kWh annually and 657 kWh annually.

Davidson said power utilization continues to improve with new generations of semiconductors, which deploy technologies such as speed step to change the chip's clock rate dynamically to reduce power usage.

Energy consumption is estimated by using wattage x hours used per day / 1000 = daily kilowatt-hour (kWh) consumption.

Utility bills are calculated by number of kWh used by the cost. For instance, a system that uses 394 kWh x 8.5 cents/kWh, is costing $33.51 a year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has a number of examples on its site.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov , or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com .

Read more about data center in Computerworld's Data Center Topic Center.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags managementNetworkingenvironmentData Centergreen IThardware systemsinfrastructure managementGreen data centerConfiguration / maintenance

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Patrick Thibodeau

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?