Not too long ago the pinnacle of gaming bliss was a dual core AMD PC outfitted with two Nvidia graphics cards in SLI configuration, obviously sporting a RAID0 configuration of the fastest 10K rpm desktop drives and a barrage of case fans to keep all these hot components running cool. To state that the power requirements of such a system were rather steep would be an understatement as a 500W power supply was a stringent requirement and usually barely able to keep pace. Obviously the impact on your annual electricity bill for running such a PC on a daily basis would be substantial, or from an environmentalist point of view the equivalent of a hard smack across the face.
So are PC component manufacturers bucking the trend, while consumer electronics manufacturers are trying to come up with more power efficient products? Apparently not, as manufacturers such as Intel and AMD continue to make an effort to reduce the power consumption of their processors, which is evident from the reduction in power consumption with every new generation of products. Apparently these manufacturers are now putting more emphasis on the performance per Watt figure, rather than raw processing power irrespective of the power consumption. I am sure we can all remember the Pentium 4 Netburst architecture that had some of the worst performance per Watt figures to date. Current Intel Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad processors have ever improving TDP (thermal design power) figures as do AMD's Phenom processors.
However, we have yet to see the same increase in efficiency with graphics processors from Nvidia and AMD. At the moment the balance has shifted from the CPU being the most power hungry device in your PC to the graphics card, especially with the top-of-the-line products from either manufacturer. For example, Nvidia's quad SLI can be outfitted with four graphics cards, not seldom requiring at least a 750W power supply to provide sufficient power to such a configuration. AMD's quad Crossfire does not fare much better in that respect, gobbling up equal amounts of power for just a mere few extra FPS.
So are these gaming behemoths facing extinction, much like the dinosaurs? I would like to think so, with the performance of current mid-range graphics cards you will be hard pressed to find justification for purchasing a quad, or even a dual, graphics card configuration. However that does not mean that graphic processor manufacturers can sit on their laurels, as even a mid-range graphics card does not offer nearly the performance per Watt figure of current processors. This in itself is somewhat surprising, as both Nvidia and AMD have the technology to increase that figure considerably, but apparently they do not seem compelled to use it on their desktop products. Upon taking a closer look it is immediately apparent that both Nvidia and AMD have mobile graphics processors that do considerably better in the performance per Watt department, technology which is directly applicable to desktop products too.
Wouldn't it be nice if we could see an overall reduction in the power consumption of PC components, and resulting from that the PC as a whole? Not just to cut down on our consumption of Earth's natural resources, but also because it will have a considerable direct impact on our annual electricity bills. Wouldn't it be nice if manufacturers would pick up on this challenge and come up with ingenious ways to further up the performance per Watt? Considering both Intel and AMD are very keen on being the first to reach a new milestone, such as the GHz barrier quite a few years ago, how about setting some new goals for power efficiency? As after all, a processor with a better performance per Watt figure will have a compelling sales argument: it will cut costs in the long run by reducing its operational cost. These improvements are important not just for the millions of desktop PCs that are used on a daily basis, but also for the millions of servers that are powered on day and night serving out web pages and other content. Once you add up all the power improvements made there you can see how total savings will be quite considerable. Lets hope that in 2008 we will see this trend continue and in a few years from now we will be back to 250W power supplies or less for top-of-the-line PCs.