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How Much Is Your Computer Heating Your Home?


A computer to play in a living room.
Gordenkoff/Shutterstock.com

Whether you work from home all day, work hard after hours, or both, your computer can add a measurable amount of heat to your home. Here’s why and how to calculate exactly how much heating is in the area.

Computers Are Surprisingly Efficient Heaters

In fact, everyone who uses a computer knows that they produce heat. If you put a laptop on your actual lap, it will immediately warm things up. Anyone who has been to a gaming bender with a desktop PC knows that the room slowly heats up as the session progresses.

So the idea that a computer can add heat to the room it has while running shouldn’t surprise most people. What amazes many people, though, is how efficiently computers are at converting electricity into heat.

Every little bit of electricity used by the computer (as well as all the electricity used by peripherals like monitors, printers, etc.) is eventually released as heat.

In fact, if you install a space heater to use the same energy as the computer uses, there is no end to the difference in room temperature between running the space heater and the computer. Both use electricity to operate and both “pour” waste heat into the room at the end.

You can conduct the test yourself, but if you just want to read the results of someone running a computer against the space heater showdown, you can rest easy knowing it’s over. In 2013, Puget Systems, a traditional PC construction company, ran a test for fun to see if a computer would really work like a space heater under the same conditions. .

They loaded up a PC with enough GPUs and hardware to pair the output of the basic small 1000W space heater they had purchased for the experiment and tested it in a room isolated from the building’s HVAC system. The end result? Running the gaming PC under load to force it to match the output to 1000W as much as possible yielded a corresponding result in the field of increasing ambient temperature.

We’re sure this wouldn’t surprise any physics students reading at home. The electrical energy put into a system has to go somewhere, and it goes into the room as heat. If the source is an electric motor with a fan, a computer, a space heater, or even a toaster, the heat will eventually enter the room.

As a part, we would argue that computers — in a philosophical sense, not a strict physical sense — are more efficient than a space heater. A space heater heats 100% of the electrical input into heat, and a computer turns 100% of the electrical input into heat, but a space heater is limited to heating or non -heating.

A computer, on the other hand, actually does all sorts of useful and interesting things for you while making the room that much toastier. You can run DESTRUCTION in many things, after all, but you can’t run it with your space heater.

How to Calculate How Much Heat Your Computer Generates

A computer photographed using an infrared camera to display heat energy.
Ivan Smuk / Shutterstock

One thing to know is that the power your computer uses will eventually become hot. Another thing is to drill down exactly how much heat it pumps into your home.

There is a wrong way and a right way to figure out the bottom of the issue, though, so let’s check.

Do Not Use Power Supply Rating to Estimate

The first thing you should avoid is to look at the power supply rating as an indication of how much heat your computer has.

The Power Supply Unit (PSU) of your desktop PC may be rated for 800W or the fine print under the power brick of your laptop may indicate that it is rated for 75W.

But those numbers do not reflect the actual operating load of the computer. They only show the highest threshold. The 800W PSU doesn’t absorb 800W per second it’s running — that’s the peak load it can safely deliver.

To make things more complicated, computers do not have a consistent state when it comes to power consumption. If you have a space heater with low, medium, and high settings of 300, 500, and 800 watts, respectively, then you know how much power is used in each setting level.

With a computer, however, there is a whole lot more power consumption curve than something as simple as High / Low. This curve covers everything from the small amount of power the computer needs to stay in sleep mode, to the moderate amount of power it uses for simple everyday tasks like browsing the web. and reading emails, up to a higher amount of power required. to run a high-end GPU while playing a difficult game.

You can’t just look at a power label and calculate anything based on that, other than to calculate the absolute maximum amount of energy available to the device.

Use the Actual Wattage Measurement Tool

Instead of estimating based on the label, you need to really measure. To accurately measure, you need a tool that reports the wattage consumption of your computer and peripherals. If you have a UPS unit that has an external display that shows the current load (or it has software that allows you to check load stats via USB uplink,) you can use that.

We consider a UPS to be an essential piece of hardware for everything from your desktop PC to your router — so if you don’t have one now is a good time to get one.

If you don’t have a UPS (or your model doesn’t report energy usage) you can also use a stand-alone power meter such as the Kill A Watt meter. We love the Kill A Watt meter and you can see that we use it as often as to show you how to measure your power consumption or answer questions like how much it costs to charge a battery.

You just plug the Kill A Watt into the wall, plug your computer’s power strip into the device (so you can measure the computer and the peripheral), and then check the readout. Quick peasy.

If you use actual measurement, you can easily see that the power supply rating is not the actual power consumption, by a wide margin.

Here’s a real-world example: I monitored the power consumption on my desktop computer using a meter built into the UPS and a Kill A Watt meter just to check that the UPS reading was accurate.

The PSU of this machine is rated for 750W. But when powered on and idle (or doing basic tasks like writing this article or reading the news) the power consumption is around 270W. Playing relatively light games pushes it into the 300W range.

If put under load by playing more difficult games or running a stress-test type benchmark app like 3DMark that taxes the processor and GPU, power consumption will go up to 490W. Despite a few moments flashing slightly above 500W, there’s no point in the PC nearly hitting the 750W PSU rating.

This is just one example, of course, and your setup may have more or less power consumers than I do — which is exactly why you need to scale it to get the bottom of things.

What to Do With That Information

Unfortunately, we can’t tell you “OK, so your computer adds 500W amount of energy to your room, so it raises the room temperature 5 degrees Fahrenheit in 1 hour,” or whatever.

There are so many variables at play. Perhaps your home is a super-insulated concrete structure with triple-pane windows and an R-value insulation rating similar to the YETI cooler. Or maybe you live in an old farmhouse with no insulation, a steady draft, and windows with a panel.

The time of year also plays a role. If the sun is shining on your home in the summer the excessive heat that illuminates your gaming PC can make an unbearable room heat unbearable. But in the winter you may, instead, feel comfortable.

So while the 500W amount of energy (or whatever the amount is for your setup) goes into space no matter what, because all the electricity will eventually become waste heat, what does waste heat mean? for your comfort level and the room temperature is quite variable. If you want to see the actual degree-Fahrenheit change in front of your eyes, place a tabletop thermometer in the room — this model is great for one-look information and for tracking data using your phone.

In general, whether you throw a thermometer on the table next to your game or not, you need to check based on your computer setup, your home setup, and what kind of cooling options are available. available to you, how much power consumption (and subsequent heat) you are willing to allow.

In addition, you can consider shifting your usage based on your needs and time. For example, if you’re making a serious must-have-my-GPU game, then you may need to fire up your desktop PC to get the experience you want.

Answering emails or just doing a little office work? Maybe instead burn the laptop and drop the heat energy pumped into the room from 300W to 50W or less. Many “light” games also work well on a laptop, so you don’t have to turn on the desktop rig to play.

Just having fun on Reddit or reading the news? Maybe skip the desktop or laptop and do activities on your phone or tablet. At that point, you lower energy consumption from hundreds of watts to a few watts — and keep your home cooler in the process.

But hey, if you don’t want to give up all the playing time (you also don’t want to add heat to your house and sweat in the process) you can always use a window air conditioner in your chosen room. play. both will stay comfortable and absorb the extra heat introduced by your gaming rig.





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