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SA load shedding and your Xbox One

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The current energy-crisis in South Africa is worrisome for all residents, including the gaming community. It is evident that Eskom's implementation of load shedding is escalating by this week's schedule jumping between stage two and three. Therefore, it is up to everyone to do their part and conserve energy wherever they can.

The Xbox One’s power consumption has come under scrutiny recently, as the US-based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has criticized the Xbox One’s “Instant-on” feature. Should South African consumers turn off their Xbox One’s “Instant-on” feature or has Microsoft done enough to cut the Xbox One’s power consumption?  

Should you disable “Instant-on” to conserve power?

The Xbox One’s “Instant-on” power setting addresses the concerns shared by many Xbox 360 owners as it solved the problem of system updates that interrupts gaming. The setting consumes the most power as well, but is it worth disabling?

Since the Xbox One’s launch, Microsoft have reduced the power consumption of Instant-On mode from “18 watts to 12.5 watts”. Furthermore, Xbox One’s in Europe arrive with the “Instant-On” feature disabled by default and gives users the option to turn the feature on during initial setup.

According to Xbox Wire the energy cost of "instant-on" mode is around $6.50 to $15.50 per year with a 12.5 watts usage. The energy cost of "instant-on" mode is around $6.50 to $15.50 per year with a 12.5 watts usage. To put it in a South African perspective, $15.50 converted to Rand is R186 per year; which means that in a five year period “Instant-on” mode will cost you roughly R930. Therefore, to keep the Xbox One running in “Instant-on” mode will cost the user R0.50 per day.

Please keep in mind that one can’t directly compare the Rand versus Dollar energy cost, as the figures will vary from country to country. However, it is a good indication of what the Xbox One costs to run in “instant-on” mode.

To put the console's energy usage in perspective, the standard incandescent 60 watt light bulb uses roughly five times as much energy. Therefore, if you forget to turn off a light bulb for one day (of which there are many in a normal house or even an apartment) it will use as much energy as the Xbox One needs (in its highest power consumption mode) for approximately five days...

The power consumption of the Xbox One is already very low. Comparing it to the PlayStation 4 (PS4), Sony’s current-gen console uses 9 watts of power in standby mode; using more power than the Xbox One while gaming, steaming and navigation, according to Gamespot.

Although the individual energy cost might be low, in the US the total amount of power the Xbox One consumes in a year is a staggering “$250 million worth of annual electricity waste due to be caused by the Instant-on feature” - Source

In South Africa, the cost won’t be that high of course, due to the much smaller amount of Xbox One users compared to the US. Although the specific number of Xbox One owners in South Africa is not readily available, it is a safe assumption to make. With the power-crisis we are having at the moment, is the Xbox One’s power consumption enough to encourage users to turn the “Instant-on” option off? It’s not like Eskom will ask us to save power by “turning off our geyser and Xbox One”. As a gamer, I would always prefer the fastest startup and uninterrupted gameplay, so it is not unlikely that more users will choose the “Instant-on” option.

Due to the nature of load shedding in South Africa (occurs almost any time of the day), users might not be home to turn their Xbox One off before the power goes down. Could constant power failures result in damage to the software or hardware of your Xbox One if you leave it in "Instant-on" mode? Shutting down the Xbox One might be the safest option for our local Xbox One owners.

If you would like to save some money on your energy bill and lessen the energy demand the South African power stations are suffering from at the moment, you can do so by:

  • Open Xbox One's home screen
  • Select the menu button
  • Select Settings
  • Select Power and Startup
  • The energy-saving mode option is there to turn off if needed.

Microsoft has gone one step further with a new option for Xbox One owners in the coming months.

Empowering users with choice

Microsoft is implementing a new feature where Xbox One owners can choose between an “energy-saving” mode and the criticized “Instant-on” mode during initial setup. The “Energy-saving” mode will cost consumers between $0.26 and $0.62 per year, which is R7.58 at the highest price point. The “Instant-on” option comes with a 12.5 watt energy cost while the “energy-saving” option comes with a 1 watt energy cost according to the NRDC.

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The NRDC is not happy with the planned update to Microsoft’s current-gen console. In the image above, you can see that the “Energy-saving” mode offers “Slower startup time” and “Get interrupted for updates” while the “Instant-on” mode offers “Faster startup time” and “Get updates automatically”.

The description of what the two modes do is honest in my opinion. However, NRDC senior scientist Noah Horowitz wants the wording of the image shown by Microsoft to change before the feature launches:

You'll note that there's no mention of the respective standby power levels for the options: less than 1 watt for Energy-saving mode and 12.5 watts for Instant-on, which translates to an extra $33 to $75 (depending where you live) of electricity use over the typical five year life of a console, which is enough to buy an extra game or two.” - Source

Users should have the option available at initial setup and Microsoft agrees as they are implementing the feature in a future update. Microsoft should mention the respective standby power levels for the two options, so users can make an informed choice.

Mr. Horowitz describes three steps Microsoft should take in the short-term:

  1. Offer gamers the option to select the Energy-saving setting during initial set up as just announced by the company.
  2. Provide neutral text to describe the Energy-saving and Instant-on options.
  3. If users don't make a selection, default to the Energy-saving setting.” - Source

Microsoft’s wording is truthful in what the modes do. How does the NRDC expect “neutral text” to describe the two options? I’m not sure. The image above shows the "Instant-on" mode highlighted, which Mr. Horowitz feels is wrong.

It's also unclear whether Microsoft will ship its new consoles with the Instant-on feature already highlighted as shown above, which would require an extra step to choose energy savings instead.” - Source

Technically it will require an extra step by an Xbox One owner to choose the “Energy-saving” mode, but its only one simple step. If a consumer wants to choose the “energy-saving” option, would a simple selection option stop them?

NRDC's tips for saving energy from current-gen consoles:

  • "Set your console to auto-power down when inactive. With the Xbox One and PS4, go into the unit's menu to ensure this feature is enabled and set for one hour or inactivity or less.
  • Disable instant-on and other connected standby modes. Even with auto-power down enabled, Xbox One's "instant on" and PS4's standby modes are configured by default to remain connected to the Internet, which can account for up to half of total energy usage.
  • Beware of Xbox One's TV mode. This feature, which allows TV control from the console such as voice commands to change channels, requires the console to remain on whenever you watch TV." - Source

Do you think it is worth turning off “instant-on” mode for the Xbox One? What do you think of the NRDC’s criticism? How has load shedding affected your gaming? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.

Sources: NRDC, Xbox News, USA Today  
Image source: IGN ZA

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