Xbox Series X and PS5

US environmental group criticises Xbox for default ‘Instant On’ setting outside Europe

The Xbox’s default power setting choice of ‘Instant On’ could result in annual additional power consumption amounting to an entire coal-burning power plant and cost US owners alone $1bn in bills.

The non-profit US pressure group NRDC’s report on the impact of the new generation of consoles is detailed and fair-handed. Making it all the more important reading. Generally speaking it’s positive about the engineering efforts of the manufacturers, but there are a couple of major sticking points.

While in Europe the Xbox Series S|X consoles come in their Energy-Saving setting by default to match up to EU standards, that’s not the case globally, where the highlighted default is Instant-On, resulting in much higher standby energy use of 10W compared to less than 1W.

With SSDs now cutting load and startup times, the advantages of the higher-power mode are more limited. One area where there seems to be some confusion is with updates. With the NRDC noting that the PS5 and new Xbox consoles are able to wake and check for updates periodically even in their standby or ‘Energy Saving’ setting.

NRDC notes that (outside of Europe) it’s an odd choice from Microsoft to default to the higher power mode, given that it has committed itself to being carbon negative by 2030.

The NRDC is very positive, though, about other aspects of both consoles’ design. Noting that they both by default move to their standby modes if left unattended. It also notes that the consoles use far less power when playing older titles.

The only other key problems actually occur away from game playing, with the consoles’ media playback functions being the culprits. Put simply, the consoles are massively over-engineered for this purpose and so use up far more power than a typical streaming device, or the chipset built-in to a typical TV.

“The console will draw between 30 and 70 watts—about 10 to 25 times more power than a streaming device like Apple TV, Roku box, or Amazon Fire Stick to watch the same show,” said the report. With the NRDC urging manufacturers to add a low-power chip to handle such tasks.

Complicating the architecture of the devices with additional chips is highly unlikely to happen, and we can’t see either manufacturer suggesting publicly that their machines aren’t ideally suited to media playback. So it’s hard to see where to go with this one – we simply suggest that everyone should play more games and watch less TV anyway (though of course that actually increases power consumption objectively)

Not an entirely clean bill of health then, but both devices, if used appropriately and on the correct settings do their primary functions most efficiently.

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