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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Brave New LAN Party: Green Edition

The LAN party is a hallowed event in computing, a time and place when gamers convene to show off their biggest, baddest rigs and compete for vendor-sponsored prizes. To walk along the aisles at a LAN event (such as the 500-player PDXLAN, shown here) is to witness system modding elevated to an artform and overclocking cranked to within a megahertz of meltdown.

I get this. I admire it. I also think it's a model that belongs in the 20th century. The "bigger, badder" mindset is all about maximum power and copious consumption. How many GPUs can you stuff in a system, each guzzling hundreds of watts? How many fans and cold cathode tubes and drives? Have we really reached the point when a 1,000W power supply is no longer sufficient?

Until such time as we have a major breakthrough in energy technology and we reverse the trend of rising electricity costs, especially with most of our electricity still being produced by depleting fossil fuels, this philosophy of competitive extremism is not doing us any favors. It might help component manufacturers sell higher ticket products, but we don't need this excess. It hurts your wallet as much as the planet.

I suggest a new spin on the old LAN party: a green competition. Same games, same sponsorships, same community, same fun. Only now, let's up the stakes. Pick a maximum number -- say, 300 watts. Each system connects to the wall through a Kill-A-Watt type of power meter. If your system ever exceeds 300.0W during a performance-based tournament, you're instantly disqualified. Alternatively, there might also be contests for hitting set performance benchmark levels with the lowest possible sustained power consumption. Now players will need to pick components that stress performance efficiency, not just raw speed. When (not if) oil once again crests over $100 per barrel, "efficiency" is going to be this industry's favorite word.

Think about companies such as Antec, with its EarthWatts power supplies, or Intel, with its perpetual ability to raise the efficiency bar with CPUs. Such companies pour untold thousands of dollars into LAN party marketing, but clearly they're targeting a different audience with their eco-friendly products. Why the disparity? Why not take this early opportunity before the crowd rushes in to establish a reputation in the gaming world for efficient gaming performance?

Reward those who get creative and discover new ways to play harder with fewer electrons. What's to lose? The competition will become even more challenging, supposedly "green" vendors can put their money where their mouths are, enthusiast consumers will begin to cultivate an appreciation for consuming less, and maybe, just maybe, participants will inspire energy-saving changes throughout the industry that have a tangible effect on computing's carbon emissions.

Whatever its ego-oriented benefits might be, the current fetish with enthusiast excess can only encourage waste. By reversing this trend, gamers can help propel computing in a better direction. And who knows? They might just inspire all of the tree-hugging hippies to start gaming, too.

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