Microsoft's 'instant on' mode on Xbox Series X and S can save users a few seconds but could also cost more than $500 million extra on electricity bills in the US alone, according to a report by NRDC.
A few seconds saved has a high price
While the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a non-profit environmental advocacy group, praised Microsoft and Sony's latest consoles for "very low levels of power when not in use", it sharply criticized Microsoft's 'instant on' mode on Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S.
- "Unfortunately, Microsoft retained its legacy settings of “instant on” and “energy savings” and ships consoles to the United States and everywhere except Europe with instant on shown as the initial choice. (The consoles continue to be shipped to Europe with “energy savings” selected in order to comply with local efficiency requirements.) Here are the results of our testing of the Xbox Series S console," said Noah Horowitz, Director of NRDC. "NRDC modeling shows this one seemingly inconsequential decision by Microsoft could result in the equivalent of one large (500 MW) coal-burning power plant’s worth of annual electricity generation and cost new U.S. Xbox owners more than $500 million on their electricity bills over the next five years."
Xbox Series S standby modes. Table: NRDC.org
The $500 million figure is based on the assumption of 30 million active Xbox consoles in the US by 2025. NRDC's standby measurements for Xbox Series S largely mirror FlatpanelsHD's standby measurements for Xbox Series X.
The 'instant on' standby mode on Xbox Series X/S is not related to the 'quick resume' function that can keep some games in memory. It is also worth noting that 'instant on' is not required in order to have Xbox check for system updates in standby mode (enable 'automatic updates' instead).
Also read: Review: PlayStation 5 Also read: Review: Xbox Series X
PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X can both consume over 200W during gameplay.
Video streaming on consoles
The report also criticized the new consoles' high energy consumption during video streaming, first highlighted by FlatpanelsHD in January 2021.
- "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," the report said.
Also read: PS5 consumes 12x more energy than Apple TV during video streaming
Energy consumption during video streaming could have been reduced drastically in a number of ways, for example by including an additional low-power core in the console. It is a calculated decision by Microsoft and Sony not to do that.
- "We have repeatedly urged Sony and Microsoft to include a dedicated low-power chip for video playback in their consoles, and this request is even more important today given the potential for long hours of “binge watching” via the console," said Noah Horowitz, Director of NRDC.
Microsoft says that it is evaluating additional methods to highlight the benefits of using the energy saving mode.
- "Users are given a choice during setup between the two power modes for the console: energy saving and instant on. To ensure players can select the option they prefer, they are not opted-in to either power mode by default. At Microsoft, we are committed to sustainability and, as we begin a new generation of gaming with Xbox Series X|S, we’re continuing to explore how we can reduce our environmental impact across the product life cycle—from conceptualization, design, production, and packaging, to what happens once our consoles are in the hands of consumers and at their end-of-life. As part of this commitment, we are evaluating additional methods to highlight the benefits of energy saving mode, but have nothing further to share at this time," Microsoft said in a statement first provided to Ars Technica.
Based on modelling we performed with the assumption that two-thirds of users select the default instant on setting, the Xbox Series S/X consoles are poised to waste almost 4 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in the U.S. alone through the end of 2025 when in standby mode and NOT being used. This extra energy use translates roughly to:
The equivalent amount of electricity generated in one year by a large (500 MW) coal-burning power plant
Around $500 million in extra utility bills for new Xbox console owners
Approximately 3 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions