How to measure your PC’s power use, and why it matters

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Computers are powerful machines. These devices that most of us have sitting on our desks or laps are capable of some incredible things. From intense video editing and rendering images to PC gaming, social media and all kinds of work, PCs and laptops are technological marvels.

Given that our devices are capable of such feats begs the question: how much power do these things use? Furthermore, how does one go about measuring the power draw of their computer? We’ve got a quick solution for you, and we’ll discuss when and why it’s important to know just how much juice that box is drinking.

How to measure power consumption via software

If you find yourself needing to know just how much power your PC or laptop is sucking out of your wall, the process is relatively simple. However, it will require some extra hardware and tooling around with software. Software is great for getting an instant idea of how your individual PC components are using power, but they only provide an estimate of power consumption over relatively short periods of time.

To get an idea of how much power your PC uses, you’ll want to visit OuterVision, which is a free-to-use power supply calculator. This service is highly detailed, works for both laptops and PCs and is used by both computer hardware professionals and enthusiasts alike. The basic check allows users to estimate the power consumed by their device’s monitor, storage, optical drive, video card, memory, CPU, and Motherboards while factoring in overall time spent using the computer and any heavy gaming or rendering.

Image of OuterVision webpage.
Daniel Martin/Screenshot

Advanced users and experts can do all of the above, as well as calculate the power consumption for fans, liquid cooling kits and pumps, PCI Cards and Express Cards, CPU Utilization, multiple sets of video cards, and any attached tech like controllers, keyboards, mice, USB devices, and LED systems. You can even calculate the power consumed by overclocking your graphics card and CPU, compare how efficient different components are and determine how much energy your computer really needs.

Another great software option is Sidebar Diagnostics, which displays an advanced version of Window’s native Resource Monitor and lets you view data about your PC’s power consumption along with your GPU, network and active drivers. Open Hardware Monitor is another free option worth considering, as it monitors voltages, load and clock speeds, temperature sensors and fan speeds of your computer.

How to measure power consumption via hardware

Buying hardware capable of accurately measuring your PC’s overall power consumption is not inexpensive. However, if you need to make sure that you have data that is time-stamped and is measured to within a 0.5% margin of error, then hardware is the only way to go.

If you’re want to get the best readings for the overall power usage of your computer, you will need to measure the connection from a wall outlet with an external power meter, such as a P3 Kill-A-Watt Electricity Usage Monitor. Available from Amazon, Home Depot, hardware stores and other retailers for around $20 – $40, this power meter will let you take an accurate measurement of your PC’s power consumption.

Image of Kill-A-Watt Meter
Daniel Martin/Screenshot

For more detailed information you will need something like the HOBO UX120-018 Plug Load Data Logger, which comes in at a whopping $239. However, users will be able to get an instant view of real-time 120V plug load variables and time-stamped and totalized load data for detailed energy analysis. This device also measures and records the power and energy consumption of your PC.

Does it Matter?

Perhaps you’re wondering about your rig’s power draw merely out of curiosity. But beyond that, there are some crucial reasons as to why you’d want to know the kind of wattage your system is using. One of the most common is for upgrading your PC.

Certain pieces of hardware, such as new high-end graphics cards, can require a beefy power supply. Before you go out and purchase that brand new, expensive video card, make sure you don’t need to upgrade your power supply as well.

Furthermore, if you find out that you do need to update your power supply, knowing the exact power requirements is essential. The increase in electricity use will affect other components in your PC and even the circuitry of your home may factor in.

Any upgrades you make to your PC are going to result in a change in power draw. If you’re slotting in more significant, high-performance components to ratchet up your gaming performance or rendering capabilities, your PC will need more power. That will likely translate to changes in your power bill.

While a modestly built PC or laptop shouldn’t make a significant difference to your monthly spending, a purpose-built gaming rig probably will. More power will also result in more heat and more noise, as your system’s fans will kick on to prevent overheating. If heat or sound is of concern, this may be another reason to keep track of your PC’s power use.

If you plan on making massive upgrades and are looking to prevent errors and failures or you’re pinching pennies on your power bill, tracking your PC’s power usage is going to help you out.

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