As graphics cards become stronger and monitors take on more pixels, the power required to fuel the machines also expands. States like California have had enough and, thanks to new regulations on power consumption in the state, Dell has stopped shipping its most powerful machines to parts out West.
As first spotted in The Register, customers trying to buy an Alienware gaming rig from Dell are met with a message in red. “This product cannot be shipped to the states of California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, or Washington due to power consumption regulations adopted by those states. Any orders placed that are bound for those states will be cancelled.”
The Alienware machines are compliant with Energy Star, an Environmental Protection Agency program that promotes energy efficiency, but not compliant with the stringent new laws of California and other states.
California passed new energy restrictions on consumer goods in 2016, but the changes didn’t start taking effect until 2019. The complicated list of restrictions rolls out over the next few years, covering highly specific pieces of the consumer electronics market. Tier II went into effect on July 1 and has different rules for different components depending on when the device was manufactured.
"This was driven by the California Energy Commission (CEC) Tier 2 implementation that defined a mandatory energy efficiency standard for PCs – including desktops, AIOs and mobile gaming systems,” Dell told Motherboard in an email. “This was put into effect on July 1, 2021. Select configurations of the Alienware Aurora R10 and R12 were the only impacted systems across Dell and Alienware."
The California restrictions are complicated and specific, but most gaming machines manufactured between January 1, 2019 and July 1,2021 can use no more than 50, 80, or 100 kWH a year. Anything made after July 1 will be further restricted to 50, 60, or 70 kWH a year.
“To be sold or offered for sale in California manufacturers must test products at a CEC-approved laboratory and receive third-party certification,” the CEC told Motherboard in an email. “Once certified, manufacturers are required to submit their documentation and data to the CEC to be uploaded into the agency's online [database].”
According to Dell’s spec sheet, the Alienware rigs consume 63 kWH a year when they’re idle and 563 kWH a year when the CPU is stressed.
As of this writing, it’s hard to know how many gaming rigs this will affect. It also doesn’t specify regulations for Bitcoin mining rigs, an activity that’s legal in California and is on pace to consume as much power as Italy by 2024. A professionally prebuilt mining rig consumes a stunning amount of power and it’s unclear if California’s regulations would consider an Antminer S19 a desktop computer, a workstation, or something else.
CEC said its regulations around Bitcoin mining would depend on the individual computer. “There are several different types of computers in the regulations and each one has a different requirement,” it said. “It would depend on the energy adders that can be applied as a function or feature.”
Update 7/27/2021: This story has been updated with a comment from Dell and the California Energy Comission.