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Why California and other states are prohibiting some high-end computers

Posted by Shivali Anand

September 8, 2021    |     3-minute read (607 words)

In response to concerns about excessive power consumption, California has begun prohibiting certain Dell Alienware gaming PCs that it deems as using too much energy from being shipped into the state, and now other states have followed its lead.

The gaming community has strongly objected to what they consider an unexpected ban on the sale of highly sought-after, high-end PCs, and the move has sparked some outrage. However, the shift in tech specifications behind the ban has been in the works for a long time — and more types of computers may be affected when California increases the implementation of new energy usage guidelines in December, according to the state’s Energy Commission.

Title 20: Appliance energy efficiency standards and restrictions

A study conducted by the California Energy Commission in 2016 found that computers and monitors were responsible for 3% of home energy consumption and 7% consumption in the state. The California Energy Commission then classified these devices as " large electricity consumers."

The Title 20 Appliance Efficiency Regulations, which contain minimum efficiency requirements for water and energy use in regulated appliances, marked the beginning of new energy consumption standards that affect some computers.

Although California passed the guidelines in 2016, they have only recently begun to be applied. It was announced that Tier-I standards for desktop computers and laptops would be implemented January 1, 2019, and that Tier-II measures would be implemented July 1, 2021.

What is the reason for the ban?

Intending to make California as energy-efficient as possible, the state's Tier-II standards define a mandatory energy efficiency standard for PCs, which includes desktop computers, mobile gaming systems, thin client computers, notebook computers and portable all-in-one computers, among others.

The standards establish targets for PC energy consumption in four operating modes: short-idle, long-idle, sleep and off. Short-idle, long-idle, sleep and off are the targets. The device's "expandability score" determines the targets, which are essentially equivalent to the device's power requirements. The ES of a device considers the number and types of interfaces and add-on capabilities such as graphics cards.

ES scores of 250 to 524 and 426 to 690, respectively, are subject to a limit of 50, 60 or 70 kilowatt-hours for PCs manufactured after July 1, 2021, according to Title 20 of the California Code of Regulations.

Which computers are affected by these changes?

Dell's gaming segment Alienware Aurora R10 and R12 gaming desktop systems are among those affected by California's Tier-II restrictions, which took effect July 1, 2021. When idle, they are expected to spend approximately 63 kWh per year, but when CPU-intensive, they can consume up to 563 kWh per year.

The Aurora R10 and R12 versions are equipped with Intel and Advanced Micro Devices processors that are part of the newest generation. However, if you attempt to purchase one of these items via Dell's website in California and a handful of other states, your order will not be processed.

Lenovo issued a public statement at the time of publication stating that all of its gaming PCs complied with California's regulations. At the same time, HP has not yet issued any comment on whether its gaming laptops were affected.

Other states will follow suit soon.

These guidelines have now been adopted by five more states and the District of Columbia. According to Dell, this implies that the Aurora R10 and R12 models will no longer be available for shipment to Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, Colorado and Washington.

Other types of machines may be affected.

California's Tier-II computer classification will be expanded on December 9, 2021, to include multiscreen notebooks, high-speed network-capable computers, notebooks with cyclical behavior and monitors with high refresh rates, among other devices.

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