Xbox One owners might be surprised to learn that Microsoft’s latest game console slurps up a significant amount of energy even when it appears to be powered off. According to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), this downtime power consumption ends up costing gamers in the U.S. about $250 million per year. That could buy a lot of video games.
Not only is that a huge pile of wasted money, but the energy consumption it represents comes from carbon-producing power plants, which aren’t exactly great for the environment.
The root of the problem lies in a default setting. Right out of the box, the Xbox One comes with an “Instant On” setting enabled that speeds up the console’s boot up time. The setting also allows updates to download when no one is using it and lets the Kinect peripheral to listen for someone to utter the words “Xbox on,” even when the console is powered down.
No doubt these features are convenient, but I’d bet most Xbox One owners don’t even know you can turn them off. To change the setting, go into the Settings app, choose “Power & startup,” and change “Instant On” to “Energy-Saving.”
The NRDC found that about 40% of the Xbox One’s total power consumption occurs when the system is powered down in “Instant On” mode. In a blog post detailing the study, NRDC’s Noah Horowitz writes, “We would have to plant 40 million trees before the amount of carbon ‘Instant On’ releases into the air would be balanced just for those Xbox Ones sold in the United States.”
The organization has petitioned Microsoft to change the default setting to “Energy-Saving,” but has yet to succeed. Changing the default isn’t exactly a wild idea. Xbox One consoles sold in Europe come with the “Energy-Saving” setting as the default. Owners are asked if they’d like to enable “Instant On” during the initial setup, but it’s an opt-in feature. When setting up a new Xbox One in the U.S., players are not given the choice to change the setting away from “Instant On.” In all likelihood, they would have to read an article like this one even to know that it’s a possibility.
All of this is not to say that the Xbox One is the only gaming console hogging watts. The study also looked at the power consumption of the PlayStation 4 and Wii U. Together, all of the current generation consoles in the U.S. use enough energy to power all the homes in Houston for a year. Horowitz writes, “That’s also the equivalent output of four large power plants, and their associated pollution.”
The NRDC has one other caveat for console owners. Although the Xbox One is fairly power-efficient when you’re playing a game, Horowitz says, “We strongly recommend against using either the Xbox or PlayStation  to stream movies as they draw 30 to 45 times more power to show the same movie as a device like the Apple TV, Roku Box, or Chromecast stick.”
So if you’re an Xbox One owner who’s interested in saving money and helping the environment, be sure to enable “Energy-Saving” mode and consider using a different device to stream video.