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Why California, other states are now banning certain computers

Posted by Kanika Sinha

August 26, 2021    |     2-minute read (508 words)

California has begun to prohibit the shipment of certain models of Dell’s Alienware gaming PCs into the state because they have been deemed to use too much power, and other states have followed suit.

This seemingly sudden prohibition of the sale of the coveted high-end PCs has caused an uproar among the gaming community. But the move has been in the works for a long time -- and more types of computers could be affected when California expands the application of new energy consumption standards in December.

Title 20: Appliance efficiency regulations

In 2016, California’s Energy Commission deemed computers and monitors responsible for 3% of residential energy and 7% of commercial energy use in the state. The CEC then categorized them as "large electricity consumers."

This kicked off new energy consumption standards in the form of the Title 20 Appliance Efficiency Regulations, which include minimum efficiency requirements for water and energy in regulated appliances.

Although California approved the standards in 2016, they have been gradually implemented in piecemeal fashion. Tier-I standards for desktop computers and laptops took effect Jan. 1, 2019, and Tier-II standards took effect July 1, 2021. 

Why the ban? 

In keeping with its goal of making California as energy-efficient as possible, the state’s Tier-II standards define a mandatory energy efficiency standard for PCs, including desktops, mobile gaming systems, thin clients, notebook computers and portable all-in-ones.

The standards set targets for PC energy consumption in these four modes: short-idle, long-idle, sleep and off.  The targets are based on the device's “expandability score,” which roughly translates to its power requirements. A device’s ES considers its number and types of interfaces and add-on capabilities like graphics cards.

For PCs made after July 1, 2021, energy consumption is limited to 50, 60 or 70 kilowatt-hours for ES scores of less than 250, 251 to 524, and 426-690 respectively under California's Title 20.

Which computers are affected? 

PCs affected by California’s Tier-II regulations that took effect July 1, 2021, are Dell’s Alienware Aurora R10 and R12 gaming desktop systems. They are estimated to consume about 63 kWh annually when idle but up to 563 kWh when CPU-intensive.  

The Aurora R10 and R12 models tout the latest generation of processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices. But if you are seeking to purchase either one from Dell's website, the order won’t go through.

At the time of publication, Lenovo made a public statement that all of its gaming PCs met California’s regulations. It is not clear whether other gaming PCs now on the market could be affected by the new regulations.

Other states follow suit

Now these standards have been emulated by five other states. That means the Aurora R10 and R12 models can no longer be shipped to Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, Colorado and Washington, according to Dell.

More types of computers could get swept in

California’s Tier-II will be expanded Dec. 9, 2021, to encompass high-speed network capable computers, multiscreen notebooks, monitors with high refresh rates and notebooks with cyclical behavior.  

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