The next Xbox system update will make it “carbon aware”

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Microsoft has announced that Xbox is the first “carbon aware” gaming platform, making some changes with the latest test versions of the Xbox system software to do automatic background downloads at times when there’s the highest amount of renewable energy on the national grid.

Historically, Xbox consoles have checked for game and system updates in the middle of the night – a random time between 2AM and 6AM – but that’s not when most renewables are generated. Once updated, Xbox consoles using ‘Shutdown (energy saving)’ mode will shift their routine maintenance window to a time when the grid is using the most solar, wind and other renewable energy. This will be informed by regional carbon intensity data, where that is available.

Additionally, Microsoft will make a one-time default setting change for all Xbox consoles to switch from the ‘Sleep’ power option (formerly known as ‘Instant On’) to ‘Shutdown (energy saving)’ – up until now these have only been on Xbox Series X|S, but Xbox One users will now see them as well. Those who then choose to revert to Sleep will have more options to set activity times, reducing the overall power consumption of the console when not in active use.

With Shutdown using 0.5W compared to the up to 20W of power usage in Sleep mode (depending on the console), this will have a massive impact on the collective power consumption of Xbox consoles around the world. This is an area that Xbox has lagged behind PlayStation since the PS4 and Xbox One launch, with Xbox consoles having significantly higher sleep/standby power usage.

It will be controversial to have this change forced on people, as Xbox One users will be most affected by the longer wake up times, but it’s the only way that Microsoft can meaningfully make such a change and make it actually have an impact – the vast majority of users will not think about switching power settings after the initial set up.

Microsoft claims that “for every 2 consoles that switch to Shutdown (energy saving) for one year, we will save the equivalent amount of carbon removed by 1 tree planted and grown for a decade.”

Potentially just as impactful, though on a more granular level, is how Sleep mode will actually function. Using ‘Active Hours’ it will have dual functionality, able to switch between the previous Sleep mode functionality that enables remote wake and quicker booting, and then settle into the lower power Shutdown mode at other times. Xbox Series X|S will automatically enable this mode and schedule times for when the console was used historically, while Xbox One users will have the option, but will default to “always active” unless changed.

The update is currently going through Xbox Insider testing rings, but will eventually roll out to all Xbox One and Xbox Series consoles.

Source: Xbox Wire

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3 Comments

  1. If there weren’t such frequent and huge updates for games people wouldn’t need the background update option so much. Maybe that’s something for developers to look at. Better testing, finding ways to avoid having to download the whole game, only download dlc when you’ve actually bought it, etc.

    • Absolutely. Some of that is on devs and game engines, and some on Microsoft/Sony/Nintendo as well, in how update files can be structured. Case in point would be Halo Infinite updates on Steam being way smaller than those on Xbox and Windows Store.

      One thing I didn’t mention above is the hidden power cost of servers and internet infrastructure. If their data centres can make the most of renewable energy that is often on site or in nearby investments, then they can avoid falling back to national grid and fossil fuels.

      • That’s a good point regarding the wider infrastructure. There’s a few games now that I enjoyed but finished playing because the huge updates became a big inconvenience.

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