A GPU in a case colorfully lit by RGB lighting.

You bought a beefy GPU to game—or perhaps create AI-generated artwork—and when it’s running full bore, it uses a lot of energy. But what about for boring day-to-day stuff? Is it wasteful?

Idle Power Is Nearly Equivalent Across GPUs

Whenever new GPUs are released, there is always chatter about how much power they consume, and curious PC builders want to know if they’ll need a new PSU to support new (and almost always higher) power demands.

It would be easy to assume that those new beefier GPUs are just all-around power-hungry. In fact, a thought like “I spend almost all my time working on spreadsheets and documents for work and hardly any time gaming, so I’m probably wasting a ton of electricity with this thing” might cross your mind.

Thankfully, that’s not the case. Despite the significant difference between the peak capabilities of different generations of graphic cards, there is little variation between the idle or near-idle loads.

In terms of peak processing horsepower and capabilities, there is a huge difference between cards like the GTX 1060 and the RTX 3080. But their idle power consumption varies by a nearly trivial amount. A GTX 1060 uses about 5W of power while idle, and an RTX 3080 uses about 15W of power while idle.

That’s not the exact same power consumption, but it’s a fairly trivial difference. You’re not exactly destroying the environment or risking a power bill you can’t afford to pay with that variation in idle power consumption. At 12 cents per kWh and using your computer for 8 hours per day, the difference in idle power consumption between the two cards works out to ~$0.29 per month.

If you want to dig into power consumption data for different cards, you can poke around the internet and search for specific cards. A handy shortcut to a lot of digging and comparison, however, is to check out the power consumption stats in the thorough card reviews over at TechPowerUp—like this review of the ASUS RTX 3080 Noctua OC.

For each card they review, they stress test it thoroughly and give you power breakdown data for idle, multimonitor, gaming, and maximum power consumption. You might not want to geek out that much over power consumption data, but if you do, it’s there. Just search for your card or a similar model and dig in.

Speaking of geeking out over power consumption, if you want to test your PC’s total power consumption idle and under load (or any other device for that matter), check out our guide to monitoring power use.

Power Use Under Load Is a Different Story

Naturally, the power consumption under load is different for newer and more powerful cards, which is exactly why you often have to upgrade your PSU to keep up with the demands of a new GPU.

Under load, while playing a demanding game or doing some rendering work, the aforementioned GTX 1060 might hit 125W of power consumption.

On the other hand, an RTX 3080 could easily hit 345W while playing demanding games. That’s a 220W difference, which is no trivial amount, to be sure.

However, it still doesn’t have as much of an impact on your power bill as you might assume. Let’s say you’re gaming for four hours a night, playing games that really peg your GPU. Again, using 12 cents per kWh as our reference point, you’d spend $1.80 monthly on the GTX 1060’s power consumption and $4.97 monthly on the GTX 3080’s power consumption.

So assuming every second of your gameplay was practically redlining the GPU (which it likely isn’t), you’d only spend $3.17 more a month for the same amount of gaming.

And who knows, perhaps upgrading your GPU will even save you money! There’s a bit of a running joke in the PC gaming community that right around the time you upgrade your build, you’ll find yourself too busy to enjoy it—a bit of an upgrade curse, if you will. So throw that beefy new GPU in there with the confidence that you’ll probably get too busy with school, work, kids, or all of the above to run up your power bill.

The Best Computer Monitors of 2023

Best Monitor Overall
Dell S2721QS
Best Budget Monitor
Dell S2721QS
Dell Alienware AW3423DW
Best Gaming Monitor
Dell Alienware AW3423DW
LG 38WN95C-W
Best Ultrawide Monitor
LG 38WN95C-W
Gigabyte M32U
Best 4K Monitor
Gigabyte M32U
Dell U2723QE
Best Monitor for Mac
Dell U2723QE
Profile Photo for Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Senior Smart Home Editor at How-To Geek. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at How-To Geek, Review Geek, LifeSavvy, and Lifehacker. Jason served as Lifehacker's Weekend Editor before he joined How-To Geek.
Read Full Bio »