by Brian Caulfield

This August we conducted an experiment. We replaced the graphics cards powering the PCs in one of China’s tens of thousands of Internet cafes with something that had never been officially released in the wild: NVIDIA’s new GeForce GTX 650 GPUs.

The results were extraordinary. Not only were we able to bump up the performance of some of China’s newest games – titles such as “Age of Wushu,” and “Passion Leads Army,” — but we were able to cut the energy consumed by each PC. And that can mean more than lower costs for the entrepreneurs running these cafes.

Following up on the introduction of the GTX 650 earlier this month, NVIDIA is working with systems builders and iCafe owners to put a customized version of the GTX 650 into China’s Internet cafes. The cards offer five times better performance than the 2008 vintage NVIDIA 9500 GT graphics card used in many cafes.

That performance can be delivered using less power. NVIDIA’s new Kepler architecture, introduced earlier this year, takes advantage of advances in semiconductor manufacturing – and a more efficient design – to wring more work from each watt.

Most of China's iCafes use NVIDIA graphics cards.
Big opportunity: 91% of China’s iCafes already rely on NVIDIA GPUs.

Power efficiency is a core part of what NVIDIA does, with NVIDIA’s products used in everything from smartphones – where battery life is critical – to supercomputers, where NVIDIA GPUs are used to increase the efficiency of machines that could otherwise crush power grids.

Now it’s time to bring that story to iCafes. Coupled with innovative new software that optimizes performance and power consumption in iCafe games we found NVIDIA’s Kepler-based GTX 650 cuts the system-level power used to run the most popular games such as Cross Fire by 20%, World of Tanks by 35%, and Duke Nukem Forever by 50%.

Power consumption while gaming falls 28.3 watts to 54.8 watts for a machine running GTX 650, from 83 watts on a comparable machine running an older Fermi-based GTS 450.

For a typical iCafe PC that’s used 55% of the time – 70% of the time to play games – the savings add up to 115.82 kilowatt hours per year. Spread that over China’s 18 million iCafe PCs and that adds up to more than 2 million kilowatt hours.

Shifting China’s iCafes GTX 650 could reduce carbon emissions on a scale comparable to taking 281,886 passenger cars off the road, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.

Of course, PC usage patterns change, and new applications may tax PCs in unexpected ways. But there’s an opportunity here: 91% of the PCs in China’s iCafe’s use NVIDIA’s GPUs. And with electricity accounting for 35% of the cost of a typical iCafe PC, there’s a case for café owners to make an upgrade, whether they’re going green… or making it.