Of all the states in the country, California has the most jobs in the video game industry, with more than 200,000 people either employed directly by game companies or working in supporting services. Washington state is second, with close to 50,000 jobs. Games contribute billions to the economies of both states.
So it would be profoundly stupid and self-destructive for California and Washington to make it harder for their residents to buy computers where they can play such games. Yet Dell just stopped the shipment of certain Alienware gaming PCs to California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington because of certain California Energy Commission regulations.
The California regulations aren't quite as oppressive or wide-reaching as some news stories might make them appear, but they're still pretty dumb. They have unintentionally created an incentive to use more power—the opposite of their intended effect—and they highlight some of the problems you see when a state is not creating or importing enough energy to serve its citizens.
Here's what's happening: The California Energy Commission has implemented standards that strive to reduce the amount of energy computer systems use while idle or sleeping. In 2016, the state determined that computers and monitors account for 3 percent of residential energy and 7 percent of commercial energy use. That may not seem like a lot, but nevertheless the California has mandated new tech standards to reduce consumption. The other states involved have agreements to align themselves with California's standards.
These rules are being phased in slowly over five years. On July 1, the standards for desktop computers came into effect. These regulations limit how much energy a machine can use while idling or sleeping, not during overall use. The computers that Dell stopped shipping to these states aren't in compliance.
Other computers, however, are in compliance. Under these regulations, the amount of power consumption budget your PC is permitted is based on how expandable your system is. The more you are able to upgrade your computer—through graphics cards, additional storage or memory, etc.—the more energy you're allowed to consume.
There is a certain logic to this: More powerful computers typically need more electricity to operate. But since the smaller, simpler computers hit their energy consumption limits more easily than expanded computers do, the rules are actually encouraging people to get bigger computers that consume more electricity.
Jason Langevin of the computer tech YouTube channel JayzTwoCents posted a helpful explainer making it clear to hardcore gamers that their fancy home-built rigs are not in any danger. Or at least they aren't at the moment. What happens when these regulations fail to reduce energy consumption? Will they start targeting other computer components that in time, actually will attempt to restrict how powerful the PCs may be that Californians are permitted to purchase? (Langevin also goes on a bit of a rant about how much work it took for him to find the details—the California Energy Commission's outdated website gave him a 404 error when he tried to view the relevant regulations. The Register has a link embedded to a PDF download, which was the only way I was able to read through the regs myself.)
So the good-ish news is that the regulations don't ban gaming PCs, and thus aren't as impactful as they might have seemed at first. But unless the state starts getting really serious about building more power capacity we're likely to see stricter computer regulations down the line. And how serious is California about building power capacity Gov. Gavin Newsom just declared an emergency because the heat and drought are putting so much pressure on the state's energy grid, and his declaration fails to use the word "nuclear" even once.