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Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Xbox Full Shutdown versus “carbon-aware” Shutdown (energy saving)

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - Turn it off! Fully!

Ever the innovator in hardware and operating system design (and having to acquire other companies to cover the software part of a gaming system), Microsoft today has announced that the Xbox is the “first carbon aware console” with an update coming soon to every Xbox Series and Xbox One console connected to the Internet. Microsoft has a goal of becoming a “carbon negative” company by 2030, which isn't very difficult for the company...except for the hardware division that actually has to manufacture stuff. However, it seems like Microsoft wants to claim carbon reductions based on having its users use less electricity (and remember that electricity requires carbon emissions to produce... at varying amounts depending on how the electricity is being produced, which we'll get into later).

The innovation is that, much like the Windows 11 operating system (my computer is ineligible for an upgrade to that, so I wouldn't know from personal experience), your Xbox can now become “carbon aware” when downloading games and updates. That means your Xbox will look up something like Electricity Maps in your area, and if there is data available (unfortunately, data is unavailable in KoopaTV's rented Earth office in Sierra Leone, or most of Africa for that matter), your Xbox will time these energy-intensive downloads for when the carbon intensity is lowest.

For example, since we can't use Sierra Leone, let's use Georgia (of the Southern United States), another place special to KoopaTV.

Electricity Maps Southern Company Services Georgia United States carbon intensity
In Georgia today, Electricity Maps estimates (not a sure thing) that the carbon intensity is very marginally lower at 14:00 (33% low-carbon) than 20:00 (30% low-carbon).
That big green region you see in the top right of the map is Québéc, which has almost all of its electricity from hydropower. Georgia mostly does it from gas and coal.

Xbox will start doing the update when it thinks the electricity is the most carbon-friendly, and otherwise not do the update. The idea is that renewable, low-carbon energy isn't constant throughout the day, so some parts of the day will be friendlier than others, and that's when the Xbox will do the updates. The Xbox or your house don't actually know where the electricity comes from, and it could still come from gas or coal as opposed to nuclear or hydro. But there's a slightly better probability it comes from the renewable energy source at those specific times. ...Of course, if you're not using the electricity at the unfriendly time, chances are someone else will be more than happy to, so is any energy really being saved or less carbon being emitted on a macro-economic level? I'm skeptical of that.

My bigger issue is the introduction of a new power option called “Shutdown (energy saving)”, which Microsoft states is 20 times more power-efficient when compared to Sleep mode. It is a modified Sleep mode (your Xbox is not actually turned off) that still allows the Xbox to receive updates and downloads. According to the announcement, Microsoft will overwrite whatever your current power settings are and set it to the Shutdown (energy saving) option, which may have some impacts on your Xbox's start-up time. Very similar to the Nintendo Switch, Xbox tries to do whatever it can so your console doesn't actually turn off and it can receive updates from the manufacturer, not all of which are always helpful or perfectly tested. It turns out that turning off the Xbox using the power button still puts it in a non-off position. You need to go all the way to the settings menu for a FULL SHUTDOWN.

Xbox One Series sustainable power option full shutdown energy saving
Fully shutting down your Xbox, by definition, uses less electricity than a new form of keeping it on.
And it gives you the time-proven benefits of restarting hardware.

Settings > General > Power mode & startup > Full shutdown > SHUT DOWN is a lot of steps to fully turn off your Xbox Series console, but that's what you need to do. It's so out of the way that YouTubers need to make videos showing you how to get there. This following video happens to be the third-most popular on the guy's channel at over 18,000 views.

The most sustainable thing is to totally shut down your electronics and then unplug them. Microsoft's new energy-saving option is still going to sap electricity, and using it over turning off your console is bad for your console, which actually wants to turn off to clear its memory and run more effectively. This is also more helpful for your own electricity bill more than anything. You aren't going to end up saving the planet (if you believe it's in danger) because of your Xbox settings, but full shutdown is better for your experience than this new option. And better than sleep mode.

Ludwig probably needs to investigate what turning off a PlayStation 5 is like next, since he already wrote articles on Nintendo and now Microsoft. He is going to turn off his Windows 10 computer after publishing this article.

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