Gaming PCs Banned in California? That’s behind it

California is said to have banned the sale of gaming PCs. Is that really true? Here’s the answer.

The topic is currently making headlines with gaming fans in the US: In various US states, including California, gaming desktop PCs have been banned! Accordingly, there have been headlines such as “Several US states ban gaming PCs” or “High-end gaming PCs banned in six US states after California’s energy law restricts sales of high-performance PCs”.

Alienware doesn't ship gaming PCs in various US states - what's behind them


Alienware doesn’t ship gaming PCs in various US states – what’s behind them

According to a report by our US sister publication PC-WORLD, the whole thing began with Alienware pointing out on its US website that certain desktop PC models are not in the US states of California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and Vermont may be sold because these states “have passed electricity consumption regulations. All orders destined for these states will be canceled.” At least that’s what the Alienware website says.

That was foreseeable for a long time

Our colleagues at PC-WORLD are a bit surprised that Alienware had to take this step, but the reasons for this are not really new. The editorial team – which is based in San Francisco, California – dealt with it as early as 2018 after two PC companies said that California was nearing its end due to the regulations passed in 2016.

“I’ve rummaged through hundreds of pages of reports and minutes of the California Energy Commission. At first glance, it looked like California’s stringent energy regulations would end the sale of most desktop PCs in California on July 1, 2019,” said our US colleague and hardware expert Gordon Mah Ung.

The truth is of course much more nuanced. Most of all, energy regulators were looking for ways to curb idle power consumption by PCs in order to control energy consumption during the working day. Regulators aimed primarily at the typical compact or all-in-one PCs found in banks, hospitals, and businesses – not game PCs!

As befits a bureaucrat, however, it’s not easy or clear to see which PCs are being targeted unless you can figure out Intel’s expandability score table better than we can.

Intel's Expandability Score Calculation - Complex


Intel’s Expandability Score Calculation – Complex

© Intel

The power guidelines take into account the graphics processor’s memory bandwidth, the efficiency of the power supply, and even the number of USB ports and other seemingly random PC parts to calculate a score so complicated you have to use a spreadsheet to figure it out.

Contrary to initial intuition – or maybe this is just a concession from the regulatory authorities to the component manufacturers – the following applies: the more powerful a PC is, the more loopholes it is given by energy regulations, which is a good thing for PC enthusiasts. Two very large component manufacturers told PC-WORLD that they believed that California’s energy authorities had listened to the companies concerned and put sensible restrictions in their regulations. Given what some environmental groups were calling for at the time, the regulations mostly dictate power consumption when idle, not active use.

It would be easy to conclude that Alienware was only the first company to stop shipping gaming PCs to these states, and that more are to come. But these six states have not necessarily banned “gaming PCs”. Alienware appears to have met the standard on some models, but not on others. The company simply cancels the orders of those customers who try to buy them.

When asked for more information, US officials at Alienware said:

“Alienware has always been known to push the envelope when it comes to innovation, performance, design and premium quality. We respect and strive to respect the laws of all cities, states and countries in which we do business a balance between performance and energy efficiency. While our top performing gaming systems are available in all 50 states, it is correct that selected configurations of the Alienware Aurora R10 and R12 are being used in response to the latest Tier 2 regulations from the California Energy Commission (CEC), Effective July 1, 2021, will not ship to certain states. The new models and configurations will meet or exceed these regulations, in line with our long-term focus on energy and emissions. “

It remains unclear why Alienware did not update these particular systems to the stricter guidelines by July 1st, but perhaps Alienware cannot be blamed for that either.

Bottom line: gaming PCs haven’t been banned in the US – yet?

The good news is that as of July 1, 2019, PC sales in these states didn’t stop. And since July 1, 2021, when Stage Two went into effect, most gaming PCs aren’t banned either – just a few Alienware devices.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. US policy continues to put pressure on the PC industry and demand more energy efficient devices. In an ideal world, industry would solve this problem without complicated regulations, because energy efficiency is one of the easiest ways to get more performance today. But that’s not how politics work. As long as there are groups calling for stricter regulations, there will be politicians who will pay heed to these demands.

Ultimately, this means that desktop gaming PCs were not banned in the US states concerned, but this segment is clearly a target in the US.

Note: This report has been translated. You can find the original article here with our US colleagues.



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