How much does your Xbox 360 cost you to run anyway?  Is your significant other, roommate, or parents telling you that you’re running up the power bill?  Read on for the scoop on exactly how much electricity you’re using, and which elements consume the most power.  As a bonus, we even include some other interesting facts that you can use to impress your friends with.

For Christmas, my amazing wife gave me a Kill-A-Watt – a small device that you plug into the wall to measure the wattage of the device plugged into it.  Wattage is a measurement of the amount of work being done at a given instant, as opposed to over a period of time.  For example, we say things like, “that light bulb is using 60 watts of power,” meaning that it is consuming 60 joules per second. See below for a quick explanation of what a joule is.

What’s a joule? A joule is the standard unit of energy.  One joule is about the amount of energy needed to lift one kilogram (2.2 pounds) 10 centimeters (3.9 inches) upwards off the surface of the earth.

So, how much power does the Xbox 360 consume?  It uses about three light bulbs worth of power. Here’s a chart that will show you the wattage in varying mode of operating status:

Additionally, the power consumption of some standard peripherals of the Xbox 360 are displayed in the chart below.  Add these values to the states above to get the total usage, as appropriate.  Note that the Y-axis here varies by only four watts:

As you can see, the peripherals are lightweight.  The number of wireless controllers connected at any one time curiously has no impact, probably because the console’s radio communicating with them is always on anyway.

Most household circuit breakers for family or living rooms are rated at 15 amps of current (check yours before doing anything rash) – any more than this on the circuit and the breaker will trip.  To help you figure out how many consoles you could place on one circuit in your basement – for the mother of all LAN parties, say – be aware that the Xbox 360 draws 2.42 amps when it is engaged in running a proper game.  That’s an interesting number, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.  What about the TVs and speakers used for the consoles?

Here is a table that shows the wattage and current draw of my TV (an old, standard definition 25” RCA), my projector (a high-def HP xb31), and my amplifier (a Sony 5.1 STR-DE697), in both standby (off) and on modes.  Your mileage will definitely vary depending on your equipment, but I hope these figures may give you some idea:

 Watts Amps On Standby On Standby TV 113 8 1.54 0.17 Projector 186 5 1.46 0.09 Amplifier 51 0.25 0.57 < 0.01

Confusingly, the 360 draws almost twice as much current (again, measured in amps) than it actually uses (as measured in watts).  This can have the effect of pushing you closer to having a circuit breaker trip, even though you aren’t really consuming that much energy.  This occurs because of some shenanigans involving energy being stored in inductors in the form of magnetic fields (for motors, etc.), and other components.  This current is drawn, stored, and released back into the circuit – thus you draw lots of power, but only consume some of it.

So; even though the Xbox 360 uses only 170 watts during a full gaming session, it’s drawing 2.42 amps.  My TV, amplifier, and 360 all together draw just over 4.5 amps, and you can typically only have two of these setups on the same 15-amp circuit without the circuit breaker flipping.  Be careful running three setups – each of these devices draws significantly more current when they first turn on, and you’d for sure flip the breaker if they all turned on at once.

Perhaps most importantly, though, is how much energy is used over the course of an hour. This tells us how long we could run our 360 on a generator, or to perhaps be more pedestrian, how much it would cost to do that.

The standard unit of electrical energy is the kilowatt-hour (kW-h).  A kilowatt-hour is the amount of energy needed to run ten 100-watt light bulbs for an hour.  This ungainly-sounding unit is what households in the USA (at least) are billed in for electrical usage.  Here in Corvallis Oregon, USA, one kilowatt-hour of electricity costs about 7.13 cents USD.  That’s pretty cheap on a per-unit basis, but my wife and I used 1501 kW-h’s last month for a little over \$100 dollars worth of power. One kilowatt-hour is also equal to 3.6 million joules, or 3.6 mega joules.

This next table lists how many kW-h’s are used by each device as described above, and also shows the usage of some common combinations:

 Device kW-h Xbox 360, standby < .01 Xbox 360, watching a DVD .11 Xbox 360, at Dashboard .14 Xbox 360, R6: Vegas .17 Amplifier, On .05 TV .08 Projector .16 Xbox 360 RS:V, TV, Amplifier, Wireless Adapter, HD .3 Washing Machine, medium load .26

Therefore, one hour of Rainbow Six: Vegas, using my projector, amplifier, and Xbox 360 costs me 0.3 kW-h times 7.13 cents to equal 2.139 cents.  That’s it!   If you have a TV bigger than mine, it probably draws more power than your 360 does.  Your PC certainly does.

Obviously though, the cost of your power per kilowatt-hour will vary.  For example, one Planet Xbox 360 reader let me know that his kW-h’s cost 10 cents in Kentucky, and another living in Europe quoted a cost around 11 or 12 cents per kW-h.  I’ve seen costs in Tennessee at 6.46 cents per kW-h.  To find your cost (if it isn’t listed on your power bill), you can take the total cost of your power service (excluding additional, non-varying fees) and divide it by the number of kW-h’s you used.  That will tell you how much each unit costs.

Even recharging the new wireless headset is cheap – it only takes about four hours, and consumes hardly any energy at all.  It takes less than 0.01 kW-h to entirely charge, and consumes less than one watt of power while it’s doing it.

So, how about heat? I’ve heard people say that the Xbox 360 can heat their entire house.  Well, it only gives off 50% more power than my TV, not 500% more.  It may seem like a lot more, though, because the heat the 360 generates isn’t spread out as much over a larger area, like a TV, and most of the heat is pumped out via a small, noisy fan – in other words, it’s concentrated in one small area.  So don’t believe the hype.

Finally, some perspective: The Washing Machine.  Tell your momma to stop washing clothes – she’s using up all of the power!  Seriously, my washing machine draws 10.5 amps while it’s running, and uses .26 KWH for an entire medium load that lasts only about half an hour.  At times it hits 690 watts – clearly, this kind of device usually lives on its own circuit. Someday we may have consoles that use this kind of power, and I for one must say that I look forward to that day!