Last edited on January 9th, 2014 by gnat
DO NOT ignore power management.
You need adequate power for your guests computers, your servers, and networking equipment. You will run into problems with any more than a handful of guests unless you plan first. No power = No LAN party.
How power distribution works.
The common power outlets you see on the wall are grouped into electrical circuits. These circuits are all connected to a distribution panel (also known as a circuit breaker panel).
Circuits are rated in AMPs: 15 AMP electrical circuits are common for housing and light office construction; you may also have 30 or 50 AMP circuits.
If your AMP consumption is greater than the capacity of an individual circuit, it will eventually "trip" and the power on that circuit will shut off. Note the word "eventually": circuits that are on the edge of overloading won't shut off immediately, but instead will slowly overheat until the circuit breaker on the distribution panel "trips". Breakers will continue to trip until the AMP consumption is lower than the capacity of that circuit.
A typical desktop gaming machine in this day and age will consume around 4 AMPs each (500 Watts divided by 120 Volts is 4.16 AMPs). Unfortunately this does not evenly divide into a typical 15 AMP circuit. However, since computers never use their maximum, one can assume that 3.75 AMPs is sufficient. This means a household 15 AMP circuit will power 4 gaming computers.
Not from North America?
This guide assumes AMPs based on 120V North American style power. If you're in Europe or other parts of the world you'll have to assume 240V and cut your AMP requirements in half. Remember: AMPs = Watts / Volts.
Determining how much power you have to work with.
The total AMPs available to you will be found printed on the distribution panel (circuit breaker panel). Look for the number located on the handle of the main breaker (the large breaker, usually located at the top of the panel).
This total power capacity is called the "service". The service of a typical modern house can be anywhere from 100 to 200 AMPs.
When determining how many AMPs you have available to your party, you must remember to include currently-running appliances, lights and other essentials so you do not go over the total service capacity. If you go over it, the main breaker will trip. This is bad to happen in the middle of a LAN party.
The available capacity on the service at your venue will determine the maximum number of guests you can host at your LAN.
60 AMPs = 16 Lanners.
120 AMPs = 32 Lanners.
240 AMPs = 64 Lanners.
480 AMPs = 128 Lanners... Big event!
It is also possible to increase the available capacity. See below about bringing in an electrician, or renting a generator.
Don't overload your circuits. Map them out!
Make no assumptions about which circuits the outlets are on; test them all. The easiest way is to have a helper go from outlet to outlet with a lamp or similar device while you flip circuit breakers on and off until you locate which circuit the outlet is on. Label your outlets and circuits for future reference!
Example electrical circuit map corresponding to outlets:
Warning! Overloaded extension cords can heat up and catch fire.
Just like the circuits they run on, extension cords have an AMP capacity. If you connect a typical 15 AMP cord to a circuit pushing out 25 AMPs, it will eventually heat up and catch fire.
If your power bars have an internal circuit breaker of 15 AMPs, they will help protect you against extension cords getting too warm.
On circuits higher than 15 AMPs, you'll want to use multiple sets of extension cords and power bars instead of one. Limit each set to 3 desktop computers each. You can encourage this by covering all but 3 outlets on a power bar (duct tape works well), and instructing guests to not chain power bars off their neighbor.
When finding extension cords, ensure they have a rated capacity of 15 AMPs or higher. (12AWG or 14AWG wire is acceptable. Never use 16AWG or 18AWG, they will melt under heavy use.) Do not use damaged or frayed extension cords.
Provide direction to your guests as they are setting up.
Sounds easy, but problems occur when guests receive inadequate direction and resort to plugging in "anywhere". 9 out of 10 times they will plug into their neighbors power bars until the breakers trip. (Or something burns, if you're using high AMP circuits!). Be pro-active during setup!
Considerations when choosing a Venue.
Make sure you have access to the room with the circuit breaker panel AT ALL TIMES. Assume that a breaker will trip at least once during your party, because it probably will.
BEFORE announcing your LAN, map out your available circuits, and distribution panels. Ensure your venue realistically has the power you need to host the number of guests you plan to have, in the layout you want. 100 guests have very different power requirements than 30 guests.
If your venue suffers from an inadequate power distribution, one of the following options may help:
- Get a bunch of 50-100 ft extension cables to use circuits from all over the facility.
- Rent a few small external distribution boxes, and hook those up to the higher capacity circuits. (50+ AMP)
- Rent a big external distribution box to hook directly into the main 100/200 AMP service.
- If your location is out in the wilderness, renting a generator may also be a great option, especially if it's a rural hall with crappy electrical service.
If you're not an electrician, do not modify the distribution panel (circuit breaker panel).
Not respecting 120V will send you to the hospital. If you need more power, just get a certified electrician to help you with your distribution setup. Family friends will accept free pizza and beer, hiring a professional will cost $25/hour upwards. Well worth it to make sure power is set up properly for your LAN.
Obtaining more electrical circuits in a venue for super large events.
If your venue does not have enough circuits available within the building, and you cannot locate a comparable venue, ask if they have additional capacity on their incoming "switchgear". With the proper hookups, you can contract a power rental company to bring in proper power equipment and tap directly into the building power to give you the extra capacity you need.
A note on generators.
If you're renting a venue with inadequate power, running lines from a gas powered electrical generator may save your party. A 150 AMP generator may run around $300 US including fuel. Generators run anywhere from 20 AMPs to thousands of AMPs; your price will vary according to location and power. Generators can be loud, and may not be appropriate for an urban area.
Pitfalls of excessive power bar chaining.
Another set of problems stems from chaining together power bars. Let's say a guest plugs into your power bar, another plugs into his power bar, and so on. There are multiple problems in this scenario:
- When the first guy leaves, everyone has to shut down.
- Excessive current load on a power bar. Most power bars have an internal circuit breaker. This is the same as tripping a circuit breaker, just on a smaller scale.
- Potential fire hazard. As mentioned above, if you're using a circuit of more than 15 AMPs, and your extension cords aren't rated for it, they may heat up and catch fire. You'll be okay if your power bars have an internal circuit breaker of 15 AMPs, because this breaker will trip before the extension cord gets too warm.
Solution: Provide the first power bar off of the outlet and instruct your guests to plug in to your power bar, not their neighbors. Make sure it has a circuit breaker, and is rated at 15 AMPs.
Advanced power techniques for larger LAN parties.
If you're looking to host an event with over 50 guests, you may need to take your power management to the next level. We recommend referring to the Mega LAN Party power guide by Christopher "AlexKidd" Dickens.