LAN Party How To - Part 1: Planning and Power

Power - Garage Party

Although I've already touched on the subject of power, it is so important to the success of a large LAN party that I'm going to spend the rest of Part 1 on it. Power is just as important to a properly-run LAN party as the network or the tournaments themselves. While there are probably other ways, I'll be sharing the formula which has worked well for me and the large LAN Parties that I've attended.

But before I describe how to handle the power for large events, let me first cover power for garage-sized parties. You'll first need to figure the total power - actually amperage (A) - needed. Through experience, I've found that a rule of thumb of 4A per attendee works well. I have seen some events try to squeeze by at around 3A per system, but then have problems with systems randomly rebooting that are solved by moving players to other power circuits. Given that 500+ Watt power supplies on gaming machines are becoming more and more common, I highly recommend against trying to push the 4A figure lower. My experience is that 4A per attendee continues to work very well for all of the events I currently attend.

The next step is to determine the total power you have available. Most recently-built homes have 200A service, but older homes may have only 100A or smaller service. The only way to know for sure is to open the main breaker panel and look at the number on the handle of the large breaker usually located at the top of the box. If you have an older home with fuses, you may not have a breaker, but a fused disconnect instead. If this is your case, I recommend you leave it alone and assume you have only 100A service.

Now multiply the number of gamers you expect to have at your party by 4 to get the total amperage (A) you'll need. As long as the number of players is 24 or fewer, you should be ok. But the larger the number of players, the more work you'll need to do because now you have to identify enough separate circuits in your home to provide the power you need.

If you're lucky, someone will have filled in the breaker identification label in the main box with titles like "master bedroom", "garage", "kitchen", etc. But in most cases you'll have to shut off a breaker at a time and using a lamp or radio figure out which which outlets are connected to it. As you're shutting off breakers, make sure you note its amperage (printed on the handle), because your home may have mixtures of 15 and 20A circuits.

Once you've located your outlets and know the rating of the breakers that control them, you can plan on connecting five people to each 20A breaker circuit and three to each 15A (or maybe four if you're feeling lucky). All you need to do now is mark the outlets accordingly and buy enough heavy-duty long extension cords to reach from those outlets to your garage, uh, venue. You'll also need to buy some outlet strips and prepare them as I'll describe later.

An important thing to note about home power distribution is that you typically have a smaller feed coming into the panel than the total of all the breakers. While this allows for larger loads in different home areas, residential power design assumes that all circuits won't be loaded to capacity at the same time (if they were you would trip the main breaker). For example, a home might have a 100A feed and then ten 15A circuits and another ten 20A circuits totaling over 350A!

So if you have a 50A breaker dedicated to your hot tub and only have a 100 Amp service, either shut off the hot tub during your party, or avoid exceeding 50A on other circuits. You might also need to pull the plug on microwave ovens, air conditioners, hot water heaters, and electric dryers and ranges while your gamers are duking it out.

On to large-scale parties!

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