Ask the EcoGeek: How Can I Make My Computer Efficient?


Dear EcoGeek,

My parents are always bugging me about computer usage and how the computers are sucking up energy. I want to know what I can do so that my computer doesn't waste so much energy? I totally wanna go green and save the Earth from Global Warming!

- Lukas

Hey Lukas,

You probably won't be surprised to discover that I spend quite a bit of time thinking about this very question. First, you should let your parents to know that your computer, with all of it's amazing opportunities for educational, economic and social advancement likely uses less power than the light bulbs in that share the room with it.

Most desktop computers use between 100 to 150 watts. Now, this goes way up if you've got some kind of monster high-end gaming system, but 100 watts is a pretty good energy investment for what these glorious machines give my opinion anyhow.

But that doesn't mean that they're aren't steps you can take to decrease your computer's power usage. First, it's important to realize that computers use varying amounts of power depending on what they're doing. So writing an email doesn't use as much power as playing Unreal Tournament. However, when your computer is completely idle, even if your monitor is off, it still is probably pulling about 100 watts from the wall. And when you're not using your computer that's a pretty significant amount of waste.

So always either shut down or suspend the operation of your computer when it's going to be idle for a long time. This is the most important step we can take to decrease computer use. Of course, sometimes it's hard to remember. Which is why I like to use Snap's CO2Saver application. It keeps an eye on the way I use my computer, and idles my machine when I'm not using it. It also lets you know how much CO2 you've saved by using the application's new settings. Unfortunately it only works withy XP and Vista.

It's also really important to consider not just the cost of the energy needed to power your machine, but also the energy required to create it. By most measures, more energy goes into creating a computer than will ever be used to keep it running. So one of the best ways to lower your computing carbon footprint is to try and keep your machine alive. You can do this a few ways. Don't weigh your computer down with too many unnecessary applications. Learn how to upgrade and fix your computer when things go wrong, and never complain about taking your machine in to a repair shop. You're doing the right thing for your pocket book and the environment.

And when you do finally need to upgrade (I like to try and make my computers last at least five years) look into computers that are designed specifically for efficiency. A new breed of low-energy desktops like the Zonbu and Shuttle are drawing far less than traditional PC's. Dell, Toshiba and HP are all looking into low-energy solutions. Additionally, laptops will always be far more energy efficient than desktops, because they have to be designed to run on battery power.

I hope that's a help to you and everybody else who's concerned about PC power use. But don't fret too much, you'll save way more by changing your light bulbs than your computer.

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