Your computers are probably sucking a lot more power than you realise.
Take my audit results (PDF). My desktop PC can quite happily sit there sucking 100W, more than i’d be using to light the whole house some nights. Coupled with the fact that PCs are routinely left on for hours (or even continuously) and it adds up to a moderately shocking amount of wasteage.
Use a laptop
Laptops use a fraction of the power of desktops, and often have similar performance. From my audit results you can see that my laptop uses about 80% less power than my desktop.
Use a netbook or nettop
Don’t believe the hype from computer manufacturers. If (like most people) you spend most of your time on the computer using the internet, you don’t need a powerful desktop machine.
Netbooks are small super-efficient laptops designed for low-power use and long battery life. They’ll happily run a browser, office apps and internet goodies like Skype. As a bonus, most come preinstalled with Linux, so you won’t need to worry about viruses and malware.
The Asus Eeebox is so small you can mount it on the back of your monitor
A nettop is a similar animal, but for desktop use. Most desktop machines are hugely overpowered for browsing, but a nettop with a fast connection will give you 100% of the online experience without the overkill.
They’re built from laptop components and special efficient chipsets. You won’t be able to play the latest games on them, but if that doesn’t bother you, then they’re a really good option. As well as being more efficient than regular desktops they’re also quieter, cheaper and a lot smaller.
Examples include the Mac Mini, Asus EeeBox and the Linutop ( aka Viglen MPC-L)
Never torrent with your desktop
Torrents are great. The trouble is you need to leave the machine running for ages.
A NAS like the Qnap TS-209 will save power and money while protecting your data
In my case, leaving my desktop running 24/7 at 85W is not an attractive option. I’ve shifted all my torrent work over to a small efficient home file server from Qnap. Their range of home NAS (Network Attached Storage) devices will store all your movies and music on your home network, and download torrents at a measely 12W. Electricity costs for 24/7 use come to about £10.51 per year, compared to £70 for an 80W desktop machine. So the NAS totally pays for itself in electricity savings alone after about three years. Since I use one of the two-disk versions in a RAID1 setup, i’m also protected against data loss from hard drive failure, and the box is capable of a lot more. I’d recommend a similar device to anyone.
Modern PCs have more options than on and off. They can seamlessly move into low-powered standby states when they’re not being used.
Called sleep on Win/Mac and suspend on Linux, the machine shuts down all the hungry componants like processors, fans and hard drives, leaving your open apps in memory. At a moments notice they can be restarted. While in suspend my desktop only uses 1W more than it does when “off”!
I’d recommend setting your OS to suspend the machine whenever it’s idle for a few minutes. Most desktop keyboards and all laptops also have a hot key to suspend manually if you have to step away from the machine momentarily.
Use power-efficient components
If you build or modify your own machines then take a moment to look into efficient components.
Power supplies are a good place to start. Look for a model rated as “80Plus”, meaning it converts greater than 80% of the input power into usable power.
There are also some highly efficient CPUs on the market. For example the Athlon 4850e is a respectable 2.5GHz dual-core chip that’s rated at an amazing 45W, meaning it uses about half the power of similarly powerful CPUs.
Also, make sure your motherboard and CPU are compatible with the power-saving features built into modern chips. In a correctly matched motherboard a modern chip will reduce it’s voltage or even shut down whole cores depending on the demands on it. This can lead to large power savings.
Graphics cards are also a huge power consumer. In general, for machines that don’t do a lot of gaming, rendering or video work i’d suggest using the lowest-spec GPU that you can. For many people onboard graphics is perfectly usable.
It’s easy to be wasteful when it comes to powering your IT gear. But there’s also a ton of things you can do to give you a powerful, flexible setup that won’t eat the planet or your wallet.
Conducting an audit will show you where the problems are, and where a change in behaviour or hardware could bring about savings.