SAN FRANCISCO, 13 APRIL 2008
Dear EarthTalk: As an online gamer, I spend a lot of time in
front of my computer. What's the environmental impact? And are
"greener" PCs available?
Bob Grant, Burlington, VT
Online gamers and other heavy computer users are definitely
leaving an environmental mark. Depending on when it was made
and how it was designed, a standard desktop PC can use anywhere
from 60-300 watts when in use, while an inefficient gaming PC
with powerful graphics card, multiple hard drives and optical
drives, flash memory reader and a 30-inch LCD might consume as
much as 750 watts, or about as much as a typical refrigerator.
Until July of 2007, government Energy Star requirements only
measured a computer's energy use while in standby mode, which
allowed the majority of brands to carry the label.
New stricter efficiency requirements have brought greener
models. You'll find the largest selection from companies like
Dell and Hewlett Packard. Many businesses use the Electronic
Products Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) to assist in the
purchase of greener computing systems, and the evaluations can
be useful to consumers, too. EPEAT evaluates and rates
computing equipment on 28 efficiency and sustainability
criteria, awarding them bronze, silver or gold for overall
Technology company VIA is well regarded as an industry leader
in low-wattage processors (central processing units or CPUs),
with some barely sipping only a dozen or so watts from the
power supply. Some typical VIA designs can outperform
competitors using only 23 watts, or less than half the power
called for by Energy Star specifications. Of course graphics
cards used by PC gamers are serious energy hogs. Your top-end
ATI or nVidia card will render great graphics, but use 300
watts or more. Newer cards are better, but much depends on
their use. The best advice is to buy only the graphics power
One of the easiest ways to save on computer power is to use
technology that automatically rests when you do, and to shut
your computer down when you're not using it. Windows XP allows
users to configure power management settings, and Vista
Ultimate lets you configure power-saving options in even more
ways. Vista can actually throttle its power consumption for
some tasks and power down at other times. If you're just typing
a Microsoft Word document, performance will back down, whereas
if you are editing video in a powerful program like Adobe
Premier Pro, Vista will use all the processing power available.
Bear in mind that screen savers are not energy savers. In fact,
power-down features may not work if you have a screen saver
activated. Happily, LCD color monitors do not need screen
savers. In terms of shutting down, while PCs use a small amount
of energy when they start up, it's considerably less than the
energy used when they are on for long periods of time. Consider
turning off the monitor if you aren't going to use your PC for
more than 20 minutes, and both the CPU and monitor if you're
not going to use your PC for more than two hours.
If you're concerned about the "wear and tear" of turning PCs on
and off, don't be. Most PCs reach the end of their "useful"
life due to advances in technology long before the effects of
being switched on and off multiple times can have a negative
impact on their service life.
CONTACTS: Energy Star, www.energystar.gov; EPEAT,
http://epeat.net; Recycling an
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