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21. Appendix D - Recommendations for Buying a New Computer

Courtesy of Wade W. Hampton (modifications by wh): Purchase a low-power computer such as a laptop or network computer. These typically don't use as much power as desktop systems. For example, someone on the WWW had a Corel/Rebel Netwinder powered by solar cells. I find it funny that an "Energy Star" desktop still has a 300W power supply and uses far more power than a computer like the Netwinder which uses something like 10 Watts of power, (though this is consistent with the Energy Star goals for computer equipment, since they have targeted unused power consumption).

Maybe there should be a new class of computers called "Energy Miser" (or similar) that use nearly an order of magnitude less power than Energy Star systems?

To save power for the display, one could purchase a LCD monitor instead of a CRT. LCD monitors consume 30-40 Watts of power versus the 100's of Watts used by most monitors. The price of an LCD is still 2-3 times that of a similar monitor, but as LCDs become more widely used, the price will come down.

Make sure that any new computer purchase includes APM-compliant hardware and low-radiation. Use TCO, DPMS or Energy Star compliant monitors.

R Horn <> wrote: " I personally have found the Lawrence Berkeley Labs - LBL web site to be the best source for information on energy efficient equipment. They go into considerable details on how to reduce energy consumption from many kinds of equipment, including much more than computers. They also have a good collection of links to related sites. The Energy Star program is defined by the US Environmental Protection Agency, which has a web site on it. So far all of the Energy Star regulations have been defined to reduce energy usage without requireing change or restrictions on regular usage. There is an amazingly large amount of electricity consumed by idle equipment (computers, televisions, microwave ovens,...) and also large amounts consumed unnecessarily by equipment that must be continuously one (emergency exit signs, traffic lights, ...). Since this energy can be saved without asking users to make any compromises on performance, it is being targeted first.

Somewhere on the LBL web site they have the actual power consumption figures for various PCs. The 300W power supply is quite misleading. Actual power usage varies depending upon what programs you run and whether the disks can be powered down. Genuine usage while in operation is usually in the 50-75W range. When the system is idle, it drops significantly.

The NetWinder is a nice machine, but does force operational compromises. The peak CPU performance is much lower. The operating system is not Windows. And there are other limitations. A closer comparison is the typical laptop PC. These can generally be operated from a modest solar panel because their average power drain is quite low. With these you can see the cost vs power consumption tradeoff. They achieve the same performance as the desktop units, but the low power consumption has doubled or tripled the cost.

(I personally use a Psion. A decent slow computer that requires only 200mw of power. It may even run Linux once they deal with some of the ROM issues.)

The big debate in setting the energy star regulations was deciding which would have greater overall benefit: small negligible cost improvements to almost all equipment sold, or greater improvements at much higher cost? Could that cost be invested elsewhere to greater benefit? How will the purchasers react to the higher cost? So far the consensus has been that improving a large number of machines at negligible cost is wiser than improving a smaller number of machines at high cost."

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