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 user 2006-11-13 at 11:36:00 am Views: 60
  • #16640

    Going green with your PC
    Practical advice on reducing the environmental impact of your computer
    2006As we add more and more computers to our homes, with networks, Nas
    (network-attached storage) devices, streaming multimedia and other
    gadgets, the amount of power that’s used adds up.Then there are the
    consumables; far from the paperless office, many computer users
    generate more waste paper than ever before, and of course plastic and
    metal and chemicals from toner and ink supplies too. Is it worth
    replacing equipment with ‘greener’ alternatives, and how do you judge
    that anyway?The good news is that, whether your concern is about the
    bottom line on your electricity bill, or the broader effects on the
    environment, you can make a difference. And you don’t have to
    drastically change the way you use your computer, replace costly
    equipment, or take a step back from the information age.

    Going green
    change is a reality. Most people now realise that, although the
    academic arguments about the causes won’t be resolved any time soon.
    Thanks to publicity increasing our awareness, including films such as
    Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, more of us are trying to think about
    how we can do our bit to help curb emissions and use energy more
    efficiently.It’s important to realise that it’s not just about climate
    change, it’s also about sustainability – making the best use of the
    finite resources our planet has to offer.Lots of people do the obvious
    things first – using local recycling facilities, sorting rubbish,
    switching to low-energy light bulbs, walking or taking public transport
    instead of using the car, or remembering to turn the TV off instead of
    just pressing the standby button.You almost certainly have other ways
    that you can help too, since you’ll probably have at least one computer
    – and often many more – at home.You may remember to turn off the
    television set, but do you do the same with your computer? Even if you
    do, recent research shows that among younger people, the computer will
    be used as a source of entertainment more than the TV. In short, power
    use by computers is increasing, and with it the potential contribution
    towards emissions of greenhouse gases.It’s not just electricity
    consumed by our PCs that is an issue. Most people have a printer as
    well – and a quick look at most ink cartridges is all it takes to see
    that they’re more plastic and metal than ink. You can just throw empty
    ones away, but it’s far better to ensure they’re recycled, and
    preferably by a specialist, rather than just tossed in the local
    council recycling bin with your empty cereal packets.

    Re-use and recycle
    key to green computing, as with other areas of life, is to reduce,
    re-use and recycle. We’ll look later at ways you can reduce
    consumption, but first it’s worth looking at what happens when you’ve
    finished with your PC.As you’ll know if you read our recent article
    ‘Our PCs, our planet’, computers contain a number of parts and
    chemicals that can be dangerous to both people and the environment, and
    it’s important to make sure that they’re disposed of properly. That
    means ensuring if you’re just throwing away an old system, you take it
    to a suitable recycling point.A recent survey in our sister magazine
    Computeractive suggests that’s what most people do – but seven per cent
    of users still put their old computers out with other household
    waste.Remember that, as some campaigning groups have discovered, when
    you hand over a computer for recycling, not all of it may be done in an
    environmentally friendly way, so don’t be afraid to ask how your old
    equipment will be disposed of. We listed some recycling and
    redistribution organisations for your old PC in the article mentioned
    above.If your PC is in reasonable condition, it can still be used for
    web browsing, email and basic tasks, even though it’s not up to scratch
    for the latest games or editing tasks – and around 60 per cent of the
    Computeractive readers surveyed passed their old systems on to friends
    or relatives, helping to prolong the life of the PC. And you can also,
    of course, re-use PCs yourself as network file servers, music servers
    or mail servers on a home network.But while re-using a computer may be
    a sound thing to do from the point of view of recycling, remember that
    you have to balance that against the power use of an older, less
    efficient system too – something that we’ll consider in more detail
    later.Consumables are the area where you can make most use of recyling;
    ensuring that old paper printouts are recycled is a good first step,
    especially when we so often print out multiple copies of a document,
    just because of a simple error, such as a misplaced comma.You should
    try to reduce paper usage by proofing on screen when you can, and look
    for options in printer drivers that will do things such as print two or
    more pages side by side on a single sheet of A4 (known as ‘n-up’
    printing); it may not be OK for the finished document, but it’ll help
    save paper when you’re proofing.And if you’re in the market for a new
    printer, why not consider one that can do duplex printing, using both
    sides of a sheet of paper, without having to reload manually? It’s a
    common feature in business printers, but less so in domestic ones.You
    can buy recycled paper, of course, and when you change the toner or ink
    cartridges, use the manufacturer’s recycling scheme, if there is one,
    or save the empties and drop them in the recycling bins that can be
    found at many office suppliers.Don’t forget that many printers offer an
    ‘Eco’ or ‘Draft’ mode that will use less toner or ink, and should be
    suitable for many day-to-day printouts. Laser printer owners will often
    benefit from removing a toner cartridge that is being flagged as ‘low
    toner’ and rocking it from side to side. It’s not always effective, but
    it can eke out the remaining toner for a few dozen more pages.Finally,
    consider using rewritable media for your backups, whether CD or DVD;
    unless you’re planning to keep a complete audit trail, rewritable discs
    will allow you to cycle through a few backup sets, instead of creating
    a pile of old discs that are hard to recycle effectively – and with
    fewer discs to keep track of, it’s easier to secure data too.

    Eco computing labels
    consumables and passing on your old computer to someone else is just
    one part of the equation. There’s also the way that you use the
    computer. By choosing the right system and making the right choices
    about how it’s used, you can have an effect on the power
    consumption.So, what makes a system energy efficient? To start with,
    the power consumption of all the components obviously has a major
    effect on how much electricity is needed, and whether you’re upgrading
    or buying from scratch, choosing the right components can help make a
    difference (see our feature to see how to choose a power supply).One of
    the most obvious changes you can make is to replace older analogue CRT
    monitors with TFT LCD flat-panel models, which consume much less
    electricity. For example, a typical modern 21in CRT monitor consumes
    around 130W, while Apple’s 20in widescreen display is rated at 65W, or
    a massive 50 per cent saving.In effect, older monitors can be consuming
    almost as much power as the computers they’re connected to. Unless you
    have a pressing need (CRTs still have benefits for graphic designers),
    you really should consider switching – especially now that flat-panel
    displays are available very cheaply. If you’re passing on a computer,
    consider sending CRT displays for recycling, and encouraging the
    recipient to obtain a flat panel – even second hand.When buying
    fridges, washing machines and other appliances (even cars), you’ll have
    seen the stickers giving an indication of energy efficiency. Many of us
    now look for the more efficient products automatically. But when it
    comes to computing, where are the stickers?In fact, there are two main
    stickers that can be found on computers and monitors – Energy Star and
    TCO. The Energy Star logo is supported by the US Environmental
    Protection Agency, and sets minimum standards for computer equipment;
    in fact. As the website makes clear, it can be applied to a whole range
    of things, including buildings.Among the key requirements are that
    systems should enter sleep mode after 30 minutes of inactivity, and
    that in this mode, there is a limit on the amount of power consumed –
    roughly 10 per cent of the maximum. Similar standards for monitors
    currently specify sleep-mode power consumption of less than 4W, and
    standby consumption of less than two, although new Energy Star
    standards are being drawn up, which should be even stricter.It’s
    important to remember, however, that just because equipment is Energy
    Star compliant, it doesn’t have to be used in that way; make sure that
    your PC’s Bios and the Windows Power Management settings are configured
    correctly – a system with the Energy Star logo can still be set to stay
    on all the time.The TCO label is a little more complex than Energy
    Star; it’s from the Swedish Confederation for Professional Employees,
    and TCO Development provides labelling standards for office products in
    general, furniture coverings, mobile phones and computers.The
    environmental aspect of the scheme deals with power consumption and
    energy saving as well as recyclability and the use of hazardous
    substances during manufacture. In addition to environmental issues, the
    labelling also covers ergonomics and electromagnetic emissions; the
    intention is to provide an all-round symbol of qualityThere have been
    several versions of the TCO standards and their requirements are given
    on the website. However, they’re broadly similar to Energy Star, for
    example a TCO’03 monitor should use four watts or less in sleep mode,
    and three or less in off or standby mode.There’s another standard for
    green computing, called IEEE 1680; unlike the others we’ve mentioned,
    it’s not something you’ll see on a sticker (yet), but the standard
    encompasses a range of required and optional criteria, covering areas
    such as hazardous substances, end-of-life arrangements, and energy
    consumption.A new US website EPEAT, the Electronic Product
    Environmental Assessment Tool, gives details of products that fulfil
    the requirements. Although it’s aimed more at professional and public
    sector purchasers, it’s still useful for individuals who wants to see
    how various models from major manufacturers such as Apple, HP and Dell
    stack up.

    Standby to save
    Standby and hibernate power
    consumption figures are important. They may seem small (a computer and
    monitor together may consume only around 5W in hibernate mode) but that
    still amounts to almost 44kWh each year. Research by Strathclyde
    University suggests that standby consumption could count for as much as
    13 per cent of home power use. Ultimately, the more power consumed, the
    more emissions of greenhouse gases like CO2 are generated.One reason
    for using these modes, of course, is that Windows simply takes forever
    to start up from cold. If that’s your experience, it’s worth checking
    our recent article on optimising Windows start-up.With a well-tuned
    system, shutting down totally may be a more practical solution, and
    remember that faster start-up is also a promised benefit of Windows
    Vista. If you can speed up your system start-up and shut down,
    switching off at the wall socket, instead of on the front of the PC
    will save you a few extra watts.Most power is used, of course, when
    your PC is up and running. Choosing a more modern system with the
    latest Intel Core-based chips, for example, will use less power than
    older models, particularly some of the later ‘Prescott’ Pentium 4
    models.If you don’t need the highest performance dual graphics cards,
    it’s overkill to opt for a PC that has them fitted. The computer will
    need a larger power supply to drive them and most PC power supplies
    aren’t as efficient when they’re not running almost flat out – which is
    an important factor to bear in mind if you’re building a system from
    scratch.It may seem like a good idea to fit the largest PSU (power
    supply unit) you can, in case you upgrade the system later, but if it’s
    under-used, it’s not going to use power efficiently, so you may be
    better off fitting a smaller PSU that’s used nearer its full
    capacity.You should also think about power issues when upgrading – and
    not just to make sure you don’t overload or underwork your PSU. If
    you’re adding a new hard drive, it may be tempting to keep the old one
    inside the PC for backing up. But will you be using it all the time? If
    not, what’s the point of having it spinning away inside the box, using
    power? Put it in an external USB caddy and only plug it in when you
    want to use it.Conversely, if you have an external drive in a caddy,
    but find it’s used most of the time, consider fitting it inside the PC
    if you don’t really need it to be portable. You’re likely to get better
    performance, as well as perhaps doing away with a power supply and
    freeing up a USB port.It’s also a good idea to check when you’re
    switching on peripherals, particularly printers and scanners; some
    don’t have power switches at all, and are automatically in a standby
    state, ready to wake up when you send a print job to them.Like PCs,
    there are obviously small savings to be made by switching off properly,
    instead of relying on standby, especially if you have a printer that
    turns itself on when the PC is powered up, rather than when a job is
    sent to it. Some inkjets are prone to this and, as well as the power
    consumption, a small amount of ink may be used too, as the nozzles are
    cleaned on start-up. So if it’s convenient, don’t plug them in unless
    they’re needed.Convenience, of course, is what can often scupper the
    best intentions when it comes to being environmentally friendly.
    Investing in a power monitor (see next page) will help you work out
    which peripherals consume most power, and you can decide how to weigh
    up the convenience of instant start-up against the power consumption.It
    may even be worth investing a little in new extension cables and
    sockets; if you can position plugs where they’re easily accessed, it’s
    much simpler to remove power from equipment than if it involves
    scrabbling on the floor under your desk.Before you press an old PC into
    service as a file or mail server, check its power consumption too, and
    consider whether or not you might be better off with a small Nas unit
    (see our Nas devices goup test or something similar – an old PC with
    its fans and unnecessary graphics cards may be overkill for sharing
    files and music around the home.

    Making choices
    With even the
    most powerful computers taking a fraction of the power that we use
    daily in our homes, it’s easy to question the point of making the
    effort to save a few paltry watts. It’s true that individually we may
    not be making that much difference, but even small savings add up
    across the population and, with computers playing such a key part in
    households, it is possible to make a big difference.As we’ve seen,
    computer users who still have CRT monitors can potentially save most in
    terms of power consumption by switching to a new, flat-panel screen. In
    Computeractive’s recent survey, just over 25 per cent of respondents
    had the older displays, potentially almost doubling the power they use
    when their computer is turned on.Put another way, if those figures are
    representative of home computer use across the country, and everyone
    with a CRT could be persuaded to change to an LCD monitor, the amount
    of electricity used by the millions of home computers and their screens
    would drop by almost 13 per cent.Of course, such an immediate huge drop
    is unlikely, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all do a little bit without
    becoming obsessive about it. Whether it’s simply changing the settings
    on our printers to use draft mode, turning over each piece of paper and
    printing on the back, or remembering to dispose of waste paper, ink and
    toner sensibly, it’s all loose change in the global piggy bank.You can
    set your computer to spin down the hard disk when it’s not being used,
    to put the screen to sleep, and choose to shut it down and switch it
    off, instead of using sleep mode overnight. Or, even better perhaps,
    have a PC-free weekend now and again.When you’re buying or building a
    new system, look out for the logos from Energy Star and TCO, or check
    the EPEAT lists for the systems that are kindest to the environment.
    Ask suppliers what arrangements they have, or will have, for recycling
    the equipment when it reaches the end of its life, and help someone
    else by passing on your old PC, instead of just throwing it
    away.Calculate the carbon emissions from your computer’s power use, and
    consider offsetting them through a tree planting scheme, or switching
    to greener power, which need only take a phone call.None of these
    things are complicated. It won’t slow down your word processing or web
    browsing, although you may have to wait a little longer for your PC to
    start up instead of return from sleep mode. But whether you’re keen to
    save money on your electricity bill or protect the planet, isn’t
    waiting a minute or so a relatively small price to pay?

    How to offset carbon emissions
    offsetting isn’t complicated; it simply means doing something to offset
    the CO2 emissions you cause, and the most common way to do that is by
    planting CO2-absorbing vegetation such as trees that otherwise wouldn’t
    be planted.There are several organisations that help you work out how
    many trees you should plant and then plant them in return for a small
    fee. For example, CO2 Balance has online calculators for you to use and
    then you can make an annual or one-off payment for trees that will be
    planted on its land.According to CO2 Balance, the 65W-power supply for
    an Apple Powerbook, used 12 hours a day, would consume 71.2kWh of power
    each quarter, creating 123kg of CO2 yearly and costing £9 to offset.
    Other sites give different figures; the National Energy Foundation
    suggests 1kWh of electricity usage will create 0.43kg of carbon
    dioxide, while figures from Strathclyde university are more
    detailed.Offsetting by planting trees isn’t the only solution, though –
    switching to a renewable electricity supplier effectively means there
    are no emissions caused by your electrical appliances, and many
    suppliers now cost the same as those burning exclusively fossil
    fuels.Comparison sites such as Uswitch include green suppliers.
    Ecotricity and Good Energy are two examples of such suppliers.

    Energy-saving gadgets
    you want to offset your emissions or simply work out which devices are
    using most power, a good starting point is to know the true consumption
    figures, rather than assuming that ratings on the back panel are
    accurate.For around £25 you can buy a PM-30 Power Monitor plug which
    will tell you how much power a device is using. Maplin also sells a
    similar model but with fewer features.Rationalising your computing
    equipment may help too. For example, a network print server means that
    not only can a single printer can be shared, but you don’t need to turn
    on an extra PC to make the printer connected to it available.If you’re
    planning a network, consider routers that include Wifi, instead of a
    separate router and access point.You can also help reduce the power
    consumption on some network equipment by using ‘Wake on Lan’ functions
    – so a PC used as a server can go to sleep, for example, and be
    automatically woken up from other systems on the network using tools
    like the Magic Packet Sender.Finally, don’t forget the Power Options
    control panel in Windows, which will enable you to set the computer to
    automatically hibernate or return to standby when it’s idle for a
    predetermined length of time.