Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Save Your Business...and Environment With Green PCs

Green Computer, Green PC
The Age of Computers dawned with the ecologically friendly promise of a paperless office. That broken promise aside, the rapid advancement of computer technology has had a very nasty and unforeseen impact on the environment.

If saving the Earth's environment isn't your thing, perhaps saving your hard-earned money is. Going Green means using cleaner, safer, cooler computers, which means becoming more energy efficient, which saves money. We'll review a few green PC systems here, plus give you a checklist that will help you shop for other systems and upgrades.

Buying a New System

The average computer lasts 3 years, so odds are you'll be in the market for a new PC pretty soon. Unless you're upgrading parts or building your own green computer (see below), you'll want to keep an eye out for what's inside the newest PCs.

HP Compaq is offering two new green PCs. There's the tiny HP Compaq dc7800 Ultra-slim Desktop PC with SSD ($1,258), and the bare bones model dc5800 ($579). Both feature energy-efficient hardware as well as software, resulting in faster boot-ups, as-needed power consumption, and timely auto shutdowns. These Energy Star compliant machines produce less heat, reducing cooling energy by 15-30%. They use half as much electricity to run, and up to 75% less energy in sleep mode. Use of lead-free components further enhances their "greenness."

Going even further, Lenovo is offering 42 different PC models approved by EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool), a set of standards set by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Lenovo's A 61e ThinkCentre is one of the greenest PCs in the world. The desktop is small and light, and 90% of its components are recyclable. The AMD dual core Athlon 64X2 processor uses less than half the energy of a standard CPU, living up to its cool and quiet claims. Available imminently in North America, it could start in the $400 range before upgrades.

Green Habits

Develop some simple habits to enhance your PC greenness. Screen savers don't save energy, so go to your PC's power management utility and set your screen to turn off after 5 minutes of inactivity, and for your hard drive to spin down (hibernate, sleep, suspend) after 10 minutes of inactivity. Turn off your PC if you're not using it. For more on how to reduce the power consumption of your PC, read our article "Reduce Your PC's Power and Operating Costs: Tweak Windows Power Settings."

Always recycle. Replacing computers and components with greener technology still leaves you with the responsibility to dispose of your old technology responsibly. HP Compaq and Lenovo, as well as many local landfills and entrepreneurial ventures are making it easier to dispose of these machines properly. They will break down the components, recycle what they can, and dispose if the rest in ways that protect the environment.

Green Components

The greener PC systems use lead-free components and avoid the four main power hogs: CRT monitors, energy-wasting power supplies, souped-up graphics cards, and inefficient CPUs. Here's what you should look for:

* The biggest environmental offender in a PC system is the CRT monitor - those old heavy cathode ray tube monitors. Most are full of deadly lead, mercury, barium, cadmium and phosphorous. Similar sized flat LCD screens burn half as much energy and are free of the exotic toxins.
* PC power supplies used to run full tilt whether or not they needed to. A new initiative called the 80 Plus Program certifies lead-free power supplies designed to deliver only the power called for at the moment.
* High performance graphics cards can actually draw more than three times the power of a CRT monitor. Gaming may be fun, but it's an environment killer.
* CPUs are traditional power-drainers. Still, Intel's latest Core 2 Duo E6700 processor and AMD's X2 series processors use less energy yet run faster than their Pentium D class of chips. VIA's latest processors can use up to 80% less energy.
* New variable speed CPU fans are available that work only as hard as necessary to keep your CPU cool. Additional heat sink features increase efficiency.
* Seagate and Samsung are the forerunners in developing SATA hard drives that are lead-free and energy efficient, with single instead of multiple platters to decrease the eventual discarded hazardous waste.
* Intel has a lead-free DG965SS microATX motherboard, which consumes less power and eliminates the need for graphics and sound expansion cards because they're already integrated into the board.
* Sony is leading the way with lead-free DVD/CD drives.
* Avoid getting too much RAM - even the lead-free variety. You may never need the extra module, and avoiding it keeps energy waste down.

Bottom Line

When shopping for green PCs or upgrade components, look for lead-free circuitry, "80 Plus" certified power supplies, variable CPU fans with heat sinks, LCD monitors, and in general don't buy more capability than you need. EPEAT approval and Energy Star compliance are also good signs. Be sure to recycle your old PCs and components. You'll save money. And, oh yeah, you'll save the planet.