Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Put your PC to sleep to go green

The quiet box on your desk or in the living room, that thing that helps you work and buy airline tickets and watch funny clips on YouTube — it's also burning fossil fuels.

The tools to slow the power flow are right inside it, accessible with a few mouse clicks. Pay nothing; give nothing up. Yet most of us never make the fix.

To change that, Intel and Google founded the Climate Savers Computing Initiative. In their sights: Your computer, your kid's computer, your sister's ... all 1 billion PCs worldwide. The technology giants want computers to go to sleep, and consume less energy, when we're not using them.

Compared with the thirstiest appliances — refrigerators, clothes dryers, microwave ovens — computers are energy sippers. But the sips add up. If Climate Savers reaches its goal of whacking in half the amount of power consumed each year by the world's computers, the resulting drop in carbon dioxide emissions will be equivalent to removing 11 million cars from the road, the campaign predicts.

Government studies have estimated that power management tools, standard on most computers, aren't active on 90 percent of desktop PCs. For individual users of PCs or Macs, turning on the tools requires a few minutes of fiddling with your power settings (after checking with the office technology manager). It's more complicated, but doable, for businesses with hundreds or thousands of machines.

Why don't we turn it on?

We don't think about it.

The computer industry historically has emphasized performance and price over energy efficiency. Dileep Bhandarkar, an Intel engineer, estimates efficiency-rated computers make up only 20 percent of the computer market — a share new industry and government efforts aim to increase.

Times have changed, Bhandarkar says. Newer operating systems with better power management mean users wait just seconds for computers to wake from hibernation. Some systems still won't allow you to temporarily sever your computer's network connections, but you can save energy and money by activating sleep mode on the monitor and hard drive alone.