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Howto: Reduce your computer energy consumption

Starting this millennium, the focus on ‘green products’ has increased over the years to reduce energy consumption and its impact on the environment. When searching online, one can find loads of tips to reduce energy consumption, but most of them do not focus on computer software and hardware. In this article I have gathered some of the most useful tips I found online and I combined them with the energy saving methods I currently use to come up with a short list of ‘action points’ that you can use to reduce your computers’ energy usage. Because development is usually done on desktops or workstations, I will focus on these types of machines, although some of these tips might also be useful for laptop users. Keep in mind that by design laptops are more efficient users of electricity than desktops, so the impact of these might therefor be less worth the effort (but do remind yourself that every bit helps).

  1. Buy power efficient products. Also manufacturers of computer equipment now focus on creating more efficient products. A few years ago, programs have started to identify these products easily like the well-known Energy Star program. Look for their logo when buying new computer equipment or ask for a ’80+’ power supply unit for your computer, which ensures that the power consumed by your computer is not wasted when distributed among the components.
  2. Activate power saving options Nowadays all popular operating systems have power savings options, that can help you to easily reduce the power usage of your machine. You can for example turn off your hard drives or reduce their rotating speed when idle through these options. In Linux Ubuntu (one of the most popular LInux distros) the power options can be found under System > Preferences > Power Management or you can set advanced options by issuing the following the command sudu gconf-editor in the command line and looking for ‘apps / gnome-power-manager’ in the tree. In Windows the power options are hidden in the Control Panel: hit ‘Start’ and click ‘Control Panel’ to find the option ‘Power Options’ in the new screen. Its competitor Mac OS X has it placed under System Preferences in the Apple menu, after which you can choose the ‘Energy Saver’ in the View menu.
  3. Optimize performance. Every process in your computer requires processing power and thus energy. This means that every useless program that runs in the background while you are working is unnecessary wasting energy. Checking your computer for obsolete software and background processes might be a daunting task, but it will make your computer faster, more stable and decrease the energy consumption of your machine. There is even free software available to help you with this ask, like
  4. Disable your screen saver. Screen savers were originally designed to prevent your monitor from ‘burning in’, which happened with older monitors when a static image was displayed for a longer period. Nowadays, this problem has been long gone as monitors have developed over the years and the screen saver became energy wasting eye candy. You should therefor disable the screen saver to save energy while you are away. Even better, you can set your screen saver to ‘blank’ in most operating systems to save even more energy while preserving your monitor.
  5. Make it black. In 2007, a blog was posted which calculated the energy required for a white and black version of Google query using a regular CRT monitor. In short, their article states that 3000 Megawatt-hours a year could be saved if everyone would use a black Google version. Although LCD monitors are more power conservative than their CRT equivalents, they do use more energy for displaying a white pixel as their default color is black. In reaction to the article, Heap Media created a Google-based search engine using black colors only, which will help you to further reduce your energy usage. But it does not end there, more and more programs (including your operating system) allow you to set a so-called template or ‘look-and-feel’ which will enhance the colors and lay-out of the program. By picking a darker template for your most used programs you can reduce your energy usage even further. And for the people that do not want to adjust their templates, there is of course also the options to reduce the brightness of the screen.
  6. Introduce slavery. Over the years, a large variety of peripherals have been introduced to assist you with your daily work. Most of this equipment is connected to the power grid immediatly, instead of relying on the power supplied by the computer. When you turn of your computer however, the peripherals can thus still drain energy from the power grid while turned on or in standby mode. With a master/slave adapter, the equipment (the slaves) will be cut of the power grid and thus turned off completely when you turn of your computer (the master). You can buy a master-slave socket strip at your local dealer or online through Conrad International.
  7. Turn it off! Turning of your equipment will obviously be the best method to decrease your energy consumption. Most operating systems allow you to automatically turn off your monitor through the energy saving options (see above). When you leave your computer for a short time 30 minutes to a few hours, you can turn your computer into ‘suspend’, ‘sleep’ or ‘standby’ mode. This mode will turn your computer in a energy efficient mode, but it will still be on so you can continue immediately when you come back (note that a power cut might make you lose unsaved data as the computer is still turned on!). For longer periods, you can consider to turn off your computer completely or use hibernation. The latter saves your current processes before it shuts down, so it can recover your processes the next time you start your computer.

After implementation of some of these points, you might not see a significant change on your energy bills. But if every computer worldwide would use just a few Kilowatt less per year, this would mean that thousands of Megawatt are saved every year. In addition, there are other ways to reduce the waste caused by computer-related activities which are not directly related to its energy usage. One could for example use an iPod or other MP3 player to reduce the usage of disposable CD-R’s and DVD-R’s. Also sending e-mails or sharing information through the various sharing services online will reduce the waste caused by printing photo’s, documents and faxing. In short, we can state that you can reduce your waste by keeping it digital.

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