PC: The Ins-and-Outs of Going Green

Computers are not just an incredible convenience: They’re a cornerstone of the modern world. They make it possible to share documents with a few clicks of a mouse or communicate face-to-face via webcams and microphones. They have unified the world in ways that airplanes couldn’t, and each new breakthrough promises a host of benefits that will change things for the better.

That’s why it’s important for technology companies to adopt sustainable practices and for consumers to support the ones who are pushing the industry in that direction.

Don’t mistake this for a call to selfless idealism; there are numerous benefits to buying green, not the least of which is electrical efficiency.

PSUs

The average PC contains a 250W or 300W PSU, but don’t be fooled by those markers. A 300W power supply can draw 500 watts to match its promised output. This adds hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to the user’s electric bill over the course of a few years, especially if the computer is rarely turned off. It’s not unusual for PCs to be left on, and even when they’re idle, they can draw 100 watts or more depending on the user settings. When there’s more than one computer in the house, it’s like leaving all the lights on all the time.

While nothing can replace good computing habits, a quality power supply can dramatically reduce the burden.

One of the best examples is Antec’s EarthWatts line, which offers PSUs ranging from 380W to 750W.

Every EarthWatts PSU is 80 Plus bronze certified, which means that they’re at least 82% energy efficient at maximum output. To put that into perspective, a 380W PSU would draw slightly less than 450 watts when pushed to its limit whereas a less efficient model could draw far more. While few people do anything that demands the most power possible from their PSUs, increased efficiency is better at every level whether it’s cost, longevity or the user’s carbon footprint.

How do efficient PSUs add to a computer’s longevity?

They run cooler, and less heat within the case means that there’s less stress on the machine overall. Some models don’t even need internal fans because the cooling system within the PC itself is enough. As a general rule, the less efficient a PSU is, the harder it has to work to run a PC, and the harder it works the more heat it produces, leading to problems like sudden shut downs and a shorter lifespan for the computer overall. Now that there are over seventy 80 Plus certified PSUs on the market, it doesn’t make sense to purchase anything else.

CPUs

Generally speaking, more powerful components are bigger energy sinks. That’s not the case with processors. Engineers at both AMD and Intel have worked tirelessly to eliminate waste from their newest products, and the result is a line of CPUs that are not only far more capable than their predecessors, they’re the best choice for anyone going green. Every Intel and AMD product currently on the market has at least two cores, and they’re designed so that each one activates as needed, giving the user only as much processing power as they need. This has a domino effect that reduces waste, lowers power consumption, and puts less stress on a PC throughout its lifetime.

GPUs

Graphics cards are the big power sucker, and currently there’s no way to get the best graphics without sacrificing some efficiency and eco-friendliness. It can be assumed that a top-of-line graphics card adds at least 100 watts to a computer’s general power consumption, and this increases with video games that are played at the highest settings on large monitors, especially if there’s more than one GPU installed.

The green solution is to use integrated graphics, but unfortunately the built-in graphics chips on most PCs are only barely adequate, if they can play modern titles at all. A good compromise would be one of the many mid-range cards that are priced between $100 and $200. They can usually play anything released within the last few years at high settings, and new releases run fairly well on medium. They consume less power than the latest-and-greatest, and anyone that isn’t a major gaming enthusiast won’t notice a huge difference in quality.

Small Versus Large

It’s a myth that smaller computers are greener. It’s true that most pre-built machines from major companies like Dell are smaller than other consumer PCs, but depending on what the computer is intended for, a larger case can provide some benefits, like better heat distribution. It’s something to keep in mind for anyone that’s building their own machine, but yes, if there’s a large case on the shelf at Wal-Mart, it’s probably filled to the brim with inefficient components, and there are better buys available.

Laptops

The one place where smaller is always better is laptops. With few exceptions, small laptops are more efficient, have better battery life, are more portable, and consume less power when connected to an AC adapter. Notebooks, the smallest laptops on the market, are the kings of green because they’re designed from the ground up to consume less power, and some of them can boast incredible gains over their fatter cousins. They’re insufficient for gamers or video editors on the go, but since desktops are primarily used for those purposes, most consumers lose nothing by choosing the smaller and less powerful machine.

Conclusion

There are some things that aren’t covered here, like monitors, but the general rule of thumb is that smaller is better and less powerful is greener. Thankfully, it isn’t necessary to be a technological luddite to go eco-friendly, but a few sacrifices have to be made by power users that are making the shift. Even if they decide to get the best stuff on the market, everybody benefits from choosing the most efficient components, and perhaps in another decade technology will have made another quantum leap that provides a thousand times more functionality while practically eliminating the user’s carbon footprint. In the meantime, things are pretty good for those going green.

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If you don't have integrity, you have nothing. You can't buy it. You can have all the money in the world, but if you are not a moral and ethical person, you really have nothing.
Henry Kravis