Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Green Computing

by Gavin @ The Greening of Gavin

It is most ironic that I chose to write about this subject today, because since 3am this morning, I have not had an Internet connection.  The ADSL is down in areas of our state, so my ISP tells me.  Both my wife and I feel like we are missing a part of ourselves, and it feels really weird not being connected to the greater global community.  It just goes to show how reliant one can get to being jacked in to the ‘net 24/7.  So, I apologise up front for the tardiness of this post, which was supposed to hit the site on Monday 30th, March.  Better late than never, and I hope you enjoy it.

So, back to the subject at hand.   The use of computers in this modern day and age as a means of communications and knowledge is invaluable, however it doesn’t mean you have to waste energy or resources whilst enjoying your computer experience.  Here are some tips that I have learned from my career in the IT industry, which should help you green up your computing needs.

Laptops are 90% more energy efficient than desktop computers are, because they have to be!  Since laptops need to run on battery for as long as possible, manufacturers continually build them better each year with energy-saving features such as automatic sleep modes, hard drive shutdown, and low energy LCD screens. 

Inkjet printers are 90% more energy efficient than laser printers.  You can also refill the ink cartridges yourself and save on landfill and money.  Laser printers may have a higher quality output and are faster, but most people don’t realise how much energy they use.  A laser printer consumes 17 times more power than an Inkjet printer, and 3 times as much energy as a desktop computer and monitor.  What’s worse is that a typical laser printer uses a third of its full power when it is on standby.  Only laser printers manufactured in the last few years have low standby ratings.

If you are in the market to buy a printer, have a think about choosing a Multifunction Device (MFD).  Most can print, fax, scan and copy, and use much less energy than having a separate machine for each function.  I have an inkjet MFD and it only uses 32 watts when printing or scanning.

Share printers in the home or office environment.  Most operating systems allow you to share out a central printer and allow other computers to print from it via your home network.  We have four PC’s at home that print from a single printer in my office.  It certainly beats having to have a printer for each computer!

Speaking of printing, the paper you choose also makes a difference to the environment as well.  Recycled paper is well manufactured these days and rarely jams in printers like it used to.  When office paper is made from recycled content, it uses about half the energy than to make virgin paper from trees.  I try and use at least 70% recycled content in my office paper and use duplex mode on my printer as the default setting to save paper.  I also recycle all office paper waste, and printer cartridges that no longer function correctly.

Before printing, use the print preview to make sure that your document looks like you expect it should before printing.  That way you will save on wasted paper.

Ditch the screen saver.  Screen savers do not save energy – in fact, they use just as much energy as working on a spreadsheet does!  Screen savers were invented to keep the image of your document from being ‘burned’ into your green screen monitor (very old school), during long hours of inactivity.  Burning is no longer an issue for today’s modern CRT and LCD monitors.  An even better solution came along; sleep mode.

If you do have a desktop PC, enable a the power saving scheme that gives you the most energy efficient outcome.  Here is a snapshot of my power scheme under Windows XP.  It is found in the Control Panel – Power Options.

Power Saving

Most operating systems have similar functionality with which you can adjust the power settings of various components. 

Cathode Ray Tube monitors use about 5 times the energy than a new LCD monitor does.  If you are still running a CRT monitor, have a think about upgrading to a LCD.  You may be surprised to know that the prices of LCDs have dropped dramatically in the last few years.  However, just be aware that the bigger the LCD screen, the more power it uses.

Don’t forget to recycle or donate your old computing equipment if you upgrade.  It takes 12 times the amount of energy your computer uses in one year to manufacture it.  Also, when a CRT monitor is crushed in landfill it releases up to 4kg of poisonous lead into the surrounding environment!  Most cities have PC recycling facilities and a simple query on your favourite search engine should reveal their location.  If you can’t find a recycler, and your old equipment still works, think about donating it to charity or your local school.  I am sure they would be more than happy to take it off of your hands.

It is an common urban myth that your computer will break more easily if you turn it off often.  Today’s PCs are designed to handle at least 20,000 power cycles before their hard drives begin to wear down.  That’s equivalent to turning your PC on and off seven times a day for eight years solid!  PC hardware has come a long way since the early 90’s.  There is no reason not to turn your PC off when not in use. 

An easy way to power all of your office equipment off at once is to plug everything into a power strip.  Most office equipment leaks power (also known as vampire, phantom or standby power), even when it is turned off.  Transformers draw energy even when not under load.  My office equipment still draws 22 watts, even with everything turned off.  Power strips that have surge protection and a master switch are a great investment.  The master switch is especially good when you power points are in hard to reach places.  If you use small mobile devices like a PC tablet or Pocket PC, remember to unplug or turn off the charger when not in use.

If you do want to turn your PC off over lunch, think about hibernating the operating system.  Hibernation is a quick way of shutting down and restarting you PC to exactly where you left if.  It saves all of the information currently in memory direct to your hard drive.  That way your desktop is quickly restored upon power-up.  I use it all the time at work, and it only takes 45 seconds to restore my desktop from where I left off in the previous session.  Also, don’t forget to turn off your monitor if away from your desk for more than 15 minutes.  Even in sleep mode they still use energy.

Do you realise how hard it is to research an article about green computing to ensure your claims are valid and mostly accurate without the use of the internet?  I didn’t realise how reliant I have become on this global tool when writing my blog posts.  Thankfully I had a few PC manuals and “how to be green” books in my library to confirm my claims.  Thank goodness for the power of books!