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Want to cut power bills? Turn off PC
Computers: Try low-tech solutions to problems caused by high-tech energy consumption.
By Phillip Robinson Knight Ridder/tribune News Service
It has been a long, hot summer in many parts of the world. Energy supplies have been stretched thin. And computers are often making it worse.
They're eating up an increasing amount of our power, both to run them and to produce them in the first place. (You should see a vat of molten silicon simmering at 1,500 degrees, on its way to becoming microprocessors.)
You can't do much about the production end, but you can do something about the operations end.
Turn it off.
That's right. When you're not computing, or about to compute, just turn it off.
I'd say the cutoff point is about half an hour. If you're going to be away longer than 30 minutes, turn it all off.
For most of us, lunch is long enough to turn the computer off. If you have a complex computer setup that takes five or more minutes to restart, then maybe you're in the minority that should leave it on during lunch.
For all of us, except those few who want to run all-night number-crunching, the computer can be off from evening until morning.
I know there's some direct advantage to you in leaving the computer on. The designers haven't yet managed to make them "instant on" except in the case of a few portables. So you can save a minute or two of warm-up time by just leaving it on.
If you'll add a new habit of flicking it on before you're done with all other preparations, you will rarely notice that warm-up time. Think of it like turning on the automatic coffeemaker in the morning. You turn that switch first, then feed the cat, shuffle papers, whatever else you need to do to warm up your own brain.
What about that expert who told you it was safer for the computer to stay on? That the turning-on and turning-off flexed the circuit board or stressed the hard disk head or otherwise shortened the life of the computer?
Don't believe it. There's some theoretical sense in it, enough to make a good story at least, but that kind of aging won't bother your computer for a lot longer than it's going to live. With the increased power of newer computers, I'd give today's computer three years of prime life, another two or four of active duty in a reserve position, and you'd still have to wait another decade before powering up got to be a problem. It'll be junked or in a museum by then.
And in the real world, I've seen more damage done to computers from being left on than from the on/off cycle. When they're on they're sucking dust through the fan. When they're on they're far more vulnerable to being bumped around or knocked off a desk. When they're on they're wide open to a power surge or lightning spike that could fry the chips.
It's also more secure to turn your computer off, making it harder for others - either through an Internet connection or by walking up to your keyboard - to read and steal your secrets.
So turn the thing off when you can, to protect your investment in it, to reduce the amount of air conditioning you need in that home or office full of computer gear, and to spare the Earth the wasted energy.
Remember to turn off the peripherals such as the printers, which can often use more energy than the computer itself.
Step 2 is to use the "low-energy" setting on your system when possible. Your desktop computer, portable computer, monitor and printer may all have software that lets you adjust their energy use. Look in your Control Panels for a name like Power Management. Set it so that your computer goes into a low-power "sleep" mode when you're away from it for even five or 10 minutes. Waking back up from sleep might take 15 seconds, or less, so it's much faster than turning the computer on again. During sleep mode it uses only a fraction of the full-power energy. Why not let it sleep over night?
Step 3 is to look for the EnergyStar emblem on any new computer gear you buy. That labels it as energy-efficient, getting the same work done with less power. Most new computers and peripherals have the EnergyStar, but a few don't.
Step 4 is to realize that home heating and cooling use a lot more energy than computers do. You can press local governments to zone for energy-efficient housing - orienting homes in the proper direction for natural heating and cooling, which takes a big load off the energy system. If refrigerators were designed as stupidly as most of today's homes, they wouldn't even have doors. Instead they'd use ten times as much power trying to project cold across the entire kitchen, while extra heaters were installed just outside the kitchen area to keep the house from becoming an igloo.
But if you're too busy to weigh in on local zoning, and not about to buy a new home, try these high-tech fixes: Keep the shades drawn during the sunny hours and consider installing ceiling fans. As boring as those steps sound, they alone might solve our energy "shortage."
Step 5 is to try to telecommute a day a week or more. That'll make a huge difference, using less gas, and also buying you a less stressed and less dangerous life. Then for the days you have to commute, buy an electric or hybrid car, but that's a story for another day.
-- (Dee360degree@aol.com), August 21, 2000