How Windows XP wasted $25 billion of energy - but will Vista be eco-friendly?

Treehugger examines how Windows XP wasted about $25 billion worth of energy and contributed 225 million tons of CO2 to the atmosphere over the past 5 years.

Treehugger examines how Windows XP wasted about $25 billion worth of energy and contributed 225 million tons of CO2 to the atmosphere over the past 5 years.

Microsoft has been touting Vista's new power saving features, saying that upgrading to Vista could easily save consumers and corporations $50 to $75 per computer per year in energy costs. The question, though, is what marvelous new code makes this miracle possible. The answer? They fixed three stupid mistakes that have cost the world billions of dollars and millions of tons of CO2 in the past five years.

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So what were these three mistakes? 

  • The default power-saving options for Windows XP were usually set to "High Performance"
  • It was too easy for applications to override sleep mode
  • Difficulty in administrating power saving features

It's very easy to underestimate the amount of power a PC consumes.  While someone who left their car running all night because it would allow them to get going quicker in the morning deserves a serious wedgie, leaving a PC and monitor on overnight really isn't thought of as being all that bad.  It is, but it's a socially acceptable form of waste.

Under Windows Vista these issues have been addressed, but is switching to Windows Vista an "eco-friendly" move?

Probably not.  First off, if you have to landfill your old PC and buy a new one to run Vista, then that's far from being a sane thing to do from an eco standpoint.  A far better solution would be to tweak a few XP settings and live with that, especially if your old PC is still up to the job at hand. 

If you do plan on upgrading your system (or systems), then consider disposing of the old systems in a thoughtful way - maybe by making a few power option tweaks and passing the system on to someone else who wants a PC.

Another problem is that a new PC isn't automatically going to be an energy saver compared to an older model.  For example, while AMD and Intel have worked hard to reduce the energy consumption of CPUs, GPU manufacturers have little or no regard for energy saving and have no shame about pushing the power requirements for new graphics cards to crazy heights.  These in turn need bigger and beefier PSUs, which waste even more energy.  Technologies such as AMD's 4x4 take energy wastefulness to new and dizzying levels.

My hope is that Microsoft will roll some of these power option fixes into the next service pack for Windows XP, and also that they work closely with OEMs and vendors to ensure that future PCs offer the best performance possible for the smallest environmental impact.