Put your PC on an energy diet!

With soaring energy prices people are concerned about how much electricity their gadgets are consuming. Go green by saving dollars and the environment by putting your PC on an energy diet!
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

With soaring energy prices people are concerned about how much electricity their gadgets are consuming. Go green by saving dollars and the environment by putting your PC on an energy diet!

Note: You can look at this post in one of two ways. You can either think of it as making you and your tech a little bit more eco-friendly or you can look at it as a way to help you save a few dollars. Either way, I'm sure you'll agree that it's a good idea to save power while at the same time saving money.

Simple steps!

Simple energy saving tips that you can put into practice today!

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  1. First things first! Find out just how much juice your PC is currently using. There are several devices on the market that will allow you to measure the how much power your PC (and other devices) is consuming. Two of my favorites power monitoring devices are:  - Kill-A-Watt - Simple set of features  - Watts Up Pro - Advanced set of features, including logging Either of these will tell you exactly how much power your PC is consuming, and how much it is costing you to run your PC. Tip: While some power monitors will do the math for you, with some of the cheaper ones you will have to calculate for yourself how much the power is costing you. Fortunately the math is pretty straightforward: ((Watts x Hours in Use)/1000) x Cost per kilowatt-hour = Total cost
  2. Put Vista to sleep If you're running Windows Vista then make sure that you get S3 sleep working right if you are going to be making use of it. A properly powered-down PC in sleep mode should be drawing less than 10 watts or so. Tip: XP users can find power-saving tips here.
  3. Off is better than sleep! I'll be honest with you and come clean about the fact that I'm no fan of sleep mode. Why? Because even if you can power down a PC to the point where it consumes less than 10 watts, that's 10 watts too much when you look at today's energy prices. Scale up 10 watts over the millions of Vista PCs out there and you quickly realize that sleep mode is a concept from a past era (it's Vampire Power that Microsoft is making you waste to make Vista seem faster during boot up). Tip #1: If you have more than one PC then you're making even bigger energy savings by shutting them off as opposed to putting them in sleep mode. Tip #2: Contrary to popular belief, you're not wearing out your PC by switching of off regularly.
  4. Get a "smart" power strip Chances are that you have a fair bit of kit attached to your PC that you can safely power down as soon as your PC is off. An easy way to do this is to get a "smart" power strip that powers down specific outlets when you switch off your PC. Tip #1: You might be surprised to find that something as simple as your speakers are drawing 15-20 watts all day, every day. A "smart" power strip can help you put a stop to this waste. Tip #2: A cheaper solution is to invest in a power strip where each outlet has a switch.
  5. Off the grid! Are you running a volunteer grid computing applications where you're searching for aliens, calculating Pi to a crazy number of digits, or folding proteins then these applications are pushing your PC hard when it's supposed to be idle. Tip: A PC running applications such as Folding @home can be really expensive to run - if you don't believe me, hook up a Kill-A-Watt and see for yourself!
  6. Go Notebooks! Notebooks use far less power than desktops.

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Take more action!

These tips are a bit more involved but allow you to make greater savings:

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  1. Dump the CRT If you're still running an old CRT (tube) monitor then you can make significant energy savings by replacing this with an LCD panel.
  2. On-board GPU An on-board GPU will consume far less power than a discrete video card, so if you don't need a super GPU for gaming then save a few bucks and help save the planet.
  3. Cut down on the peripherals Do you really want that scanner, printer, external hard drive, external DVD burner and graphics tablet plugged in all the time? No, then save a little power by disconnecting them until they are needed. Tip: I run several dual screen systems, but when I don't actually need both screens on I switch one off.
  4. Chuck out that massive PSU Does your PC have a massive 1kW+ PSU and yet never draws more than 350 watts? If this is the case then you can save money by replacing your PSU with a smaller one - just give yourself 20-25% headroom over the maximum that you PC draws. Tip: Make sure that the new PSU is rated as 80PLUS to get maximum benefit from the switch.
  5. Get rid of legacy Have you been adding extra hard drives to your PC over time? Each of these hard disks is spinning away money daily. A single large hard drive is more efficient than three of four little ones. Tip: You can make greater savings by fitting Western Digital "Green Power" drives.
  6. Overclocking and energy saving don't mix An overclocked system will consume much more power than a system running at normal speeds. Running an overclocked system all the time is a terrible waste, especially if most of the time the system is used to browse the web and so on. Tip: Some motherboard and PC vendors have utilities that allow you to overclock you system on demand - consider this a cheaper alternative to permanent overclocking.

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Look beyond your PC!

A few non-PC related energy saving tips to finish off on:

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  1. Switch off wall warts when not in use! If you're anything like me, you probably have dozens of wall warts that you use to charge up all sorts of devices. You'd be amazed now much power a handful of wall warts can consume. Keep them unplugged until you need them.
  2. Switch your light bulbs over to energy saving bulbs They make a huge difference! Honestly.
  3. Vampire Power Make a list of all your devices that go into a low-power standby mode as opposed to being switched off and measure the power draw from each of these devices while it is in standby mode! Then add it all up. Tip: When I did this at the PC Doc HQ a few months ago, I was amazed just how much power I was paying for and simply wasting through devices sitting idle.

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Got a good energy saving tip? Post it in the TalkBack section and I'll add the best to this post later (and give you credit).

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