Thursday, March 8, 2007

Power-saving in the PC world

In the March issue of Moj Mikro magazine there's an interesting article on electricity saving in your own home. The author does make a few good points however I'm going to try and expand that even further.

The fact is, the supply of electricity is becoming a big issue in the world as our needs appear to be growing continuously. So what is the industry doing? Honestly? Almost nothing! As with cars, the computers have been folllowing the rule "bigger is better" for years. Bigger screens, dual-core processors, monster video cards, multiple oversized hard drives and more. The result is the need for more power! If you could go by with a 300W power supply only 3 years ago, you now need a minimum of 500W to run a high-end PC (or at least that's what the salesmen want you to think). Many manufacturers today even produce 1000W power supplies, a product unimaginable 20 years ago. For comparison, my first Peacock PC had a 125W power supply!

However, that's not the end of it. Nowadays appearances matter too! Computer modding is becoming more and more popular. It used to be the domain of only a few enthusiasts but now the industry is taking over and almost anyone can "mod the box". LED fans, cables, neon tubes and water cooling all cause more demand for electricity. In the end, the consumer is the one who's paying for all this. Is that the price of progress? No, it's the price of commodity and excessive luxury. Think about it. How many people actually need all that? I believe that through popular media and the Internet in general, the industry is doing a very good job of convincing us all about what we need. Just in case you were wondering how much electricity does a computer consume, follow this link.

So what can we do to save power? A lot actually. I'll start by telling you what I do nowadays. I used to be one of those guys that left the computer running all day long mostly because it was convenient not having to boot every time I wanted to use it. Now I turn it off whenever I know I won't be using it for more than an hour. Why should I leave it on, when it's not doing anything? I also turn off the speakers when I don't need them and the same goes for the printer. The fact is electric devices use power when idle. Watt by watt, it all sums up.

P2P users might argue that they need the computer 24/7. That may be the case but does it have to be an Athlon X2 4800+? The solution of the problem lies in mini-ITX, a form factor Via pioneered about 5 years ago but not many people know about it (I will refer to them as Epia boards). Epia motherboards have a small footprint (17cm x 17cm) and most importantly don't use a lot of power. A typical system with 1 stick of RAM, 1 hard drive and an optical drive needs less than 100W! To reduce the power consumption even further you could use a laptop hard drive and throw out the optical drive. This allows for a very compact, quiet and energy efficient system. The C3 processor may not be a synonim for computing power but if all you need is a home-server and p2p client, I can't think of a better solution.

Thanks for reading!