Power-Saving Tips: Save Money by Putting Your PC on a Power Diet

Refrigerators and washing machines aren't the only energy-guzzling appliances living in your house. Your PC and its peripherals account for a good chunk of your electric bill, too. When you consider that just one computer and monitor can suck up nearly as much power in a year as a new refrigerator, the benefits of a desktop energy audit become clear.

Watch Your Watts

A typical 150-watt PC consumes about 876 kilowatt hours per year. At an electric rate of 10 cents per kWh, that's $87.60 a year, before taxes and fees!

Your system draws almost as much power when it's in standby mode with a screen saver active as it does when you're using it. By turning off your PC and peripherals when they're idle, and by employing power management while they're on, you can cut energy consumption dramatically. If you use your computer 6 hours a day, you could save 75 percent or more. (And even if you keep your PC on as a server, you'll save energy by turning off the monitor when you don't need it.)

Laser printers and fax machines in particular are energy spendthrifts. A typical multifunction laser printer and fax machine uses 300 watts when printing, 85 watts when on standby, and 10 watts when idle. To reduce your electric bill, plug your peripherals into a power strip and turn off the strip when you shut down your PC. (It's safest to keep the PC and monitor plugged into an uninterruptible power supply; see Steve Bass's June 2001 Home Office column for more on UPS devices.) By turning off your broadband modems and routers when not in use, you also make your network more secure. Some power strips have timers that automate this task--but don't use such a strip for your computer, external storage device, or anything else that could lose data if turned off inadvertently.

Finally, unplug all the wall chargers for PDAs, music players, digital cameras, and other gadgets when you're not actually charging, or use the power-strip trick mentioned above to shut them off. They can draw up to 5 watts per hour apiece, even when nothing's plugged into them.

Become an Energy Star

To get to your computer's power-management settings in Windows XP or 2000, right-click the Desktop and choose Properties,Screen Saver. Click the Power button to the right of the Energy Star icon, and select the Power Schemes tab of the Power Options Properties dialog box (see Figure 1

Figure 1: Set Windows' Power Options to turn off your monitor and drives after a fixed period of idleness, to reduce your energy bill.
). For desktop PCs, choose the Home/Office Desk power scheme (it's likely on by default). Under 'Turn off monitor' and 'Turn off hard disks', pick times you feel comfortable with: 'After 15 mins' for the monitor and 'After 30 mins' for the hard drive strike a nice balance between saving power and being a nuisance.

The Standby and Hibernate options under the Power Schemes tab are useful for cutting your system's energy use, too. Read Scott Dunn's Windows Tips column from last July on the pros and cons of the standby and hibernate modes. And for notebook power-saving tips, read "Optimize Your Notebook" in Woody Leonhard's "Gunk Busters!" feature from January.

Now that you've cut the fat from your energy diet, it's time to reduce your base metabolism by switching to lower-wattage Energy Star-rated equipment. To qualify for the Energy Star label, a PC must use 70 percent less electricity than a model without power management features, and must draw 15 watts or fewer in its inactive modes. An Energy Star monitor uses up to 60 percent less electricity than a standard model, and draws a maximum of 2 or 4 watts in its off and sleep modes.

An LCD monitor uses about one-third the power of a CRT display with the same screen area, according to monitor vendor ViewSonic. Visit ViewSonic's LCD vs CRT page for more on the benefits of LCDs over CRTs. You'll also save energy by switching from a desktop PC to a laptop, and from a laser printer to an inkjet. A typical laptop uses about one-quarter the power of a similarly equipped desktop.

For tips on maximizing the battery life of your notebook, cell phone, PDA, music player, digital camera, or other device, see "Battery Boosters."

Becky Waring is a freelance writer based in Berkeley, California.

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