February 8, 2007 4:00 AM PST

New Energy Star ratings for PCs on the way

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New Energy Star ratings for PCs on the way Standards for energy-efficient PCs are about to take a step forward for the first time in more than a decade.

The Energy Star program is set to release the first revision to the specification for PCs since 1992, which was practically the Bronze Age of the PC industry. Energy Star stickers are familiar to those who have shopped for household appliances over the last few years; it designates appliances or electronics that meet certain specifications for energy efficiency.

Due to the lag in formulating a new certification, more than 90 percent of PCs currently on the market are eligible for an Energy Star sticker. But come July, a new voluntary specification will go into effect for energy-efficient PCs and game consoles that includes new recommendations for power supply efficiency and idle power consumption.

And later this year, a similar specification update is planned for flat-screen televisions, targeting the increasing popularity of energy-hogging TVs. The idea is to encourage companies to make more energy-efficient products without imposing requirements, said Jill Abelson, a representative for the Energy Star-labeled-products program.

But the program also sheds light on the growing power bill required to run a modern household of electronic gear, not to mention the power requirements for even an average-size business. "With energy costs escalating, everybody's really on the climate bandwagon and looking at it carefully," Abelson said. "Efficiency really matters."

The new specifications for PCs are designed to distinguish the top 25 percent of all PCs as measured by energy consumption, Abelson said.

The Energy Star program--a joint project of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy--is most important to government and corporate buyers, Abelson said. The government is required to purchase Energy Star-labeled products, and corporations can receive tax breaks for purchasing Energy Star products. Plus, the power saved by using efficient products really adds up when looking across a large network of PCs, allowing those organizations to cut on power bills or expand their hardware at the same cost.

The new specification targets two areas: the power supply and the amount of power used in "idle mode," said Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist at the nonprofit National Resources Defense Council, which helped the Energy Star program come up with the technical requirements for the new specification.

Gadgets' power consumption

To be Energy Star-compliant, PCs must now use a power supply that converts 80 percent of incoming electricity for use by the PC, Horowitz said. A mainstream power supply these days is about 70 percent efficient, he said.

The specification also now includes requirements for idle mode, defined as a system that has booted and is fully awake, but isn't running any applications. For example, to qualify for the program, a basic desktop PC must consume less than 50 watts in idle mode. PCs with multicore processors and powerful graphics processors get more leeway. A basic notebook has to consume less than 14 watts of power, while a notebook with a graphics chip has to consume less than 22 watts of power.

So why did it take so long for the Energy Star program to update the requirements? PCs have grown far more efficient since the early 1990s with advances in chipmaking technology and a shift toward notebooks that use plenty of built-in power management technology.

Part of the problem is that there is no accepted metric for power consumption, Horowitz said. "What are you going to make the computer do during that test, and how do you make sure it's not gamed?" he asked, referring to the tendency of computer companies to tweak their systems for maximum performance--not real-world conditions--in tests against competitors.

Some manufacturers might see better results when a PC is cranking away on full power, or others might want to use a more realistic situation where a user is simply browsing the Web. As a result, there's still no metric for measuring the power a PC uses when it's "on" that everyone can agree on, Horowitz said.

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specification, power consumption, requirement, power supply, notebook computer

5 comments

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energy star operating system?
So does this mean that eventually we will also have Energy Star ratings for operating systems, or profiles? Perhaps an Energy Star profile for windows? Sure, people could manually set things for minimum energy use - but I imagine there would be a significant number of people who would appreciate canned settings. Although there are also probably people out there who could be suckered into paying a bit extra for an Energy Star configured OS.
Posted by PCsRfun (64 comments )
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Want your PC to use less power
Get rid of it. I've found very few business users need a fat client PC.

A thin client with an lcd monitor costs less than half the price of an entry level business computer and needs almost no hardware support. And you can have a new user up and running in about 10 minutes after you unbox the parts and plug them in.

Users don't know the difference and we get to spend time with our families rather than spend it updating tons of Windows PCs. Heaven.
Posted by rcrusoe (1305 comments )
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Already there...
There are already Energy Star profiles in Windows OS.
Posted by wlau (75 comments )
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think
trying to save money not at right place

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Posted by darmik2005 (18 comments )
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TV energy ratings are still understated
Hi, it seems you didn't calculate the standby power consumption in your figures for tv energy use. Lets say a 50 inch tv (mine) consumes 20 W while in standby, for say 17 hours a day, that's 365 days * 17 hours * .02 kw = 124.1 kwh which the TV uses just for sitting there unused. I don't know how much you get charged for energy over there per kwh.
Posted by dweebken (1 comment )
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