More efficient PCs

Andre Kesteloot andre.kesteloot at
Fri Jan 26 14:42:21 CST 2007

  More energy-efficient computers on the horizon

*By Hiawatha Bray 

The Boston Globe

Published: January 25, 2007


BOSTON: Prodded by fears of global warming and surging electric bills, 
corporate computer users are demanding more energy-efficient machines, 
and the U.S. government is preparing to issue tough new standards for 
greener machines.

Susan Labandibar gave up a career in environmental activism in 1994 to 
start Tech Networks, a Boston company that supplies computer networks to 
small businesses and nonprofits. But Labandibar never gave up her 
ideals, and she was always troubled by the fact that the electricity 
needs of the powerful computers she sold were flooding the air with 
greenhouse gases.

"We didn't have a product that was particularly ecological in any way, 
shape or form," Labandibar said. "There were so many negatives about the 
computers we were making that I didn't think there was any hope for it."

But last year, Labandibar introduced a new line of computers that could 
help combine her concern for the environment with commercial success. 
The company's new Earth-PC and Earth- Server machines use at least 25 
percent less power than standard computers.

Energy concerns are starting to drive change across the computer 
industry. Major computer makers like Dell and Hewlett-Packard are also 
trying to meet the demand by promoting machines that do more work with 
less wattage.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is also putting pressure on 
computer makers with an overhaul of its Energy Star efficiency ratings. 
The tougher standards, which take effect in July, are not mandatory. But 
the government buys only Energy Star- compliant computers, so companies 
must meet the standard or be frozen out of a big market.

Labandibar said she believed the machines emerging from her Boston shop 
could compete with anything the big companies offered. In addition, Dell 
and HP do not yet offer energy-saving technologies across their entire 
product range. Their "green" machines are mainly sold to high-end 
business customers who face soaring energy costs because of the high 
numbers of machines they operate. By contrast, Tech Networks mainly 
sells its machines to smaller companies.

A standard desktop computer, not including the monitor, uses about as 
much power as a 100-watt light bulb. Building a more efficient computer 
starts with the power supply. Under pressure from the computer industry, 
component makers have introduced power supplies that are guaranteed to 
be 80 percent efficient, with no more than 20 percent of the electricity 
going to waste.

These supplies are more expensive, but utilities have financed a program 
called 80 Plus to encourage computer makers to use them. When a company 
like Tech Networks sells an 80 Plus-compliant computer to someone who 
buys power from NStar, the utility pays a rebate to Tech Networks — $5 
for desktop computers or $10 for server computers, which generally run 
around the clock.

Jason Boehlke, a manager for the 80 Plus program, said that reducing 
waste to less than 20 percent of electricity use cut electricity cost by 
about $20 a year a computer, based on Massachusetts prices, and saved 
still more in reduced cooling costs. Labandibar estimates that the 
savings are much higher, about $46 a year. Multiplied by the dozens or 
hundreds of computers at many businesses, it is a significant discount.

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