Merging laptop and desktop computer technology and using off the shelf technology, researchers have developed a highly energy efficient computer that consumes 70 percent less energy than Energy Star-labeled computers.
“When you consider today’s computers spend 95 percent of their energy idling for the user, this new, ultra-efficient hybrid offers dramatic potential for reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions,” said Energy Commissioner Art Rosenfeld. “As we consider ways to reduce energy demand, this efficient technology can help California's consumers and businesses save money.”
With funding and support from the California Energy Commission’s Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) program, researchers from Ecos developed several office desktop computers for testing.
Researchers Peter May-Ostendorp and Nathan Beck of Ecos collaborated with chip makers Intel Corp., Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and Via Technologies to see how much they could reduce the energy demand of computers operating in today’s business environment.
Using the hardware makers’ most-efficient computer platforms, Ostendorp and Beck added best-in-class components such as hybrid hard drives and right-sized 80 PLUS power supplies to further scale back the test computers’ energy consumption. The researchers installed the Windows Vista operating system and then tested the machines’ performance using the SYSMark 2007 PC performance metric to establish benchmarks for each.
Ostendorp and Beck compared the performance of a Class B ENERGY STAR computer that consumes 65 W at idle with several desktop computers they designed to come up with a market-ready system and an ultimate efficiency system. All of the machines tested consumed from 40 percent to 70 percent less electricity than allowed under ENERGY STAR standards. The most-efficient computer consumed just 19 W at idle.
Most of the computers had sufficient performance to conduct the most common business computing functions.
Although there have been strides in reducing the energy consumption of computers not in use, Ecos was interested in finding ways to lower the draw on power when the machines were turned on. Typically, commercial desktops use about 95 percent of their energy while operating, and much of that time is spent in idle, rather than active, mode.
Ostendorp says the market-ready efficient desktop Ecos built is a cost-effective option for adoption today. It would add less than $40 at retail, and the payback would be within the first three to four years — or even less, if users were aggressive with their power management settings. Over the course of a year, a single machine would use roughly 190 kWh and run up $18.98 in electricity costs, compared with 408 kWh and $40.84 for a Class B ENERGY STAR computer.
Ostendorp describes the ultimate efficiency desktop as “a glimpse of tomorrow’s computers.” Cost was not a consideration. The point was to design the most efficient system possible with the technology that is available today.
The result was a computer that generated annual per-unit savings of 284 kWh and $28. “If every U.S. business purchased computers comparable to the ultimate efficiency model,” says Ecos Policy and Research Director Chris Calwell, “it would eliminate the need for about three typical coal-fired power plants.”
Ostendorp says Ecos’ work on efficient computers is ongoing. The Ecos project was funded by the California Energy Commission’s PIER Program.