Friday, 17 December 2010

Cutting computing power use – Dell, Wii and the water-powered laptop

There have been some encouraging stories recently about IT products reducing energy use:

• Dell has apparently achieved its commitment, made two years ago, to reduce the energy use of its desktops and laptops by 25%. These savings were on top of previous reductions; the energy efficiency of Dell’s OptiPlex desktops, for example, improved nearly 50% from 2005 to 2008.

The reductions have been achieved primarily through better tools, the use of LED displays and more efficient power supplies, although changes went down to the level of circuit designs. The company has worked with its suppliers to improve the energy-efficiency of processors, chip sets, power supplies and memory.

Dell has completed the move to LED displays for laptops and maintains that LED displays will save customers approximately $20m and 220 million kilowatt-hours in 2010 and 2011 combined, the equivalent of the annual CO2 emissions from more than 10,000 homes.

• The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has tested three top-selling video game consoles and found that a Nintendo Wii system uses six times less power than a Sony PlayStation 3 or Microsoft Xbox 360 in active mode.

Each system was tested for one hour of active play using EA Sports’ Madden 2011 football game, which is apparently widely played on all three game consoles (I wouldn’t know). The Nintendo Wii system used an average of 13.7 watts, the Sony PlayStation 3 used 84.8 watts, and the Microsoft Xbox 360 used 87.9 watts.

“Obviously there are many considerations when looking at a gaming system and we’re only talking about energy use,” said McGranaghan. “There are also trade-offs associated with graphics and speed that drive higher energy use and consumers will need to factor those elements in as well. The more graphically intensive systems will, by design, require more energy.”

So that’s food for thought when buying Christmas presents. (Although this test is for active use. In my experience consoles are left on standby for many more hours, so that would have also been an interesting measure).

• According to The New York Times, SiGNa Chemistry has unveiled a new chemical process that could make hydrogen fuel cells practical as a power source for consumer electronics. In a hydrogen fuel cell, hydrogen is produced by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen and the hydrogen is used as the fuel. It effectively means a water-fuelled laptop.

SiGNa’s new process produces hydrogen in real-time, which the company claims results in a power source ten times cheaper than alkaline batteries and six times cheaper than disposable lithium batteries.

The target market for the fuel cells include consumer electronics and certain transport applications like electric bikes. It seems that Asia is a big market for electric bikes and while a lithium battery lasts just 20 miles, a fuel cell can go on for 3-4 times the distance.


Note that the above comments on Dell and Nintendo’s Wii are for power consumption only. Greenpeace takes a broader view of green IT and looks at other issues in its Green Electronics Guide, including the use of toxic chemicals and recycling.

In the last edition Dell was 10th out of 18 companies assessed by Greenpeace (4.9 points out of 10), but it would have been in 3rd or 4th place if not held back by a penalty point imposed for backtracking on its commitment to eliminate PVC vinyl plastic and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in all its products by the end of 2009.

However, Nintendo is bottom of the rankings with just 1.8 points out of 10. It continues to score zero on all of Greenpeace’s e-waste criteria and fails to score for its commitment to reduce its in-house greenhouse gas emissions, due to a second year of increases, despite a commitment to cut CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases by 2% over each previous year.

© The Green IT Review

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