Less Power to the PC


The EPA issued its new Energy Star ratings for PCs and peripherals this week, but the question remains whether enterprises will respond to the new system or look elsewhere to lower their energy bills.

The Energy Star 5.0 specs are not mandatory, although any manufacturer that wants to apply the ES label to their new machines must meet the new standards, rather than the 4.0 spec released about two years ago.

So exactly how much more efficient will the new machines be? The new standard sets a kWh (kilowatt per hour) allowance for laptops of between 40 and 88.5, depending on whether the device employs standby, active or sleep modes. For desktops, the range is 148 to 234 kWH. That puts them somewhere between 30 and 60 percent more efficient than 4.0-rated devices, according to the EPA.

Still, it's important to remember that PC power consumption is only a small fraction of the typical enterprise draw, with servers and storage taking the lion's share in both operational and cooling consumption. Earlier this year, the EPA issued its first Energy Star rating for enterprise servers and is expected to announce specs for things like routers and UPS systems shortly. A separate ES spec for monitors is also due later this year.

Ironically, the organization that will be affected most by the new rating is the federal government itself, which requires Energy Star compliance for all new purchases. Being the largest employer in the country, that may be the primary reason why many manufacturers are quick to roll out new ES products.

Lenovo, for one, is already claiming ES 5.0 compliance for 25 of its Think and Idea PCs, including the ThinkPad X301, T400 and W700ds and IdeaPad U330 and Y430 laptops and ThinkCentre M58, M58p and M58e desktops. The company employs a range of power management and on-mode power consumption techniques to keep within the available power window. The ThinkCentre M58, for example, when coupled with a ThinkVision L1940p monitor, consumes just 377 kilowatts per year.

These kinds of savings don't have to wait for hardware refresh cycles to kick in, however. A number of PC power management software tools have hit the market, fueled largely by last summer's energy crunch. The city of Seattle, Wash., for example, saw its PC energy consumption drop by more than a third after installing Verdiem's Surveyor power management software on more than 8,000 machines across 30 city departments. The results were similar to what Chicago and Honolulu experienced with the same software, a lessening of operational costs by about $30 per PC per year.

No one expects energy-savings on PCs alone to make or break enterprise fortunes. But as part of the broader package of green initiatives, shoring up PC power usage can help improve the bottom line more than most people realize. Deploying energy-efficient machines or loading up existing devices with power management software represents a fairly modest investment that could produce substantial returns in the not-too-distant future, particularly if oil prices spike again.