Going green in the computer age

When it comes to computer systems, an important characteristic is energy efficiency. This week, we go green and start part one of a two-part series. In part one, we look at power consumption, while part two explores proper disposal of old equipment. Both areas obviously have a direct impact on our environment. Computers can waste energy as well as any other electricity-using device. They can sit unused but running for long periods of time a practice recognized early by the computer industry. The industry responded with improvements to both hardware and software that enabled systems to reduce power consumption. How is the power consumption lowered? Two basic methods: building components less power hungry than older components and creating techniques that allow devices to automatically enter into a power-saving level. Lets talk about the first method. Beginning last July, Energy Stars new specifications for computers went into effect, which meant higher standards for new computers. If you are making a purchasing decision, and energy consumption is a concern, stick with products that carry the Energy Star label. Having the label means the device meets the new, higher standard. A modern computer has all the tools to be energy efficient and the tools are easy to use. It all starts with the system BIOS which is the component that plays the major role of directing the computer through the power-up routine including such things as where the operating system is stored, how much memory is available, and more. The system BIOS has to be Advanced Configuration and Power Interface Compliant in order to take advantage of the energy saving features. Theres no need to worry because most system BIOS chips have been in compliance with ACPI standards since 1999. ACPI compliant systems support four levels or modes of operation, S1 through S4. Most manufacturers refer to S1 mode as sleep or standby mode. In S1 mode, the hard drive stops spinning and the monitor is sent a signal to enter standby, so it appears to be turned off. In S2 mode, the hard drive and monitor are still off but now the processor is turned off. Surprisingly enough, this mode is also called sleep or standby mode. In S3 mode everything is shutdown except for RAM (system memory) and enough electronics to respond to a keystroke or mouse movement. Several manufacturer names apply here including sleep, standby, suspend and suspend to RAM. The last mode, S4, is called hibernation. In S4 mode the system copies everything open and active to a file on the hard drive and then shuts the system completely down. On the next power-up the system boots a little more quickly and copies the contents of the file on the hard drive back into RAM. Some ACPI features can be controlled within BIOS or through the operating system. The trend is to allow Windows to do the controlling as it makes it easier for the average user. Lets take a look at the options in Windows XP. To do so, right-click a blank area of the desktop and select properties from the menu. You should be looking at the Display Properties dialog box. If not, close whatever opened and try again on a blank area of the desktop. Once in the dialog box select the Screen Saver tab and look toward the bottom to find the Monitor Power section. Within the section is a single button named Power click it to open the Power Options Properties dialog box. The Power Schemes tab of the dialog box is where to view and make changes. You must decide on your own settings and the decision is based on the type of computer and how the computer is used. For instance, at home, the monitor goes off and the system goes to standby within 15 minutes. At work, the settings allow for the computer to go a little longer before standby. Laptops running on a battery may have settings with an eye toward maximum run time. Generally, the times should be shorter at the top and increase downward. For instance, the monitor can be set to turn off at 10 minutes but the hard drive is set at 15. The monitor is at the top of the list on the Power Schemes tab while the hard drive is down below it. We can be energy proactive and make the choice to be as energy efficient as we are productive with our systems. All it takes is a little time to become familiar with the controls and adjust the controls as necessary. Thanks for reading and have a safe, energy-efficient week. Ron Poland is a professor in the Computer Information Systems AAS program at Clinton Community College. Mr. Poland is certified in computer repair and networking by the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). He is also a Cisco certified network assistant.

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