Dear EarthTalk: As an online gamer, I spend a lot of time in front of my computer. What’s the environmental impact? And are "greener" PCs available?
—Bob Grant, Burlington, VT
Online gamers and other heavy computer users are definitely leaving an environmental mark. Depending on when it was made and how it was designed, a standard desktop PC can use anywhere from 60-300 watts when in use, while an inefficient gaming PC with powerful graphics card, multiple hard drives and optical drives, flash memory reader and a 30-inch LCD might consume as much as 750 watts, or about as much as a typical refrigerator. Until July of 2007, government Energy Star requirements only measured a computer’s energy use while in standby mode, which allowed the majority of brands to carry the label.
New stricter efficiency requirements have brought greener models. You"ll find the largest selection from companies like Dell and Hewlett Packard. Many businesses use the Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) to assist in the purchase of greener computing systems, and the evaluations can be useful to consumers, too. EPEAT evaluates and rates computing equipment on 28 efficiency and sustainability criteria, awarding them bronze, silver or gold for overall performance.
Technology company VIA is well regarded as an industry leader in low-wattage processors (central processing units or CPUs), with some barely sipping only a dozen or so watts from the power supply. Some typical VIA designs can outperform competitors using only 23 watts, or less than half the power called for by Energy Star specifications. Of course graphics cards used by PC gamers are serious energy hogs. Your top-end ATI or nVidia card will render great graphics, but use 300 watts or more. Newer cards are better, but much depends on their use. The best advice is to buy only the graphics power you need.