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How Eco-Friendly is Windows 7? Is it The Greenest Version of Windows Yet?

written by: Bill Bunter•edited by: Bill Bunter•updated: 2/4/2011

Windows 7 is now available for all to purchase and use as their new operating system. Like all new versions of Windows, 7 includes a range of new features and enhancements that will help power management. But will it be any greener than its predecessors?

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    The Environmentally-Friendly Windows 7

    Windows 7 is the successor to Windows Vista. The new operating system has hit the shelves as of October, 2009. As with each new version of Windows, various new features shall be added to make it faster, easier to use and more secure than its predecessor - or so Microsoft would have you believe (see here for a look into what's new in Windows 7). But will Windows 7 be more environmentally-friendly than Vista? The answer would appear to be yes.

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    Windows 7 Optimizes Power Compsumption

    The amount of energy a computer uses is not constant. Like a human, a computer uses less energy when it is idle than when it is working. But some Window services - or background processes - can stop a computer from becoming idle. To combat this problem, Microsoft is working on making these services “Trigger-Start" only when needed in order to maximize the amount of idle time. This could make a big diffence to energy consumption. According to Microsoft, an idle computer can use as little as 100-300mW whereas a working computer can use up to 35W.

    Additionally, Microsoft is working on processor power management processes. Microsoft's Dean DeWhitt says in his blog, "To further help reduce idle power, we are focusing on core processor power management improvements. Windows scales processor performance based on the current amount of utilization, and making sure Windows only increases processor performance when absolutely required can have a big impact on power consumption."

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    Putting and End to Energy-Consuming Devices

    Like services, USB devices such as fingerprint readers and dongles can stop a computer from becoming idle. For example, a connected USB device which does not support selective suspend will be frequently polled by the operating system to look for changed data, which stops a computer from idling and increases the energy consumption. Windows 7 will include a tool which enables these problematic devices to be identified. Should you be running Windows 7 and would like to put this tool to the test, close all applications and run powercfg /energy from the command line.

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    How Much Energy Will Windows 7 Save?

    It really is too early to say, but it's great to see that Microsoft is taking the subject of energy-efficiency so seriously. That said, at the end of the day, no matter how much more energy efficient Windows becomes, the best advice will continue to be: when not in use, turn off the juice.

    To find out more about energy-efficiency in Windows 7, see Dean DeWhitt's recent entry on the Engineering Windows 7 blog.