It may seem like a hassle to shut down your computer whenever you aren’t using it, but Microsoft estimates this costs the average user $55.63 in wasted electricity each year. (The figure rises to $70.77 if you are using an old-style CRT monitor). For businesses, the costs can soon mount up: The firm which operates the computer network for the London subway system estimates that leaving the computers switched on when they aren’t needed could cost about a million pounds during their lifespan.
There’s also a strong ecological argument for not wasting power. The same Microsoft study concluded that every 10 PCs left switched on needlessly are equivalent to an extra car on the road and produce so much greenhouse gases that it takes about 1.6 acres of forest to soak it up.
If you are using Vista, there are several new features which mean there’s really no excuse to waste power:
Rather than choosing between a complete shut-down and the Hibernation mode, there’s a new Sleep option. Rather than saving information about what you are doing in the computer’s memory (which means it has to carry on drawing some power), the Sleep mode saves it to disk in such a way that it can be retrieved quickly when you start working again. This means you can put your PC in Sleep mode, effectively stop using any power, then start up again without delay. Sleep mode is now the default for a computer left unattended, rather than launching a screensaver (which continues to eat up electricity).
If your computer comes out of Sleep mode automatically, such as when a scheduled virus scan runs, it will now return to Sleep mode two minutes after the task is done.
Vista also does a better job of allocating memory, giving priority to programs you actively use (like Word) over those that run in the background (such as a spyware scanner). The idea of this ‘SuperFetch’ technology is that when you start using your PC again after a break or a restart, these programs are ready to run right away.
It seems Microsoft put these features into play after heavy criticism from environmentalists over XP’s shortcomings. The Treehugger website points out that, given Microsoft’s touting of the savings available with Vista, XP users may have spent $25 million more than needed on their electricity bills.
If you’re still using XP, it’s worth experimenting with the power modes, which you can access under ‘Power Options’ in the ‘Performance and Maintenance’ section of the Control Panel. If you find that you can run the Automatic or Battery Saver modes without any loss of performance, you’ll use a lot less power than the High Performance mode.
If you do find that XP’s Standby or Hibernate modes really aren’t practical for you, it’s worth at least getting into the habit of switching off your monitor when you are away from your computer. Even turning off an LCD monitor can cut your total power consumption by about 20%.