Computers: Working Better with What You Have

The growing use of computers — in homes, businesses, schools, and elsewhere around the world — has a big impact on energy consumption, adding a load to household and office budgets everywhere. Basic good practices for computing — backing up data and programs, securing networks, managing user accounts, and planning and paying for services — is something every computer user, not just corporate IT departments, needs to deal with.

Whether you use a desktop or laptop system, whether you have a make and model from a greenleaning manufacturer or one who hasn’t really caught on yet, you can reduce your consumption and begin to manage your energy use more efficiently. In this article  you can take a look at habits, upgrades, tools, and services that can help you get the most out of any home or office computing setup.
Developing computer habits that save energy
Here are a few guidelines you can use to cut back on the power you pump into a dozing system:
Turn on only what you use. (Leave the printer off if you don’t need it.)
Unplug devices you aren’t using. If you have more than one system on the power strip, unplug the one you don’t need before flipping the switch.
Consolidate the tasks you do at the computer. With a good plan in mind, you can power up, do what you need to do, and power down all in one session.
Put yourself on a schedule. (Yes, it’s more fun to check e-mail every so often in the evening, but is it really that much different than once after work and once a few hours later, before bed?)
Find an enjoyable way to spend the brief period of time it takes for your computer to power up after you turn it on. (That delay is what causes many folks to leave the computer running.) What can you do in two minutes? Meditate? Jog in place? Sing? (Your family will love that.)
Know what you’re saving. Use a power meter or keep track of the watts you’re consuming when you turn off the computer. Over time, it adds up — and that inspires you to look for other ways you can green your computing practices.
Using your computer monitor with efficiency in mind
It’s not hard to imagine the amount of power your monitor must drink in. Early monitors — those old cathode-ray tube (CRT) displays that took up half of your desktop — slurped up a huge percentage of the total wattage your computer needed. Today’s monitors are considerably more energy-efficient, smaller, lighter, and better in just about every sense of the word (including the display technology and screen resolution). Monitor manufacturers take the Energy Star seriously and live up to its standards.
But one misconception is that any monitor that is Energy Star approved comes configured with energy-saving features already in place. In fact, the opposite is true — your Energy Star monitor has energy-saving features, but you’ll need to consult the manual (sorry) either in the box or on the CD with the monitor’s drivers to find out how to make the display as energy-efficient as possible. Here are a few ideas for saving energy that might otherwise shine out through the monitor’s face:
Turn it off. If you’re going down the hall, to a meeting, or to the store and don’t want to turn the computer off or put it to sleep, turn off the monitor.
Don’t use a screen saver. It wastes energy and can mess up fast recovery from Sleep mode.
Consider upgrading your monitor. Depending on the monitor you choose, your purchase might quickly pay for itself in saved energy.

Souping up your current computer
You don’t have to buy fancy items and enhancements to make your computer greener. You may be able to improve the earth-friendly qualities of what you already have and save valuable power — and reduce CO2 emissions — at the same time. Here are a few ways you can enhance your current computer’s energy efficiency:
Increase your RAM. A faster computer processes information more quickly, with less churning and chunking for disk access — and that’s good for energy flow. (Of course, with a faster computer, you also run the risk of enjoying being at your computer more, which could increase the number of hours you’re staring at the monitor.)
Upgrade your operating system. The latest operating systems — Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Mac OS X — include power management and energy-saving features.
Use your operating system’s power management features. Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7 enable you to choose a preset power management theme or create one of your own. Be sure to use the power management features to reduce your power use as much as possible.
Upgrade some hardware. New graphics cards, printers, and monitors have been designed in the energy-aware era. As always, look for the Energy Star, and be sure to do the due diligence to find out what energysaving features the manufacturer has included.
Upgrading can be a complicated but cost-effective and green endeavor.
Control your fans, control your fate
Now consider yourself warned right up front: This isn’t for the faint-hearted or the technophobe. But if you’re handy with a few computer tools and know your way around the inside of a PC, consider replacing your computer fan, changing your power supply, or reorganizing the cables on the motherboard to allow for better air flow through the case. Better air flow equals less resistance, which results in more air and lesspower to push it. Nice. And better air flow equals PC cooling, which means a longer life for your PC. Really nice.
Speed up your Internet access
Most people spend quite a bit of time online every day. At first you might think, well, that doesn’t really cost anything. I’m just surfing the Web. But think again — your computer, monitor, and other components are still pulling current. The ISP (Internetservice provider) that provides you with access to the Internet pulls a lot of current. And as you click from link to link, site to site, bouncing all over the world, your actions move through dozens or hundreds or thousands of servers, through miles and unfathomable miles of cable (or transmitted via wireless transmission) that was created and is maintained by goods, services, employees, utilities, and . . . the list goes on and on. So that little act of browsing can have a big footprint, when you consider all the touches along the way.
How can you green your Internet access? There are a couple of things you can do. First, you can check out the access speed you’re getting from your service. Find out if the access is as fast as they promise. The faster the access, the quicker you’ll find what you need and the faster you can turn the computer off, go outside, and work in the garden. CNET offers the Bandwidth Meter Online Speed Test that enables you to clock your Internet speed. Want to take a test drive? Here are the steps:
2.  Enter your area code in the box.
3.  Click the appropriate radio button to indicate the type of connection you currently have.
4.  From the drop-down menu, choose your ISP.
If you don’t see your provider in the list, click the Other box and type the name of the service provider you use.
5. Click Go.
The results of the access speed test show you where your access speed rates in       comparison to the range of possibility.

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