Cool stuff: Your 2007 holiday gift guide

More than 50 amazing gifts for the technology lovers in your life

Universal power supply: APC Back-UPS ES 750

You turn out the lights when you leave your home office, and your computer is configured to go into standby mode, but what about all those peripherals? From PC speakers to printers, home offices continue to leak power even when equipment is supposedly in "off" or standby mode.

Altogether, your office equipment may be consuming 30 watts of power when you're not even there, says American Power Conversion (APC). Those losses, which continue seven days a week, 365 days a year, cost on average about US$26 per year in wasted energy -- and push about 40 pounds of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. APC's Back-UPS ES 750 with master-controlled outlets puts a stop to that by automatically cutting power to peripherals when your desktop or laptop goes into low-power mode.

You attach your PC to the master outlet. When the PC goes into standby mode, the UPS detects the power drop and cuts off power to three controlled outlets. The master outlet can be set to trip when power drops below 10, 25 or 60 watts. The 450-watt UPS is also power-efficient in its own right. It draws just 2.5 watts of power when trickle-charging the battery, which amounts to about US$2 a year in electricity costs, APC claims.

In addition to the master and three controlled outlets, the 750 includes six noncontrolled outlets. APC recommends attaching powered speakers, printers and other peripherals on the controlled outlets. I attached a printer, powered speakers and a desk lamp, which snapped off 10 minutes after I left my office. It recommends placing networking equipment and computer monitors on regular, protected outlets. (You'll need to use the monitor to shut down the computer if a power event occurs.)

The new ES 750, which ships in mid-November, will sell for US$99 -- the same price as the current BE750BB model. APC also plans to introduce a power strip with a master controller feature early next year.

Price: US$99; available starting mid-November
Summary: The ES 750G not only keeps devices running during a power outage but it also helps you save energy by cutting power to peripherals when your computer goes into standby mode.
Robert L. Mitchell

Carbon-neutral computing purchase: Dell Plant a Tree for Me program

Buying an Energy Star 4.0 certified computer to replace that old one will reduce your carbon footprint but won't eliminate it. "What you can't reduce you should offset," says Eric Carlson, executive director at Carbonfund.org in Silver Spring, Md. Dell's Plant a Tree for Me program lets you buy carbon offsets with computers (US$6), notebooks (US$2), and other peripherals.

Dell, the only major PC vendor to offer such a program, sends the money to the nonprofit Carbonfund.org and The Conservation Fund, organizations that plant trees in sustainable reforestation projects on your behalf. The trees consume an amount of carbon dioxide equal to what the use of those products generates over their useful life. Current projects supported by Carbonfund.org are located on protected federal lands in Louisiana and Kansas.

Does it really offset your PC's carbon footprint? The carbon accounting requires some math skills. The power needed to operate a desktop is responsible for one ton of carbon dioxide emissions over the product's three-year life cycle. A tree recaptures the same amount of CO2, but over a 70-year lifespan. Most of the recapture starts once the seedling is mature -- after about five years. In other words, you're actually running a carbon deficit over time, repaying in future years emissions from the electricity you consume today.

Viewed from another perspective, it would take 11.7 full-grown trees to offset the carbon emissions from that computer in real time. But Carson thinks that's the wrong way to look at carbon offsets built on reforestation projects. "It's the only carbon offset which actually reduces CO2 emissions," and the benefits of that forest continue to accrue long after your carbon debt is repaid, says Carlson.

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