5 tips for buying green desktop gear

Computer vendors like to make green claims, but here's what to look for when you're comparison shopping

You may very well prefer to postpone the task of refreshing your fleet of desktop systems and monitors, an exercise that can be both expensive and time-consuming. But inevitably, machines break down or your needs change, so you have to bite the bullet.

The silver lining, though, is that refreshing your systems gives you an opportunity to invest in greener machines -- those that not only cost less to power but also yield other benefits that can help the planet as well as your company's bottom line.

Following are some points to consider the next time a system refresh looms at your organization. Notably, many of these tips apply not only to desktops, laptops, and monitors -- but any piece of IT gear.

1. Know your needs

Hopefully, you wouldn't buy a high horse-power pickup truck or SUV if you didn't need its extra fuel-guzzling power when a gas-efficient sedan would suffice. You should most certainly apply that mindset to your PC purchase: Higher-end systems with more powerful components tend to draw more energy. Before you shop, consider what your computing needs are for the present, as well as the near future.

For example, you might be a Windows XP shop today but envision moving to Vista in a year. If so, remember that Vista's bare minimum system requirements are an 800MHz processor, 512MB of RAM, a 20GB hard drive with at least 15GB of available space, and support for Super VGA graphics. Then again, you might be contemplating a move to an alternative OS such as Ubuntu, which has minimum requirements of a 300MHz processor, 64MB of RAM, 4GB of disk space (for full installation and swap space), and a VGA graphics card capable of 640x480 resolution.

In a similar vein, be honest with yourself as to what size monitors your users need. Larger screens with higher resolution have higher energy requirements -- but some tasks, like video-editing and spreadsheet work, really do scream for a large viewing space.

Finally, give thought to replacing desktop systems and monitors with laptops -- again, if laptops can really suit you and your users needs. From a green perspective, a laptop requires fewer parts to build; it's small and lighter and thus requires fewer resources to package and ship it. In terms of your annual electric bills, a laptop costs less to power than a similarly equipped PC plus a monitor.

2. Embrace energy efficiency

Once you know your needs, try to find a PC or laptop that meets those requirements as well as Energy Star 4.0. That way, you'll know it's got an 80 per cent efficient power supply and knows how to make the most of low-power modes. (There's also an Energy Star specification for monitors, which is more dated but still useful.)

Energy efficiency can shave a chunk of money from your annual utility bills, plus reduce your carbon footprint. Energy Star-compliant systems are easy to find, be it through the Energy Star Web site or your preferred computer vendor.

3. Don't disregard other "green" criteria

Green criteria covers a lot of territory beyond energy efficiency, from the materials used to the ease with which it can be disassembled. These criteria not only have environmental implications but also cost-cutting potential.

There are several such factors to consider here and ask vendors about as you shop. The EPEAT (Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool) registry breaks the criteria down into several convenient over-arching categories. (You can search the EPEAT registry for products that meet these type of criteria, by the way, down to a granular level.)

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Ted Samson

InfoWorld
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