Computers for Consumers

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Did You Know?

If all computers sold in the U.S. met ENERGY STAR requirements, the savings in energy costs would grow to $1.8 billion each year, reducing greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from more than 2 million vehicles.

About ENERGY STAR Computers

Computers An ENERGY STAR qualified computer delivers substantial savings over a conventional computer. Desktop, integrated desktop, and notebook (laptop) computers, workstations, small-scale servers, and thin clients are all eligible to earn the ENERGY STAR, and those that do are now more efficient than ever.

EPA has strengthened the requirements for computers earning the ENERGY STAR in Version 5.0. For Desktop/integrated desktop and notebook computers, products must meet stringent TEC (total energy consumption) requirements for estimated annual energy consumption. Small-scale servers and thin clients must meet energy use guidelines in 'off' and 'idle' modes of operation, and thin clients supporting sleep functions must meet requirements in this mode as well, to ensure energy savings when computers are being used and performing a range of tasks, as well as when they are turned off or into a low power mode. ENERGY STAR qualified computers must also have efficient internal or external power supplies.

If every home office product purchased in the United States this year met ENERGY STAR requirements, we would:

  • Save more than $100 million in annual energy costs
  • Prevent 1.4 billion pounds of greenhouse gases, equivalent to emissions from 125,000 cars
  • Save more than 900 million kWh of electricity

Power management is important to saving energy, especially since computers are often in use more hours per day than they used to be. ENERGY STAR power management features place computers (CPU, hard drive, etc.) into a low-power "sleep mode" after a designated period of inactivity. Simply hitting a key on the keyboard or moving the mouse awakens the computer in a matter of seconds.

Activating power management features on an ENERGY STAR qualified desktop delivers lifetime energy savings that can go a long way towards paying the cost of a new computer:

How Your Computers are Used Estimated Lifetime (4 yrs) Savings per Desktop Computer
If you pay $.11 per kWh If you pay $.18 per kWh
We typically leave our computers on nights & weekends $88 $144
We typically turn our computers off every night $24 $40
We will activate power management settings on the new computers, but did not do so on the old computers $216 $352

ENERGY STAR qualified laptops save energy, too. To estimate your savings potential, see the ENERGY STAR Office Equipment Savings Calculator.

Federal IT managers and procurement staff should visit Product Purchasing and Computer Power Management for Federal Agencies to learn about saving energy by purchasing ENERGY STAR and EPEAT-registered office equipment and complying with Executive Order 13423.

Current Specification Effective Date:

July 2009

Computers originally qualified for the ENERGY STAR label in June, 1992.

An ENERGY STAR qualified computer meeting the new ENERGY STAR specification will use between 30% and 65% less energy, depending on how it is used.

Computers Key Product Criteria: ENERGY STAR

Learn How a Product Earns the Label

How to Save Energy with Your New Computer

  • Activate your sleep settings on your individual computer. You can set your computer to enter a low power sleep mode when the computer is inactive. Please see www.energystar.gov/sleepinstructions
  • Activate sleep settings on your organization's computers quickly and easily at work. Your network administrator can save your company up to $50 per computer annually by activating sleep settings on every computer all at once. Please see www.energystar.gov/powermanagement
  • Do not use screen savers. Screen savers generally do not save energy. In fact, certain graphics-intensive screen savers can cause the computer to burn twice as much energy, and may actually prevent a computer from entering sleep mode. Screen savers were originally developed to prevent the permanent etching of patterns on older monochrome monitors. Modern display screens do not suffer as much from this problem, but screen savers are still used for entertainment. If you want to use your screen saver in conjunction with monitor power management, set the screen saver "wait time" to less than the period of time after which the monitor enters sleep mode. If your screen saver appears but your monitor never enters sleep mode, your screen saver may be the culprit: try disabling it.

Computer Types 1

The first step is to decide the type of computer you will need. In the table below, a basic overview of the pros and cons of desktops, laptops, netbooks and tablets is provided.

Desktops
Pros Cons Options
Desktops deliver more performance for the money than laptops and are less costly to repair. They allow for a more ergonomically correct work environment, let you work on a larger screen, and typically come with better speakers. Desktops are available in various styles and configurations, all designed to appeal to different tastes--and uses. With the exception of all-in-one or compact computers, most take up a lot of space, even with a thin monitor. All-in-one. These more-expensive computers incorporate all components, including the monitor, in one case. With components tightly packed behind and underneath the display, they can be difficult to upgrade or repair.
Compact. Half the size of full-sized desktops and ideal for small spaces, they can also be more difficult to upgrade and repair.
Full-sized. Requiring more room under or on top of your desk, full-sized desktops are the least expensive and the easiest to upgrade and repair and offer the most features and options.
Gaming. Gaming systems offer the fastest processors, the most sophisticated graphics cards, multiple large hard drives, and lots of RAM. Cases are usually large and offer room for expansion.
Laptops
Pros Cons Options
Laptops can travel. They can do most things desktops can do, and they take up less desk space. They're easily stowed after use. Laptops cost more than comparably equipped desktops, and they are more expensive to repair. 11- to 13-inch. For those working on the road and carrying the laptop often, these models are probably the right choice. Although generally not as fast, they come with many of the same features as larger models, including webcams and memory-card readers. Some models shave a few ounces by leaving out the DVD drive.
14- to 16-inch. Offering a balance of performance, portability, and price, these models are a good choice if you take a laptop along less frequently. Easily configured as a desktop replacement, these models can come with graphics processors with dedicated video memory -- making them suitable for gaming.
17-to-18-inch. For an entertainment-oriented desktop replacement, this model delivers better performance, a good-sized screen, and better speakers. It will cost more than a comparable desktop, but it's handy if you have space constraints or will use the computer in multiple areas of your home.
Convertibles. Windows 8's tablet-like features make convertible laptops a more appealing category. These look like a regular laptop, but the display either pulls out of the keyboard or twists around and lays flat so it can be used like a tablet. Unlike tablets, they use the full version of Windows 8.
Netbooks
Pros Cons Options
Netbooks are lighter, smaller, and less expensive than most standard laptops, making them great for travel. Battery life is generally long. Netbooks have small displays, keyboards, and touchpads, and their performance is slow. You'll need an external optical drive if you want to install software from a disc or play CDs or DVDs Netbooks are basically downsized laptops with 10-inch screens and smaller keyboards and touchpads. They weigh about 2 to 3 pounds and are suitable as secondary computers for performing routine tasks. The best offer lighter weight, larger keyboards and trackpads, and longer battery life. All include a memory card reader and webcam. Tablets seem likely to replace netbooks as some manufacturers stopped making them altogether.
Tablets
Pros Cons Options
Small and light, these multifunction devices have touch screens. Their small size and weight make them highly portable. Battery life can be as long as 12 hours. A wide variety of inexpensive apps is available. Tablets are not ideal for office productivity tasks, such as those that require a lot of typing. But you can add a keyboard to many. Lightweight and highly portable, tablets are made to be carried wherever you go. They're multifunctional, serving as Web browser, e-book reader, digital picture viewer, movie viewer, and music player. Most of our top picks are very easy to use, have a display with a wide viewing angle, and can download apps from a market approved by the maker of its operating system. They weigh from just under a pound to about 1.5 pounds and have 7- to 10-inch touch screens. Many have webcams.

Other Factors to Consider in Buying a Computer 2

In addition to energy performance, there are many other important operating and convenience features to consider when shopping for a computer. Please note that the information drafted below is from December 2012 and, although correct in principle, the scale of what is "adequate" or "typical" in terms of the capacity of components may change dramatically in a short time period.

Components

Processor or central processing unit (CPU). The computer's "brain", the CPU is responsible for processing information. Performance is the most important factor, and is determined primarily by the number of cores it has and its clock speed. Processors with multiple cores can process more data simultaneously and the number of cores is often times indicated in the processor name. Core 2 Duo has two cores and a Core 2 Quad has four; a Phenom X3 has three cores. However; Core i5 processors have two cores and others have four. Clock speed, measured in gigahertz (GHz), determines how quickly a processor can process information and generally, within a processor family, the higher the clock speed, the faster the processor. Clock speeds typically start at around 1GHz for a mobile processor and can exceed 3GHz for a desktop processor.

Memory. The computer's memory, or RAM, is used to store data temporarily while the computer is on. The more memory a computer has the faster it is, up to a point. Memory is measured in gigabytes (GB). On desktops, 8GB is common; a few laptops include 8GB. For anything other than heavy multitasking or video editing, 4GB is plenty. Netbooks often come with 1GB of memory, which is adequate.

Graphics adapter and graphics memory. Also known as the video card, GPU, or graphics card, this component is responsible for drawing what you see on your screen. The two types of graphics adapters are integrated (where GPU is part of the actual CPU) and discrete (where the GPU is built onto a separate card installed into the PC). The vast majority of computers sold have integrated graphics, which in some cases can be slower than discrete GPUs. However, some new processors integrate discrete-class graphics. Integrated graphics do use up part of your system's memory, so make sure you have at least 6GB of memory in your computer. If you choose a system with discrete graphics, look for at least 256MB of graphics memory. Gamers should get 512MB or more.

Hard drive. Also known as a hard disk, this is where your programs, documents, music, photos, and videos are stored. Hard drive sizes are measured in gigabytes and terabytes, and commonly range from 250GB to more than 1TB (terabyte). Though size matters, speed is equally important. Speed is measured in rpm (revolutions per minute). A slow hard drive will take longer to start up the OS and programs, and complete tasks (such as installing programs or scanning your hard drive for viruses). Get a desktop with at least a 7,200rpm hard drive and a laptop with a 5,400rpm hard drive. Some high-end desktops and laptops can be configured with a RAID (redundant array of independent disks) setup. These computers have two or more hard drives. There are several types of RAID, the most common being RAID 0 and RAID 1. RAID 0 distributes your data across multiple hard disks, which can greatly improve speed. But if one fails, you'll lose data on all your drives. RAID 1 automatically copies data from one drive to the other. If one crashes, all your data will be safe on the other.

Optical drive. Standard gear on today's computers, these devices read and write to CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs. Recordable CDs (CD-R) can hold up to 700MB of data. Recordable DVDs (DVD+R, DVD-R, or DVDRAM) can hold up to 4.7GB (single layer) or 8.5GB (dual layer) of data. Blu-ray Disc (BD) drives are the newest standard. They're capable of playing Blu-ray movies and can store 25GB (single layer) or 50GB (dual layer) of data, respectively.

Ports. The ports to look for include USB (including the new USB 3.0), FireWire, Ethernet, eSATA, and S-video or HDMI. USB ports let you connect a variety of add-on devices, such as digital cameras or external hard drives, as well as flash drives for copying files to and from the hard drive. Having these ports at the front of the case makes connecting devices more convenient. An Ethernet port or wireless network card lets you link several computers in the household to share files, a printer, or a broadband Internet connection. FireWire or IEEE 1394 ports are used to capture video from digital camcorders and connect to other peripheral devices.

New Feature on Computers

  • Touch screens. Touchscreens have been available on all-in-one computers for some time. But with Windows 8's emphasis on touch, laptops are also getting touchscreens. A touchscreen is not required to take advantage of Windows 8, although it does add to the experience.
  • Enhanced touchpads. Most Windows 8 laptops also have enhanced touchpads, which add multi-touch gestures especially geared toward the new operating system. Having an enhanced touchpad on your laptop somewhat makes up for the lack of a touchscreen.
  • Gesture controls. By waving your hands in various ways in front of the computer, gesture controls can control volume, fast-forward or rewind videos, scroll through photos, and the like. This capability is also popping up on some desktop computers.
  • Hybrid drives. These combine a traditional hard drive with a small solid-state drive (SSD). The SSD stores start-up files for fast start-up or resume, while the hard drive provides plenty of storage space.
  • Log-on security. A growing number of laptops include fingerprint scanners as a convenient alternative to typing a password when logging in. Some laptop manufacturers, are now incorporating face-recognition technology.

1 www.consumerreports.org/cro/computers/buying-guide.htm

2 www.consumerreports.org/cro/computers/buying-guide.htm

These are the top FAQs related to Computers and the ENERGY STAR program.

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