Greenifying my computers
August 8, 2008 5:30 AM   Subscribe

What best practices can I implement to make sure that my three computers are as energy efficient as possible?

My power bill has been pretty expensive this summer in part due to my reliance on central air. But beyond that I don't *think* I use a lot of electricity. My apartment is small; other than the fridge and a few lights there really isn't much in here that uses electricity.

Except... my three computers and various peripherals. I'm realizing that these machines are sitting idle *most* of the time, but still on full blast and presumably wasting a lot of electricity.

What I want to do is to begin building a comprehensive power plan where the machines are in sleep mode most of the time, waking for certain events, and when needed.

My machines are as follows: 1.) Desktop-gaming-media rig running Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit. 2.) File server running Server 2008 64-bit. 3.) Laptop running Windows XP Pro.

The desktop is pretty hopped up with a power hungry GPU, 3.2ghz 120w CPU, and a 600w psu. The server is a little tamer, but it serves my printer, my music, and an external hard drive USB box. It also handles my bittorrents, so it is sometimes downloading for days on end.

Additionally my systems are all set to download updates, defrag hard drives, run virus scans, etc during the night several days during the week.

So, how can I begin to bring all this together? I know that Windows has various power management options, my motherboards support wake on lan and other power management features, cpu speed stepping, but I really don't know a lot about any of it. What works? What is problematic?

I'd love to have my server idle until my mp3 appliance requests a song, or I print something. I like all my systems to sleep during the night but wake up for updates and the like.

So I guess I'm looking for any advice, suggestions, best practices, experiences, etc.
greenpc energy efficiency power management
Thanks in advance!
posted by wfrgms to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The laptop isn't a big part of the equation. Power consumption there is likely to be minimal relative to the full-size PCs.

Consider just replacing the file server with a min-itx based system. They have something like 1/8th the power consumption of a standard PC.

The desktop should definitely have as much power-saving turned on as possible. Set it to go into hibernation after 20 minutes. It'll only take a few seconds to restart when you need it.

There are defragmentation tools that will run when your PC is idle (avoiding the night-time scheduling). Virus scanning can often be set to a very low process priority, allowing you to run it in the background while doing other things. You can always pause it if you need the full processing power during gaming.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:12 AM on August 8, 2008

Oh, and take a look at getting something like this. These devices cut power to your peripherals when the PC is off or hibernating, then restore power when the PC goes back on.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:17 AM on August 8, 2008

Is there a particular reason why you need all three computers? Can't you combine the server and gaming rig into one uber-computer?

If that's not viable, what about just turning off the gaming PC when you're not playing? With the amount of RAM that's in a dedicated gaming rig, I'm sure it'd load up pretty fast, right?
posted by explosion at 7:12 AM on August 8, 2008

If it's not in use, turn it off.

If it's in frequent but not constant use, have it turn parts of itself off (hard drive spin-down, monitor, fans, etc).

If it's in use but not heavy use, scale it down (underclocking).

If more than one are in constant use, consolidate (see explosion's comment) if possible.

Don't rely on your A/C to keep it cool, if possible (vent computer heat out the dryer exhaust, etc).

As a last resort, replace with more efficient technologies.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 7:35 AM on August 8, 2008

Just spotted this thing. Might be relevant.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 9:43 AM on August 8, 2008

Response by poster: I'm sorry, I should have been more specific: I'm looking for software only solutions. I have specific needs that require multiple pcs, so getting rid of one is not an option.

explosion & TheNewWazoo: As I explained in the question, turning the machines off is not an ideal solution as there are tasks they do on their own when I'm not around.
posted by wfrgms at 9:54 AM on August 8, 2008

What is the volume of air being cooled by your air conditioning system? I'd guess the AC is the much bigger electricity hog.

You might invest in a Kill-A-Watt electricity meter to measure the electricity use of your machines. I learned that my desktop computer uses about 145 watts while running. This means it takes just over 7 hours to use one KWh. One month of constant use would cost about $8 based on my electricity rate.

A central AC system uses vastly more energy. Check out the chart on this page.

I'm not suggesting you ignore the energy use of your computers, only that it makes sense to make the easiest, most profitable gains first. If you haven't already done your best to economize your cooling, then that might be the most effective place to start.
posted by reeddavid at 12:11 PM on August 8, 2008

Cut your power by a fair chunk by scheduling the late night virus/update etc downloads to happen on a set day each week and turn off the machines on the other 6.
If you do nothing else, that will cut 25%+ from your bill.
Perhaps consider running torrents from the laptop, with it's innate power saving design, rather than the big machines? Remember, whatever you do only saves power if you actually turn something off.
posted by bystander at 6:36 AM on August 12, 2008

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