When you buying an air conditioner, fridge, or some other household appliances, you get a simple cheat sheet — that yellow EnergyGuide sticker — to help figure out how much it costs to power that particular machine. Time for PC-makers to start slapping that sticker on their boxes, too.
Why? Because running a PC consumes more power than you think, but the amount varies significantly depending on factors like chip speed, number of hard drives, fans, graphic cards, etc. And while many people already leave their PCs on 24×7, that number is going to skyrocket if notion of the PC as a home “media hub” ever takes off. So it’s in everyone’s best interest to know whether the Dell (DELL) they’re thinking about buying uses more power than the Apple (AAPL) iMac, or vice-versa.
A few years ago, programming blogger Jeff Atwood calculated that it costs about $200 per year to keep his server running. He also calculated how much power his desktop PC uses (roughly 20% less) and how much his laptop uses (roughly 85% less, though a lot more when charging the battery).
Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that since I switched from a Power Mac G4 tower last fall to a Mac mini, my monthly power consumption has dropped about 15-20% year-over-year each month — with no other lifestyle changes. Over the course of a 2-4 year computer life, those costs add up — and can make up the difference in total cost of ownership between a computer that’s a few hundred dollars cheaper up-front. (If my Mac mini is saving me $5 a month on power over my old tower, that’s $180 over three years — more than a third of what I paid for it.)
Tech companies are already talking a lot about power consumption — just rarely to consumers. Chip makers like AMD (AMD) and Intel (INTC) love to talk up the power efficiency of their new chips in the Wall Street Journal. Telecom gear maker Nortel (NT) is currently trying to sell phone systems to corporations based on the claim that they use half the electricity that rival Cisco’s (CSCO) phone systems use. But so far, none of the big PC makers — Dell, HP (HPQ), Lenovo, Apple — have made electricity consumption a front-and-centre feature listed next to CPU speed, RAM, storage capacity, etc. on their computer systems.
One reason they might be hesitant: Different people still use computers very differently. Someone who boots up their computer for a few hours a day to check email and use the Web uses a lot less power than someone who plays hours of games a day, downloads BitTorrent files all night, and streams movies off their computer to the family TV. So coming up with an “average” power consumption to put on a label would be a lot trickier (and less accurate) for a computer than for a refrigerator. But as soon as someone starts giving us apples-to-apples stats (no pun intended), we’ll start paying attention.