Five tips for green computer upgrades

There are plenty of cost-effective, energy-efficient options available for upgrading your computer equipment. Katherine Murray runs through a few simple pointers.

Maybe you've been thinking about upgrading your system at home — or maybe you're responsible for maintaining a whole department full of PCs. Either way, what simple and affordable changes can you make to increase the energy-efficiency of your systems and just generally get greener?

1: Give your system(s) the once-over

The first place to start as you're considering what to upgrade is with a general check of the health of your system. How old is it? Has your monitor been around for a while? Is there a printer sitting on your desk that could be replaced or recycled altogether? Is your system working hard to pump out the information — something a RAM upgrade could fix? The three biggest energy drains in your PC are the microprocessor, the graphics card, and the monitor. Do a quick evaluation and think through which item could be replaced easily with a more energy-efficient counterpart. (Hint: Choose something other than the CPU.)

2: Look for a low-voltage shine

If you're still using an old CRT monitor (does anyone still use those anymore?), one simple upgrade that will save you large amounts of energy is replacing the big clunky monitor with a nice sleek LCD model. Visit the Web sites of your favorite monitor manufacturers and read reviews. Then, check out the EPEAT Registry, scroll down the page, and click the Displays link. EPEAT rates the energy efficiency and displays models with a silver, bronze, or gold star so that you can make an informed choice. Not only will you save power by trading that CRT monitor, but you also get rid of some pretty toxic substances — lead, mercury, barium, cadmium, and more. Be sure to recycle the monitor in an earth-friendly way rather than just dumping that monster in the trash.

3: Give your system more to remember you by

This is a simple fix, and pretty cheap, too. Upgrading the RAM in your system helps your computer process faster, which reduces the time the system is chewing on your data and lessens the overall power consumption. You can purchase RAM online in any number of places (do your homework to find a good vendor) and then install the chips yourself by snapping them into the memory slots on the PC's motherboard. If you're not sure how much memory you have, check your system properties by clicking Start and right-clicking on Computer. The System page shows you how much RAM is currently installed (Figure A).

Figure A

The System page tells you how much RAM is installed in your system.

4: Get a greener battery

Laptop batteries can be a pain. Depending on your favorite model, you may get a few sweet hours of free, non-plugged time and then... that annoying bubble pops up, telling you your power resources are draining fast. Older laptop batteries may have hazardous chemicals, like lead, so they aren't considered green. They also begin to fade over time. They begin to fail as they get older and charge less and drain more.

You can get a bit greener — and maybe perk up the power you're using — by investing in a new, green laptop battery. One example is the Boston Power Enviro battery, which works with a whole slew of HP laptop models. You can charge the Enviro 1,000 times, and it is made from earth-friendly materials. Not all laptop manufacturers are making green batteries, but check out your favorite sites to see whether one is available for your system.

5: Power to scale

When you think about it, turning things completely on or completely off is pretty inefficient when what you need is a little power. In the same vein, most power supplies pump out one steady rate of power for whatever you're doing — watching a movie, listening to a symphony, or playing Minesweeper. Companies are now offering power supplies that enable you to scale the power you need so that you're pulling only the wattage required for that particular activity. There's a site that can help you scope this out called 80 Plus. There, you'll find information about different power supplies from a variety of manufacturers.

Simple measures

As you can see, simple upgrades (and inexpensive ones, too) can make a big difference in how much power your PC is drinking down. Start small and build up those energy savings over time. You might be surprised how that momentum grows. Maybe you'll inspire a green movement in your company!


Katherine Murray is a technology writer and the author of more than 60 books on a variety of topics, ranging from small business technology to green computing to blogging to Microsoft Office 2010. Her most recent books include Microsoft Office 2010 P...

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