Conservation tip: Kill your screensaver

Business school geeks (like us) know Nicholas Carr as the author of the controversial “IT Doesn’t Matter” article in the Harvard Business Review. In his excellent blog, he sometimes touches on the mostly-unnoticed environmental impact of computer technology.

For example, he entertainingly dissects corporations’ Dilbert-like attempts to instill “corporate values” via bloated screensaver apps. What effect these screensavers have on corporate values is unclear, but Carr can put some hard numbers around the environmental consequences.

A PC with a screensaver going can use well over 100 watts of power, compared with only about 10 watts in sleep mode. An analysis by the University of New Hampshire indicates that if an organization has 5,000 PCs that run screensavers 20 hours a week, the annual power consumed by those screensavers “accounts for emissions of 750,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, 5,858 pounds of sulfur oxide, and 1,544 pounds of nitrogen oxide.” Considering that there are something like 600 million PCs in use today…we’re talking some big, ugly numbers.

In another post, Carr discusses the data center energy crisis. He cites a paper by a Google engineer that predicts that, unless hardware becomes more efficient, within a few years power consumption will cost more than the computers themselves.

What can you do about these issues? For starters, make sure your computer is configured so that it can go to sleep when it’s not in use. Also bear in mind that power consumption of a laptop computer is about 20% of a comparable desktop PC. Finally, for maximum impact, you can try to raise awareness of this issue at your place of work. Small policy changes can have a big impact.

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  1. michael gorsuch - January 18, 2006

    Brilliant point: it’s always the little things that count, right?
    Could you imagine if the idle cycles were put to use? If you can’t come up with a real solid use, put the thing to sleep!

  2. Anonymous - January 21, 2006

    Nice idea, but current PC motherboards typically can’t go into sleep mode, and come back out of it without wonking up the operating system. Laptops do it wonderfully, but PCs don’t. I’ve tried to get this to work on a number of systems.
    Additionally, the numbers are off here – modern PCs draw a lot more than 100W – it’s more like 150W to 200W, and if you have a higher end PC, it’s more like 300W. This isn’t speculation – I’ve actually measured this with a Watt meter.
    I built my own PC with low power components – it draws only 60W – 80W running full out. Not the 15W or so you can get with a laptop, but it was the best I could do with what’s available on the market for a reasonable amount of money.

  3. Joel Halfwassen - February 8, 2006

    I am an IT professional at the State University. I can’t believe that I was not setting my users’ equipment to take advantge of this simple technology. I felt like such a bonehead! Thank you for the article. I have since changed the settings on my users machines to go into sleep mode when idle for an extended period of time.

  4. Energy conservation - June 11, 2006

    Check out this introduction article on Energy conservation:
    Energy conservation
    1.Some easy ways to save
    2.Energy Saving Tips
    2.1 Water Heater
    2.2 Clothes Dryer
    2.3 Cooking
    2.4 Heating

  5. John C. Briggs - March 21, 2007

    Desktop PC’s are more difficult to use in a Green way. Here is a good way I have found to save energy on a desktop PC.
    1) Program the button on the PC to put the computer into “Standby” (Control Panel|Power Options|”advanced tab”|”When I press the power button–> “Standby”.)
    2) Also, uncheck “Prompt for password…”
    3) When you are not using the computer, Press the button on the front of the computer to put it into “Standby”
    4) On my Dell Desktop, power is reduced to 2W.
    5) To wake up the PC, press the button on the front of the computer.
    6) On my Desktop PC’s, they are restored to operation in 15 seconds.
    In the interest of full disclosure, I have had issues with networked drives and networked printers, but these have not been a big issue.
    The automatic “go to Standby” settings do not seem to work on my Desktop PC’s for some reason. I think some applications are keeping the PC “awake”.
    So put your computer in “Standby” by pushing the button, and it will be back to business in about 15 seconds when you push the button again.