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An Energy Saving Masterclass For Computer Users

Matt Smith 15-11-2012

An Energy Saving Masterclass For Computer Users powermanagement1About 10% of an average home’s power use is dedicated to computers. That is the average for the United States, however, and is only an average. Users who are computer enthusiasts may find that their computer accounts for a much larger portion of their power bill. It’s simple logic. The more the computer is used, the more power it draws.


Yet not all computers are the same, and they are not all used the same way. Changing habits can drastically cut power draw and changing components can reduce it further. Let’s take a look at the many ways you can reduce your power footprint.

Desktops Suck Down Juice, But Can Be Improved

An Energy Saving Masterclass For Computer Users desktopupgrade

Providing a basic power estimate for a desktop is difficult because there are so many variants. I recently spent an entire article talking about power draw How Much Power Does Your PC Need? Computers need power. They turn it into heat, noise, and light -- like magic. But how much power does your PC need, exactly? Let's find out where all that power goes... Read More and the ultimate conclusion is that, depending on hardware, a desktop can use anywhere between 60 and 1000 watts.

There are some top tips that can have a big impact on power draw, however.

There are many other factors that can impact power draw, of course. Certain hard drives are more efficient than others, water cooling often uses more power than air, and so on. But the differences in these areas are small. The points above are where the major gains can be found.


Buy a Laptop

An Energy Saving Masterclass For Computer Users lenovoedge530

Buying a laptop is wise if power consumption is a primary concern.  They have several obvious advantages including smaller displays, more power efficient processors and fewer storage devices. All of these add up to power savings. A typical laptop will use 25 watts at idle and no more than 65 watts at load. The most efficient use less than 15 watts at idle.

Ultrabooks are at the cutting edge of power efficiency. These systems are the most likely to hover at 15 watts or less at idle and often use less than 40 watts at load. Performance does suffer, but it remains adequate for everyone except gamers. Even a quad-core laptop can provide power savings relative to a desktop, however, so don’t be shy about buying a powerful laptop Are You Wasting Money If You Buy An Expensive Laptop? The average consumer buys a laptop that costs about $600, a behavior that’s persisted for years. Yet there are also laptops on the market which cost two or even three times as much. Are they... Read More if it’s needed.

Usage Matters

An Energy Saving Masterclass For Computer Users powermanagement


Hardware is only part of the power consumption equation. Usage is also important, and better still, saving power by changing habits doesn’t cost a cent.

Let’s start with the obvious. Any computer that does not automatically turn off its display and go into sleep after a set period of time should be changed so that it does. The amount of power saved just by setting a computer to sleep automatically can be significant. Check out our Windows power management Windows 7 Power Options and Sleep Modes Explained When Windows 7 launched, one of Microsoft's selling points was that it was designed to help your battery last longer. One of the main features users will actually notice is that the screen dims before... Read More article for details on how to make this change. Also, as said before, reducing display brightness can save some power. Desktop users must do this using the monitor’s settings but laptop users can do this using Windows power management.

An Energy Saving Masterclass For Computer Users powersettings1

Remote management of a computer be great for people who often ask their computers to do tasks while they are away but then want to shut it down when it’s not in use. It’s possible to both turn on a computer remotely (using Wake On Lan) or turn it off remotely (using a shutdown manager like Switch). A computer that isn’t turned on when it’s not needed is obviously more efficient than one that runs at idle forever.


Users should also consider how a computer is used. Distributed computing projects Help Make The World Better With These Amazing Distributed Computing Projects Years ago, I wrote an article about donating your CPU time to science - taking advantage of an Internet computing model known as distributed computing. In that article, I discussed some of the cool projects... Read More can be awesome, but they’re not great for power consumption. They place load on a computer when it otherwise would be idle or off. Downloading or seeding torrents, or hosting a file server, can have the same effect. Users who want to run a file server or participate heavily in torrenting should consider building or buying a low-power system dedicated to that purpose.

And then there is gaming. Playing demanding 3D titles on the kind of hardware they require is in direct contradiction to saving power. Some gaming systems are more efficient than others but there is no such thing as a competent low-power gaming PC. With that said, however, don’t think that a console is a better choice. They usually lack power management features and don’t frequently update their hardware, which results in very poor efficiency relative to PCs over time.

Examine Power Draw

An Energy Saving Masterclass For Computer Users killawatt

The estimates present in this article are estimates. It’s nearly impossible to say exactly how much power a PC will draw. It can be estimated, but an exact figure can only be reached by measuring it.


There are several ways to measure power draw How Much Power Is Your PC Using? Computer power consumption can be estimated. Most of the components inside a PC have specific minimum and maximum power draw figures and, because quality control is so tight, it’s rare of a part to break... Read More . A simple power meter is the more accurate and least expensive. A meter like this can be hooked up to computer and give a precise reading in real time. That means users can modify settings, like display brightness, and instantly see what the does to power consumption.

I think a tool like this should be considered a must-have for anyone serious about power consumption. Because every system is different, the recommendations found here (and anywhere else) can only serve as guidelines. For example, lowering display brightness of a monitor will provide the greatest benefit to the monitors which are the least efficient – but it’s impossible to know the specifics without measuring.


Reducing power consumption is complex and potentially expensive. Here are the steps that I recommend taking for maximum reduction at minimum cost.

  • Buy a power meter
  • Play with power management settings and display brightness
  • Set up Wake On LAN and buy a shutdown manager (if applicable).
  • Replace an old monitor with newer, more efficient model
  • Buy a new high-efficiency power supply
  • Update desktop hardware or buy a laptop (if using a desktop).

Taking this full course of solutions can have an incredible impact on power consumption, reducing it by half or more. Yet it’s expensive. Do not – I repeat, do not – start spending money on saving power under the assumption that reducing power consumption will save money Does Saving Energy With Your PC Really Help Your Wallet? Computers, like all electronics, consume a fair amount of electricity. And while the efficiency of the modern computer hardware has improved relative to older parts, there’s still a lot of energy wasted. Finding ways to... Read More in the long run. This is unlikely to be true.

Simply playing with power management and changing usage habits can a big impact for users who haven’t already given thought to these options. It’s free and it can save users a little money by reducing monthly power costs.

Explore more about: Battery Life, Energy Conservation.

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  1. Ajmal
    November 17, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Thanks for the tips. May I know UPS models have any influence on power?

  2. Lisa Santika Onggrid
    November 16, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Thank you. Now I mostly use laptop and charge it once or twice a day. For simpler task I'll just use my phone and sync it to laptop later.

  3. Mart Küng
    November 16, 2012 at 6:55 am

    So stop doing anything fun and thus save power? Ok, thats a bit exaggerated, but still. You can modify your software setings for free ofcourse but whats the point of changes that will save power but not money??? Sure, consider power consumption when in acutal need for a new part or monitor but to repalce stuff just to get the power consumtion down and end up paying more... why??? You should have answered to this question in this article.

    • Matt Smith
      November 16, 2012 at 6:05 pm

      I actually wrote an entire article (//www.makeuseof.com/tag/saving-energy-pc-wallet/) saying that if you want to save money, cutting down on PC power draw usually is not the best idea.

      But a lot of people still want to reduce power consumption, or want to go a more power efficient route when they need to replace a PC or monitor anyway.

    • dragonmouth
      January 16, 2013 at 8:42 pm

      If you use less electricity, you save money by having to pay for less kilowatt-hours.

  4. Félix S. De Jesús
    November 15, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    One question, it is the same consumption using a laptop with battery dead, and a desktop?

    • Matt Smith
      November 16, 2012 at 6:03 pm

      No, a laptop will use less power because of its smaller display and less powerful hardware.

  5. druv vb
    November 15, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    Nice review on how to save energy and money on those electricity bills. But my approach is much simpler. I turn it off completely. In fact I use my desktop computer (a rather beefy one) every two days, for media editing and gaming. The other days, I connect my phone to my home wifi for Internet use.