Green is one of the biggest buzz words these days, and even computer manufacturers are getting involved in trying to be kinder to the environment. While the first thing that may spring to mind when you think of ‘green computing’ is simply using less electricity, there’s a lot more to it than that.
Eco-friendly computer systems not only need to have a lower power consumption, but should also work efficiently. A PC that uses half as much power is no good if it takes twice as long to do anything. However, another part of the puzzle involves the processes and materials used to make computer components. Traditionally, PCs contained large amounts of lead and halogens (such as Chlorine) which were used in components and the manufacturing process. This means that when the parts eventually got thrown away, the harmful chemicals could end up in a land-fill, leaching back into the ground. Finally, even something as simple as the packaging that components ship in can have an environmental impact. Smaller, lighter components require less packaging and less space to transport, which means less waste from the materials and less energy to ship.
Remember, too, that this isn’t just a matter of one computer in one home. PCs are found everywhere, with millions of systems around the world, especially in businesses. If each of the computers around the world used even one per cent less electricity, the difference would be monumental.
Intel, as the world’s largest chip-maker and one of the largest technology companies on the planet, is leading the charge with green initiatives and technologies across its whole range of products. We’ll take a look at a few of these, and try to explain how the company is doing its part to try and help the environment.
The CPU is the heart of a computer and does most of the hard work, so it needs to be as efficient as possible. Intel’s newest Core i3, i5 and i7 processors use the very latest technologies to minimise the amount of unnecessary power that gets used. The first of these are the manufacturing process and processor design. The most recent chips use what is called a 32nm (32 billionths of a metre) process and are built using high-k+ transistor technology. While the specifics are quite complex, this essentially means that the circuits that a CPU is made up of are exceptionally small and made of materials that don’t overly leak electricity. The end result is that they require less electricity and create less heat, making them more efficient.
However, the best designed chips in the world may still require a lot of power if they are particularly large or powerful. While these new technologies can help to make processors smaller, Intel’s low-power series helps to reduce power usage even further, without sacrificing performance. These CPUs are handpicked to be able to operate using the lowest possible voltages. This means even less power is used and even less heat is generated by the chips.
Processors that don’t generate as much heat also require less cooling. This allows the cooling fans to run slower, requiring less power. The heatsinks, which are normally large blocks of copper or aluminium and draw heat away from warm components, can also be smaller and lighter for low-power CPUs. A smaller heatsink obviously requires fewer materials to manufacturer, but can also be shipped and packaged in a smaller box. This reduces the amount of materials even further as well as cutting down on the energy required to transport the components.
The newest CPUs also include integrated graphics processors on the same chip. By building the graphics core into the main CPU, a system can become even more efficient. Though integrated graphics processors aren’t as powerful as even low-end discrete graphics cards, they are more than capable of common, basic computing tasks and use significantly less power.
In addition to the physical hardware, there are many other technologies that can help a computer to run more efficiently. Most PCs will spend the vast majority of the time either idling or doing a fraction of the work that they are capable of. Therefore, all of the power required to keep the processor at full speed is wasted. By using SpeedStep technology, Intel CPUs can dynamically reduce the speed at which they are running. This will also decrease the voltage sent to the CPU, resulting in a significant drop in the total power that a computer uses. When a more demanding task needs to be completed, the processor can increase its speed again in a fraction of a second.
Intel’s Turbo Boost Technology works in the opposite way, increasing the speed of the processor-cores in multi-core CPUs to allow single-threaded applications to be completed more quickly. While this doesn’t decrease the power usage, tasks can be completed faster, increasing the efficiency of the computer and letting it get back to a low-power state more quickly.
While it is important that the components in a system use as little power as possible, it is equally important that they are manufactured in responsible and sustainable ways. Intel’s newest processors and heatsinks are all lead- and halogen-free. Not only does this mean that less of these environmentally sensitive materials are used – and therefore discarded – as a result of the manufacturing process, but the components can be disposed of more safely. Computer components tend to have regrettably short life-cycles, with a five-year-old computer being considered practically ancient. Reducing the amount of harmful materials means that there is less chance of them turning up in the landfill sites around the world.
It isn’t just harmful chemicals that need to be minimised though. Intel is even taking steps to reduce the amount of water that has to be used in the production of its processors, again benefiting the environment.
The value in these technologies isn’t necessarily apparent when they are purchased. Sometimes, energy-efficient products will even carry a slight premium over the standard versions. However, huge savings can be made as a result of these energy-saving technologies in the long run. While cutting down on a few watts here or there may not seem like a lot, the cost savings can easily add up over the course of a year. Moreover, the benefit to the environment that these technologies can have is huge, and that’s something that you can’t put a value on.
At first glance, it may seem like many of these energy-saving measures will only make a difference to businesses that have hundreds of computers running at once. However, if every individual household used lower-power or more-efficient computers that were made using as few harmful chemicals as possible, the benefit to the environment would be immeasurable. On top of this, each one of those households would be saving money on their electricity bills each year.
Intel is leading the way in green computing by offering a full range of energy-efficient processors and motherboards that use as little power as possible and use the very latest technology available. On top of this, they are responsibly produced in a way that minimises the amount of harmful materials in the manufacturing processes and in the components themselves.