(this page is part of the Family Guide to Digital Freedom, 2007 edition. Please do read that introduction to know more about the Guide, especially if you mean to comment this page. Thanks)
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Use the right software
Once again, using more efficient software is the first step to save energy, or at least the easier one in many cases. Remember that, inside electronic devices, dissipated power increases greatly with the voltage and frequency of processors and other integrated circuits. In this context, efficiency is very simple to evaluate: the slowest processor that still makes it possible for you to do what you actually need to do, at the lowest possible voltage, is enough. Looking at it from the opposite angle, the software that does what you really need with the slowest possible processor, or at the slowest frequency, since modern processor can slow it down when they are not running heavy software, is the one that makes you waste less energy.
Separate computers from game consoles
For most home and office applications (games are an entirely different issues), the computers of five or six years ago were already overdimensioned. One of the reasons why this trend continues is the usage of general purpose computers for gaming. If you like computer games, a good solution energy-wise is to buy a separate, specialized console and only use that for gaming. The reason is that those devices, being optimized for only one task, start up much faster and are much smaller, more silent and above all more energy efficient than any desktop computer.
Demand the right hardware
More efficient computers may very well turn out to be the best real world achievement of the Children’s Machine. Even ignoring that project, it really should be much easier than it is today to buy computers which are:
smaller and much less power hungry than normal desktops,
unlike today’s laptops, made of cheap interchangeable parts which can be mixed, added or replaced at will,
unlike the current PDAs and other similar gadgets, flexible enough that you can install and run any software you like on them and read the same file formats as with traditional computers
The technology to make all this happen already exists: some examples are listed on the Digifreedom website. What is missing is just the right amount of consumer pressure to make it cheaper and sold in every computer store, not just the most specialized outlets. Please ask for a really energy-efficient computer or television set the next time you actually need one.
Another important thing is to look for are external devices (printers, scanners and similar) that can be completely turned off independently from the computer. If you print or scan just ten minutes every second week, why keep that printer on? In spite of this, many models have no separate power switch. Why?