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Tue 11 Mar 2008 10:39 AM

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Cutting the kilowatts

Besides benefits such as faster overall performance and user-friendly features, there is another very real reason to upgrade to a newer PC, says Jason Saundalkar

I have a lot of friends with aging machines that are powered by older Pentium 4 and Athlon processors, along with their associated and slightly dated components. They think that upgrading their PCs is a waste of money because they simply don't want or need a rig that gets the job done quicker. However, when I explained that the parts in these older rigs are quite inefficient when it comes to power consumption and thus drive up their monthly expenses, in the form of higher power bills, they couldn't wait to upgrade. Funny that...

You see, despite the fact that today's PC components and peripherals are capable of faster performance than ever before, they are also designed to be power-efficient, meaning they waste less of it. This translates into lower overall power consumption, which ultimately reduces how much money you have to pay the electric company.

In terms of components that are the most notorious when it comes to power-consumption, the processor comes first, followed by the graphics card and motherboard.

On the CPU front, the older Pentium 4 chips were notoriously power hungry and despite their high clock frequencies, were far from great performers. A dual-core 3.2GHz Pentium 4 chip for example requires more power, produces more heat and would still be slower overall when compared to a modern, 2GHz dual-core Core 2 Duo processor.

Considering the CPU is almost always active when a PC is running, this one component is therefore pretty certain to be the biggest contributor towards your power bill. Another way this particular CPU is adding to your monthly expense is in terms of time. As it's not as fast as today's chips, it requires more time to get through its tasks, meaning the PC has to be switched on for longer, which means yet more power being used.

Today's motherboards, graphics cards and DDR3 memory are also more power efficient than previously, and all of this combined will result in a hefty saving when it comes to the number of Kilowatts per hour (Kwh) your PC uses.

Moreover, companies are also taking things further in terms of maximising power efficiency. I recently had the chance to speak to staff from component vendor Gigabyte United about the company's new Dynamic Energy Saver (DES) feature. Using a Gigabyte motherboard without DES enabled, the test PC drew 102.66 watts of power, but when we turned the DES feature on this figure dropped to 72.56 watts; a saving of 30 watts. This may not sound like much, but in under two years this motherboard feature would save you over $25 (assuming the PC is running constantly - 24 hours a day for a full year - and that the cost per Kwh in the UAE remains at 0.2 dirhams).

An older power supply could also be adding to your power bill because these become less efficient as they get older and, in general, older power supplies are not as efficient as today's models. Efficiency in this case means that a power supply wastes less power when it is splitting the mains voltage into smaller voltages that your PC's various components need. So whereas an older model may require 380 watts of power to deliver 300 watts to your components, a newer model may need only 340 watts to deliver the same 300 watts. So again, less power used means a lower power bill at the end of the month.

More efficient components also have the added advantage of running cooler than inefficient models. This too helps reduce power consumption because your rig's cooling system has to work less, meaning it too draws less power itself.

When you factor in the better efficiency of today's CPUs, motherboards, graphics cards and power supplies, I predict you could save well over $100 a year on your electricity bill. Moreover, you'll also be helping the environment as lower power requirements mean power plants dump less carbon into the atmosphere. A worthwhile upgrade then.

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