Case Study: Developing an Ultra-Efficient PC

Ecova Research Innovation at Work

Researchers at Ecova, with funding and support from the California Energy Commission’s Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) program, developed a prototype computer as an alternative to one of the largest “energy vampires” in today’s workplace: desktop computers that use significant amounts of energy in both active and “idle” modes.

THE TEAM

COMPONENTS

Using the hardware makers’ most-efficient computer platforms, the Ecova team added best-in-class components such as hybrid hard drives and right-sized 80 PLUS® power supplies to further scale back the prototype computers’ energy consumption. The researchers installed the Windows Vista® operating system and then benchmarked the machines’ performance using the SYSMark 2007 PC performance metric to estimate annual energy consumption for each under normal office use conditions.

 

COSTS

The Ecova team created the market-ready desktop as a cost-effective option that would add less than $40 to the retail price of each unit, creating a two-year payback before applicable utility energy-efficiency subsidies. The team designed the ultra efficient desktop without
consideration of cost.

 

BUILDING A MORE ENERGY-EFFICIENT COMPUTER

The Ecova research team blends current computer technology and off-the-shelf components to build a computer that goes far beyond ENERGY STAR® standards.

Something you might not know:

Today’s computers spend 95 percent of their energy idling for the user.

The Ecova research team felt that fact bore some further inspection. The team looked for solutions to cut down energy use during that idle time, as well as the actual usage time. The result? Using a blend of laptop, desktop technology and off-the-shelf components, Ecova researchers created highly energy-efficient computer models that consume 70 percent less energy than current ENERGY STAR-labeled computers.

Ecova approached the California Energy Commission’s Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) program, and they agreed to fund and support the team’s research. From there it was an exciting exercise in learning, innovating and building. Researchers collaborated with chip makers Intel, AMD and Via to see how much they could reduce the energy demand of computers operating in a typical business environment.

The research team used hardware makers’ most efficient platforms and added components such as hybrid hard drives and right-sized 80 PLUS power supplies to scale back the test computers’ energy consumption. After installing Windows Vista, the machines were tested using the SYSMark 2007 PC performance metric to establish benchmarks.

Test models were compared to the performance of a Class B ENERGY STAR computer that consumes 65 watts at idle.

All the machines tested consumed between 40 and 70 percent less electricity than is allowed by ENERGY STAR standards.

The most efficient computer used just 19 watts at idle. Most of the computers had sufficient capability to perform the most common business computing functions.

Research results indicated that the market-ready energy-efficient desktop they built is a cost-effective option that business could adopt today. The modifications would cost less than $40 at retail, and…

Over the course of one year a single computer would consume roughly $19 in electricity costs, compared to $40 for a Class B ENERGY STAR computer.

To cap off the team’s success, Ostendorp and Chris Calwell, vice president of Policy and Research, were invited to demonstrate the machines at the ACEEE Market Transformation Symposium.

 

THE RESULTS

Combining off-the-shelf laptop and desktop computer technologies, the Ecova team was able to develop a highly energy-efficient computer that consumes only 30 percent of the energy that ENERGY STAR qualified efficient computers use.

Results at a glance:

  • Consume $19 in annual electricity costs vs. $40 for a Class B ENERGY STAR model
  • Save 284 kWh per unit more than ENERGY STAR models each year
  • Save $28 per unit more than ENERGY STAR models

 

If all U.S. businesses purchased computers comparable to the market-ready efficient desktop, it would negate the need for two typical coal-fired power plants and save 12.8 billion kWh of energy per year. If all U.S. businesses purchased computers comparable to the ultra efficient desktop, it would negate the need for three typical coal-fired power plants and save 16.7 billion kWh of energy per year.

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