Personal Computing Efficiency- the Incomplete Guide




Introduction: Personal Computing Efficiency- the Incomplete Guide

About: Mechanical Engineer, coder, electronics hacker. Aficionado of the little things in life.

At this very moment, it could be that you have an extra unused computer switched on somewhere in the house. Yes? Well read on...

There is a lot of useful information on the World Wide Web about increasing the efficiency of computer systems and thereby saving power. But the thing is that most of the time, people tend to get easily bored looking through the thousands of web pages on the topic.

That is why I compiled this guide to reducing the energy footprint of your home computer system(s), with the intention of raising awareness about the endless possibilities, and to let EVERYONE know how they can help.

So read on and please, implement what you read, because as I will later prove, even small changes make a big difference!

NOTE: This instructable is entered in the "Earthjustice United States of Efficiency Contest", so if you think this guide deserves to win, VOTE!

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1: Tally

What I have found is that there are some main concepts published on the net, plus some unique ideas. Now to put these into action, first you have to take a tally of the computers and accessories in your home.
The main points to consider are:

(1) How many laptops?
(2) How many desktops (count the system units-boxes only)?
(3) How many CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors? TIP: these are the ones with the big backsides
(4) How many LCD monitors?
(5) How many sets of speakers?
(6) Any external hard drives?
(7) Any modems and routers? TIP: Box shaped things which allow you to connect to the internet
(8) Media computers?
(9) File servers?
(10) Print servers?
(11) Scanners?
(12) Printers?

Step 2: How Much Power Am I Really Consuming?

The purpose of this step is to let you know how significant the problem is.

You may not know:

(1) High end gaming desktops leech up to 800 watts with newer processors and up to 1000 watts with older processors.

(2) Even when a desktop or laptop is turned off, they consume power from 1-6 watts as long as they are plugged in. This phenomenon is known as vampire power.

(3) Speakers (basic) use up around 10-13 watts when playing loudly and often do not reduce the toll when silent. Scanners consume about 15-25 watts during scanning, around 4 watts when idle (plugged in but not operational). The list goes on...

Step 3: Measure!

Now that you have tallied the devices in your home, it is time to find how many watts those devices consume.
If you do not know what a watt is:
In my opinion, the best method is to get a kill-a-watt, a device allows you to plug anything into it and check the wattage. (

Otherwise, visit the links below:

Step 4: OK, That’s a Lot, But Now What?

It is now that we come to the most important step - taking action

The way to go here is to minimize and compromise. What this means is that we have to minimize the number of devices we use and minimize the amount of power each of these devices draw. In order to minimize without losing the functions we love in our computer systems, we have to compromise, meaning that we have to reach a balance between saving power and having convenience.

For example, I mentioned earlier that speakers use up power even when not playing sound. In this situation, the solution is not to live a life without music; the solution is picking an alternative - headsets!
There is a multitude of choices, including surround headsets, earbuds, earphones, bluetooth stereo, wireless headphones etc., so you are free to choose what fits you best.

That being said let us get started...

Step 5: Mini Desktops/Netbooks

Obviously, if you're only going to surf a little internet or type some documents, there really isn't much sense in buying a high end gaming machine...

Instead, why not go for an ultra small, cool looking mini desktop or netbook (small, low power laptop)? Amazingly mobile, these devices go easy on power and are very affordable (mini desktops and netbooks designed for light users can be bought for less than $400).

Devices worthy of mention are:
eee PC
fitpc and fitpc2
Dell studio hybrid
Aleutia mini desktops
The (pricier) mac mini'

Or build one: (a mini laptop),2845,1116179,00.asp

If you are a torrent/download fanatic, or if you must have a media computer, a device like the fit pc is really handy. It is virtually invisible and certainly more efficient over long downloads than using a laptop or a desktop.

Who knows, maybe you could even use a mini desktop as a DVD player.

Step 6: Monitors

Step 6 Monitors

(1) Replace all the frequently used CRT monitors into LCD (liquid crystal display). Studies have shown that LCD monitors save up to 60% more energy than CRT monitors. Professor Alan Hedge of the Department of Design & Environmental Analysis, Cornell University, says that a 15 inch LCD uses around 25 watts when operational and around 3 watts when in standby mode, compared with an equivalent viewing area 17 inch CRT that uses 80 watts when operational and 5 watts in standby mode. Switching to LCD monitors supposedly saves 3 billion kWh per year in Japan.

(2) Use OpenVNC or TightVNC to use as many computers as you want with one monitor. Yes, you heard me right. You can operate many computers from one place as if you were sitting right in front of it. With this method, you no longer have to have a mouse, keyboard and monitor for your additional PCs (for example, some people keep a separate computer to play music). Feeling too lazy to go and shut down all your home PCs? Then do it all from one PC.
Link: tightvnc
Link: openvnc

TIP: use VNC to remotely administer your torrent downloading mini-desktop.

Step 7: Remove Unnecessary Computer Drives

One or more of your computers may have a floppy drive or unused CD drive. To stop these from wasting power, you can remove them. Assuming you have prior experience with fixing computers, open up the case...

Now, disconnect all cables from the back of the drive you intend to disable. Tie up the wire ends and tuck them away safely /completely detach them.

Read more:

The instructions in the web page above are for floppy drives. The cd drive removal procedure is similar.

Step 8: Use Power Strips

Power strips are strips of sockets which allow multiple devices to be plugged in at the same time.

If you can find one with individual switches, it becomes really easy and effortless to switch on/off speakers, printers and scanners, which use power during standby.

You may want to go the extra mile and get a smartstrip: which can automatically turn off devices in standby.

Step 9: Soft Solutions

Go to power options in control panel if you're using a windows machine and adjust the turn off display after and standby options.

This way, when you're not using your computer, it will go into a power saving mode, at the same time keeping your work safe and the way you left it.

Read more:

Or... you can use the CO2 saver app which adjust power levels for you and tracks how much energy you have saved:

Step 10: General Tips

(1) Look for the "energy star" logo on products. This is an industry standard for efficiency.
(2) Use everything less.
(3) Turn off devices when they are not in use.
(4) Don't throw away. Instead, recycle or auction on eBay.

This is only the beginning. Be creative and think up more ways to save energy, because essentially, our modern lifestyle depends on it.

Participated in the
Earthjustice United States of Efficiency Contest

Be the First to Share


    • Trash to Treasure Contest

      Trash to Treasure Contest
    • Rope & String Speed Challenge

      Rope & String Speed Challenge
    • Wearables Contest

      Wearables Contest

    6 Discussions


    9 years ago on Step 9

    Notice tha screen saver do not save power! They even take more because they keep your procesor calculating, your graphics card rendering and keeps your screen on!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Nice instructable dude, and it is true, some computers do eat up 800 watts, but it is rare to find a computer that actually uses up that much. The more wattage a power supply can put out, the longer it will last in a lower-powered system.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    "(1) High end gaming desktops leech up to 800 watts with newer processors and up to 1000 watts with older processors."

    Can you provide proof of this? It is a very common misconception that if you have a 500W PSU it consumes 500Watts. The power rating on a computer PSU is its *maximum* limit.

    My gaming rig barely scrapes 150W with everything powered up, yet it has a 500W PSU in it

    Use an energy meter to check. (like you said in step3!)


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for commenting. I was referring to insanely powerful machines like some manufactured by alienware (dual graphics cards, dual processor socket motherboards, overclocked processors and extra fans to cool them). I figure they need more power (not all the time though) so they have PSUs with higher wattage. And yes, I agree that a system does not consume the maximum wattage of its PSU all the time. That's why I used the words "up to".


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Heh I know for a fact my existing gaming pc eats 1000W
    but its a SLI rig and its about 3 years old


    9 years ago on Step 8

    Hmm, power strips with individual switches... Looks interesting, but the Smart Strip would use power when detecting applianced turned off.