A New Energy Star... in 2007

The Silent Front
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March 21, 2005 by Mike Chin

Washington, D.C. does not come to mind when most of us think about innovations in computer technology. Still, U.S. government programs and regulations do have a real impact on the PC industry, and smart industry participants keep an eye on relevant intiatives from D.C. It is precisely for this reason that over 60 PC industry representatives gathered in the U.S. capitol on March 15 to dicusss the Preliminary Draft for the revision of the Energy Star computer specification with the U.S. Environment Protection Agency. Many "stakeholders" in the industry were invited.

We associate the EPA with policing toxic waste dumping by big industrials, creating rules to protect endangered species and wetlands, or enacting regulations to deal water purity issues. The fact is that the EPA mandate to "protect human health and the environment" in the US theoretically covers virtually every arena of human activity. The EPA has long been involved in setting regulations to reduce pollution and improve energy conservation. Energy Star has been a primary program for encouraging energy efficient products since its introduction in 1992.

The Energy Star marque is familiar to almost anyone who has purchased electronic consumer products in the US in the past decade. The logo shown here, or variants thereof, can be found on numerous products in dozens of categories listed at the Energy Star web site. Please keep in mind that this is a voluntary specification program, not a standard that must met by government regulations.

Energy Star is a US program, but the label has become more widely recognized in recent years. In the US, Energy Star is now promoted by retailers, utility companies and even state governments to help encourage consumers identify and choose energy efficient products. It is also internationally recognized by countries such as Canada, Japan, Australia and the EU. The US program directors work more closely with their international counterparts to expand the awareness about energy efficiency. The program's biggest boost may have come recently when George Bush publicly urged Americans to buy Energy Star approved products.

In the Energy Star program, Computers fall under Office Equipment. Currently, the Energy Star specification for computers, integrated computers (such as the iMac) and monitors is not demanding. It only specifies what AC consumption should be while in sleep mode during which as much as 10% of the included PSU's power rating is allowed to be consumed.

It is no wonder that 98% of available computers in the marketplace carry the Energy Star label! Furthermore, the EPA has data that shows sleep mode is actually enabled on only about 5% commercially used PCs. It's clear the Energy Star label no longer differentiates between ordinary and high efficiency computer products. (Please click here for full details of the current Energy Star Key Product Criteria for computers.)

The EPA has been aware of the need to raise the bar. Five years ago when the spec was last changed, only a quarter of all relevant products in the marketplace carried the label. Hence the draft of the revised Energy Star Computer Specification.

There were more than 60 attendees to the preliminary draft meeting on March 15. They included representatives from the CPU makers, the power supply companies, the tier one computer system builders, utility companies, and many more. The big graphics cards makers were missing: ATI and nVidia.

TOUGHER COMPUTER SPEC... BUT NOT TILL 2007

For the first time, the draft spec introduces power consumption targets while the computer is actually powered on and running. The Active Mode portions of the spec are completely new and considerably more challenging than any of the current specifications.The effective date proposed is January 1, 2007. (Please click here for documents pertaining to Energy Star's revision to their existing computer specification.)

Here's a summary of the Active Mode portion of the draft Energy Star's spec for computers:

1) IDLE MODE

  • Desktops: < 50 to 60 W
  • Notebooks: < 15 W
  • Integrated Computers: < 52 to 62 W
  • Desktop Derived Servers and Workstations: < 90 to 100 W

2) INTERNAL & EXTERNAL POWER SUPPLIES

A. Desktops, Workstations and Integrated Computers with an Internal Power Supply:

  • 80% minimum efficiency at 20%, 50%, and 100% of rated output

B. Desktop Derived Servers with an Internal Power Supply:

  • EPS12V:
    • 75% minimum efficiency at 20% of rated output
    • 80% minimum efficiency at 50% of rated output
    • 77% minimum efficiency at 100% of rated output
  • EPS1U:
    • 78% minimum efficiency at 20% of rated output
    • 83% minimum efficiency at 50% of rated output
    • 80% minimum efficiency at 100% of rated output

C. Notebooks and other Computers with an External Power Supply:

Silent PC Review, more than most other PC hardware website, has long espoused high efficiency and low power dissipation as the intelligent ways to achieve low noise computing. Even for us, the efficiency and the low power demanded by the draft Energy Star spec are surprising. They can be met by only a few systems and PSUs today.

The draft Energy Star proposal cites research that typical office computers sit idle 90~98% of the time that they are turned on. This means that reducing idle heat / power is highly signficant for improved thermals and acoustics as well as for reduced energy consumption.

Let's take a close look at just one of the computer categories, the desktop. It is easier to make some kind of assessment about the viability of this new proposed specification with a product category we know well.



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