Thanks a lot for your quick answer, Devonovar. This is exactly what I was hoping for.
Look, I know my idea sounds naive or plain stupid, but maybe that's due to its simplicity. I don't fool myself in thinking that my project is going to save the world and I don't want to start a business. All I want is this: When people search for 'low-energy computer' (in Dutch) on Google I want them to see a place where they can actually buy one in the first ten hits, instead of some pdf-files of how HP and Dell plan to start selling minimalspec computers in 2015. I know it's not as simple as I project it all (the world is far from perfect), but it's a challenge to see how far I can get.
Now, let me go into your answer point by point:
Your goals are at odds with each other, I can't think of a single system that meets all the requirements.
1) The lowest consumption computers are low-end laptops, but you don't want to sell laptops. Using desktop components makes your goal nearly impossible to achieve. With a separate LCD monitor, chances are that 35W of your 50W budget will be taken up just by the monitor. That leaves you with a 15~20W budget for the whole computer. The only desktop that meets that requirement (that I know of anyway) is a board that uses VIA's C7 processor and the related chipsets, but that will fail requirement number 2) for many people. On the other hand, you could try selling iMacs, which do idle under 50W, including monitor, but they fail requirement 3) because it's not upgradable.
Okay, let's make it 60 watts then.
Naturally, I'll look for the monitor that uses the least power. This is quite hard I can tell you, as manufacturers don't give exact power specs on their websites. My Neovo F-417 for instance is said to use <54 W. I've measured it and it's 24 W. I'm sure there are monitors that use even less. So that would leave 25-30W. I know a Sempron 1800+ for instance has a TDP of 35 W. I don't know how much it uses at idle, but that will probably be less. A HDD uses about 2.5 W. Etc. The biggest problem is posed by the PSU in my opinion (but we'll get to that).
So, am I reaching too high when I say that I want to assemble a simple desktop that uses 50-60 Watts? I know an average Dell uses up about 100-150 W (the Optiplex GX620 at my job uses 92 Watts at idle, and I think that office computers are designed to use less). There's a difference of 50 W at least which isn't much by itself, but multiply that by 1000 and you're already talking about 1.8 Megawatt on a yearly basis. That's the whole idea, isn't it?
If you must have a desktop, you'll have to imitate VIA and Apple's approach: Build it using mobile parts: Processor and chipset should be mobile at the very least, and you'll want to use a PicoPSU for the power supply (with the right power brick, it's more efficient at low loads than any 80 Plus PSU we've seen). The only trouble is, as far as I know, there are very few "mobile" chipsets to be found on desktop motherboards. The only ones I can think of are from AOpen's MoDT line, and these are hard to source and very expensive. And, even this conflicts with 3), since these parts are not terribly easy to upgrade due to the difficulty of sourcing parts for mobile upgrades.
I totally agree with you. That's why VIA processors, Pentium M and Turions are not an option. They're good for building small servers or media centers. I want to imitate regular desktops, but with minimal specs. So people have the opportunity to buy exactly what they need. How many people do you know that bought a Dell because it's cheap and because they got their RAM doubled and a free printer along with it? People that only use Word and Outlook. I hate that.
Please share more of your thoughts on the PSU because that's the hardest nut to crack up till now. PicoPSU and things like PW 200 are very interesting because of their efficiency. Most of all I'd like a micro-ATX case with a built-in PSU, such as Aopen's H360. I'm really at a loss when it comes to PSU's. The really efficient ones aren't for sale in the Netherlands or too expensive.
2) I suspect that your measure of futureproofing will be HD capability. If you can find a chipset that does HD decoding onboard (VIA claims to have one, but I hear it doesn't work), that might be the most efficient way of going about it, but otherwise you'll have to be very careful what processor you choose. I've had better luck with Intel processors â€” Intel's mobile Core Duo parts might fit the bill here. Not sure if there's a mobile equivalent for Core 2 Duo yet... If your users don't require HD decoding, just throw in the cheapest/coolest processor you can find â€” basic users don't need any more power, and I doubt that will change in the next 5 years. Not sure how well that will work with Vista though ... some flavour of Linux might make for a better user experience on low-end hardware. Vista is a beast and will eat RAM.
Thanks for the advice.
3) Already touched on this, but I suspect that the esoteric parts that are required to push power consumption down will make it very difficult to achieve easy upgradability. Oh, and you can forget about builiding 50W gaming machines ... the most efficient exteral graphics cards add ~15W at idle ... and they're the least powerful. You can budget a 25~30W increase at idle for the kind of graphics card that will appeal to gamers.
Gamers and the environment?
Building a low-energy computer for gamers is a contradictio in terminis. I'm naive, but not a 13 year old girl from a Missouri farm. Gamers are mostly young lads who shouldn't worry too much and have fun. They can make up for it later by creating a better world for their children.
On-topic: The Semprons I mentioned come in AM2. This socket is one of the most modern, so it should be around for a while (unless the bastards switch to AM3). I was thinking to start with that so people could change to energy-efficient dual cores (like the 3800+ EE SSF) once they got cheaper. If need be, of course.
4) Here again, your choices are iMac or one of VIA's offerings. Both of these have difficulties that I've already mentioned. Building the systems yourself is almost certainly going to cost you, as the most efficient parts are expensive and hard to find.
I won't build them myself. The webshop I have a deal with will do that for me.
I think if you really want to do something for Green Computing, you should be looking at ways to repurpose existing "obsolete" hardware. Building very power efficient, but new, computers for your clients may save 30W or so at idle, but that's not a huge savings in the long run... The environment will be hurt more by the old system that is thrown out before its time in favour of a "more efficient" model.
I agree with you, except for the not huge savings in the long run. If every computer on earth would run on 30W less, it would make quite a nice impact. But as I said, I know my idea won't make a huge difference. It's all about the psychological side of it. I want to make a contribution to the shift in awareness. And I don't want people to throw out their machines before it's time (unless they use 250 W), I'm aiming at the people who want to buy a new and simple computer, but can't seem to find a company that offers low-energy computers.
Look, I know about the toxic waste thrown away computers generate and it's quite disturbing. But right now I'm mainly concerned with the impending energycrisis and the impact our consumption has on the global climate. Once we have that under control (if we ever will in time) we can worry more again on the whole recycle & toxic-problem. I could offer to have people's old computer recycled, for instance. There are enough social projects for these things. But I'd have to look into that. Maybe that would be something for the future, but thanks for mentioning that. I hadn't thought about it yet.
Since basic office tasks and media playback requirements are met by just about any P-III or better, it might be best to find ways of making these systems usable in a modern environment. To a large extent, I think this just involves educating people about the software that they're using ... i.e. avoid slow bloated software that gets dumped into the Windows startup and hangs around whenever the computer is running. Avoid Norton AV or other bloated security apps, and tell people how to avoid catching virii or malware.
I was thinking of devoting a large part of the website to tips on conscious computer use. I haven't worked that out at all (too busy with the other things at the moment) but we might discuss this later on in the process. If I still have someone to discuss it with here.
Use Win XP Lite or a lightweight form of Linux to make the computer "feel" faster while running on the same hardware. Things like that.
That's a good one. I think many people will be quite happy with XP for the next 5 years, and I believe it's possible to install Vista without much of the fancy stuff (Aeroglass and what not).
I'm sure there's a business opportunity in there somewhere, but it's much more involved than brokering "efficient" computers. Green computing is as much about awareness as it is about choosing the right parts, so you'll need to sell some "education" along with whatever it is that you're buying. I think you understand this â€” you want to create a resource where users can educate themselves on which computers are efficient. I just think you need to go deeper than that if you really want to take a good look at the issues involved.
That's why I came here. I need feedback on this so I can go deeper and deeper and broaden my look on the issues involved.
Although I'm not into the business opportunity, I belive as you say that there's a lot of marketing potential in the whole green scheme. Companies who up till now only did marginal things to show they took their social responsibility are becoming more and more aware of the way they can make money out of people's concern for the climate and the environment. They'll forcefeed the masses. I believe the whole green movement thing can become as big and even bigger than the whole anti-smoking campaigns, especially with the rising energy costs and wars over oil. Let's try and speed the hype up. That's my goal and that's how I came up with this idea.