Best Energy Efficient Parts for a PC
Whether you buy an off-the-shelf computer to surf the web, to power your home office, or to entertain the entire family with the latest technology in computer gaming, you want to get the best system for your money. Achieving the best bang for your computing buck includes not only the initial cost of your hardware and software, but the ongoing expense of keeping your system running.
When considering which components to include in your system, a primary consideration for environmentally conscientious computer users is total energy consumption. This not only impacts your monthly electric bill, but when you think about the thousands of computers in use worldwide, the combined power consumption can be a considerable effect on your carbon footprint.
What are your best guidelines for assembling and using an energy efficient PC? How do you select the best parts to keep your system providing high performance without draining the power grid? Read on to find out.
How to Find the Most Energy Efficient Parts
Fortunately, most computer parts now come with their energy ratings clearly stated, allowing you to identify the most energy-efficient models. RAM, processors, graphics cards and storage drives provide wattage consumption to enable computer builders to calculate the total power that will be needed by the system.
Your computer monitors are provided with Energy Star ratings that tell you exactly what your power needs will be over time, measured in kilowatt hours per year (kWh/yr). This is influenced by screen size, resolution, and the type of construction of the monitor (LCD, LED, etc).
Of course, if your system includes multiple monitors for business or gaming use, you will need to consider the combined power consumption when evaluating your system’s energy efficiency. Selecting monitors that provide the best visual performance yet require the least amount of power is a balancing act you need to consider when choosing your displays.
Laptop computers, of course, are usually pre-assembled with components that limit your choice of monitors, with the exception of screen size. There are still considerations related to total power consumption:
- SSD storage vs. HDD
- Screen size
- Processor power
- System RAM installed
- Graphics processors and associated RAM
Selecting a laptop with the feature you need can still include energy efficiency as a factor by choosing the right options carefully.
Even high-powered gaming laptops vary in power utilization, making your choice of systems important when seeking the right combination of computing power and energy efficiency.
What Parts Are Most Important for Energy Efficiency?
One of your primary concerns for power consumption is the heart of the computer’s energy use – your power supply.
Choosing your power supply when building a system can be a complicated process. You must consider both the efficiency of the power supply itself, and the power it must provide to each component of your system.
Components you include in your system will determine the power supply needed to keep everything running reliably. By focusing on the most energy efficient parts available for your PC, you can limit the wattage of the power supply you will need.
Even when comparing power supplies, there are additional factors you should consider besides wattage capacity:
- Internal or external cooling – some power supplies include integrated fans for cooling, while others rely on external fans for cool operation.
- Power supply efficiency – most power supplies on the market run at approximately 70% efficiency. By moving up to more sophisticated power supplies that are rated at 90% efficiency and higher, you can reduce your energy footprint. Be sure to account for maximum energy output your system will need when running at full power. That is considerably different than when your computer is sitting idle.
- Lower-power components housed in your system will generate reduced loads on your power supply, maximizing energy efficiency.
Incorporating multiple low-power components in your system will result in a considerable reduction in your total energy requirements.
Choosing the motherboard that works best for your system is a critical decision in building your computer. This depends on the case size for your build, the processor you plan to install, and components you intend to incorporate in your system.
Processors and motherboards are available in many capacities and performance levels, and with various energy requirements. Your first choice is in the CPU that will give your system the computing power it needs to run the tasks you have planned – gaming, video editing, music production, and more. Once you’ve selected your CPU, you can search for the most energy-efficient motherboard that will accommodate the processor.
Take note that there are multiple CPUs and motherboards that may be good candidates for your system. Some are already pre-assembled with the CPU installed on the motherboard, simplifying your build process.
Random Access Memory (RAM) comes in many sizes and is one of the most important factors in running your applications and games at their highest levels of performance.
RAM on its own is not a huge consumer of energy, drawing about 1-4 watts, depending on system activity (less when idle, more when running at full load). Since this is not a major issue for your system’s energy rating, you may be better off to focus on an efficient power supply over spending too much time researching RAM efficiency.
Drive storage is one of your biggest opportunities to build a high performing, energy-efficient system. Older technology used in HDDs consumes considerably more power than SSDs, and is much slower as well. Your overall savings in power from SSD storage depends on how much activity is present in your system – the more you access the drives, the more energy you save from SSD use. Besides higher performance and lower power needs, SSDs also take much less space in your case.
Cooling – Your Case and Fans
Building a high-powered computer requires that you keep components cool enough to avoid damage to heat-generating components. Processors, graphics cards, and other components create enough heat to require fans that keep them from overheating. Some cases come with integrated fans – single or multiple units, depending on your system needs. The more fans you have running, the more energy consumed. There are cases that are fanless, but they may not be applicable to all systems.
Especially if you plan on using your new system for gaming or graphics-intense applications, your graphics card will be a primary component of your computer.
Graphics cards from industry leaders such as Nvidia and MSI will provide you with the gaming power and energy efficiency you need to get the best combination of performance and power consumption.
Technical Options for Energy Efficiency
If you want to dig deeper into your system’s power consumption, there are additional ways to modify your finished system to save power consistently:
- Some Intel boards can be modified in their BIOS or UEFI to alter their power states. These include activating ECO Mode or Low Power Mode, which reduces the energy used by the system.
- Undervolting can be used to increase battery life on some devices and decrease heat, consuming less power.
Note: use extreme caution when attempting these technical options to increase the energy efficiency of your system. Performing these operations incorrectly can introduce instability and other problems to your computer.
Energy Efficiency PCs Off the Shelf
If you’re looking for an eco-friendly computer, but don’t have the technical background or desire to build your own, you have alternatives. There are systems readily available where builders have made a concerted effort to provide computers that are energy efficient with carefully selected components. This not only saves you the trouble and homework of building your own system, but assures you of a ready-to-use system without the potential frustration of getting all your components living in harmony.
Keep in mind that there are additional ways to save electricity and become more environmentally conscious with any computer – even the most power-guzzling gaming behemoth:
- Shut it down when it won’t be in use for long periods – even when you’re off to work for the day
- Turn off monitors, printers, or other peripherals that are not needed. Even when idle, they’re using electricity
- Enable any power settings available to you, like sleep mode for storage drives and monitors
- If you’re taking a trip or going away for the weekend, turn off – and unplug – your computer. Even when turned off, your system uses electricity.
Remember Your Drivers
Keeping your new system running efficiently is also maximized by keeping your operating system and drivers up to date. Especially when building a new system, it is quite likely that the drivers that came with your components have been updated by the manufacturer since the devices were packaged and shipped. Bringing your system current will ensure efficient operation.
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