How To Save Money (& The Environment) With Your Next Computer Purchase

Computer SavingsDid you know the current upgrade cycle for a personal computer is about three years? An ‘upgrade cycle’ is the length of time someone typically owns a computer before buying a new one. With the unending changes in technology, it is inevitable that you will have to upgrade at some point in time if you still want a usable computer. In addition to the actual monetary cost of an upgrade, there’s also an environmental cost. Many charities will no longer accept computers as donations due to software piracy. Also, most areas do not have the capability to recycle computer components, even though they all contain trace amounts of gold, silver, and copper. As a result, your old computer will most likely wind up in the dump (although it doesn’t have to) when you replace it, and your money will be lining someone else’s pocket.

If you’re facing a computer upgrade and are starting to shop around, the goal is to choose a computer that will be efficient now and in the future for both you and your wallet. Something that will be fast enough to do what you need it to do, without going overboard, and without spinning your electric meter like a top. Something that you can add to and improve when the time comes, not just replace. With some planning and forethought, your next computer purchase will last you well past the normal upgrade cycle.

Get An LCD Monitor: An LCD monitor uses anywhere from 40-60% less electricity than a CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor of equivalent size. The only drawback is that an LCD monitor cannot be color calibrated as finely as a CRT monitor, but for most users this is definitely not an issue. Unless you use your computer for professional desktop publishing or image editing where screen-to-print color calibration is a must, opt for the LCD monitor.

Skip The High-End Graphics Card: A top shelf graphics card can use as much power as the CPU, or more! Do your ears perk up when you hear ATI X1950 XTX? Are you an avid gamer, videographer, or graphic designer? If not, then you probably don’t need a high end graphics card: your computer and programs will run just fine with a standard issue card.

Make Sure There’s Room To Expand The Memory (RAM): Have you ever been happily typing away on your computer only to have it slow down and take way too long to respond? Chances are, you saw the effects of too little RAM. All the programs running on your computer require a certain amount of memory to be available to run, and that’s called RAM. A slow processor with plenty of RAM will perform better than a blazing fast processor with next to no RAM. Therefore, it is to your advantage to select a system with that includes a generous allotment of RAM and the ability to upgrade it in the future. This leads to the next point…

Get A Processor That Is Compatible With 32 Bit & 64 Bit Systems: Here’s where it gets technical. Long story short, a 32 bit system will handle 4 gigabytes of RAM, while a 64 bit system can handle much more RAM (some say thousands of times more). Chances are very good that any computer you buy will be a 32 bit system, and it’s almost certain that your current software is designed to run on a 32 bit system. The problem is that it’s hard to do a big RAM upgrade when the system you buy comes with 2 gigs and it will only handle a total of 4. But, if you buy a processor that is compatible with 32 bit and 64 bit systems, you can safely run all of your existing 32 bit software now, plus you have the option of upgrading your current computer when the 64 bit time comes rather than getting a whole new system.

Opt For A Mid-Range, Dual-Core Processor: Think of your computer like a car. Now, tell me, which car is going to get better gas mileage: a 4 cylinder sedan or an 8 cylinder sports car? What about driving 55 miles per hour versus 90? The same holds true for your computer processor: the faster and more powerful it is the more electricity it uses. All that power has to come from somewhere, right? The trade-off of getting a mid-range processor is of course speed; just like the 4 cylinder sedan won’t fly like the 8 cylinder sports car, a mid-range processor is a little slower. Getting a dual-core helps to off-set this difference in speed without compromising your power bill.

Choose An AMD Processor: Two separate tests (one from late ’05 and another from earlier this month) both show that AMD processors use less wattage than equivalently powered Intel processors. Who knew? They also tend to generate less heat than their Intel counterparts. This is a double benefit, as cooler running processors last longer and result in less electricity used to run the fan.

Size Isn’t Everything: Look For A Hard Drive With Higher RPMs: I told you your computer was like a car. Hard drives offer two important specifications: size and RPMs. Size is pretty familiar to most consumers, but the RPMs are just as important as they determine how fast your processor can access your hard drive (and therefore your information). You can have the fastest processor available and still get bogged down by a slow hard drive. Even worse is the possibility of a 300 GB hard drive with a slow access speed. Most computer listings will have a section for the hard drive specifications, and it should say IDE, SATA, or SATAII and then the RPM.

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10 Responses to How To Save Money (& The Environment) With Your Next Computer Purchase

  1. shrazy says:

    Upgrade is a good alternative until you have to buy a big components that makes you change everything: Motherboard.
    Sockets are most common to change which makes your current CPU & Memory incapable.

    Waiting for the top gadget of today’s will be priced low next year. So you should try if your a gamer/multimedia user to upgrade your PC every year swapping for better RAM, CPU, VIDEO CARD.

  2. themagic says:

    Is it only the processor you have to worry about for energy use or doe certain brands of computers use more energy than others?

  3. greenday says:

    I always purchase my computers right when the new models come out. That seems to be when they discount them the most.

  4. Tina Parcell says:

    The Magic:

    The processor is the number one culprit for power consumption in most home computers, usually followed by the monitor. While certain brands of processors may use less than others (i.e. AMDs tend to have lower power consumption than Intels), these two types of processors are used in almost all major brands of computers.

    No matter what brand of computer or even processor you have, all processors use the most energy a) during start-up and b) when the processor is working at maximum capacity (aka when the CPU is running at 100% usage and the computer is doing all it can possibly do). If you run several programs at the same time on your computer, you are increasing the CPU usage. This is where having a dual core processor can be beneficial, as the processor itself is able to more effeciently handle the work-load.

  5. shrazy says:

    power supply is also the key to energy

  6. Steve says:

    AMD is no longer the most power efficient processor. It was for the past two to three years. Nowadays, Intel performs better with lower power.

  7. Him says:

    Steve is right – with the introduction of intel’s new core 2 dual core processors, the margins of AMD’s efficiency is narrowing.

    Also, photoshop users and other graphic design programs (Quark, Adobe InDesign, AutoCAD) don’t really need a powerful graphics card – it’s all about the RAM.

  8. Tina Parcell says:

    I completely agree regarding the graphics card: nine times out of ten more memory will benefit a user more so than a higher end card. That is where ensuring your system is upgradeable down the road really comes into play.

    As for the debate regarding energy usage and processors, one of the articles I researched was
    which reviewed a few different processors from both Intel and AMD. For dual-cores there really wasn’t much of a difference but for some of the lower end single core processors AMD still seemed to out-perform Intel energy wise under both idle and max CPU tests.

    At this point, the question becomes one of the user’s needs. A dual-core processor of any kind will be less likely to hit max CPU usage than it’s single core counter part, so for someone that is a heavy and constant computer user that is likely the best bet. For someone checking email 2 times a day, a budget single core processor with it’s lower over-all watt usage is probably a better bet, and chances are the budget AMD processor will use just a bit less energy than it’s Intel counterpart.

  9. Kirin says:

    please tell me why you reference low-end single-core cpu power consumption data when recommending AMD for CPUs but then suggest people purchase midrange dual core processors (for which you state that there is no power consumption difference between Intel and AMD). kind of contradictory, isn’t it? it just seems your cpu recommendation is baseless (or just based on your preference for AMD). it is quite irresponsible blogging to state these “facts” without quoting your references, even if they aren’t reputable sources.

  10. Jr. says:

    Well, Kirin, are u willing to pay the large amounts of money for the intel core 2 duo processors? If you don’t even need the dual core processor, then don’t waste money buying it, and just stick with the traditional power-saving AMD processor. Also, AMD has always given more bang for the buck, especially if you’re a gamer.

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