Ever try finding an Energy Star-rated desktop computer for home use? It’s not easy, and it’s not likely to get any easier with the new, more stringent Energy Star 5.0 standards set to take effect in July.
Just a couple of months ago, my wife insisted on a new home computer. Fine, as long as it’s Energy Star, I said, and proceeded directly to the Energy Star web site with the intention of printing out the available models. Only there were 52 pages of them! Well, I thought, finding one at Ye Olde Electronics Superstore won’t be a problem then.
Only at the superstore, there weren’t any! There were plenty of Energy Star-rated notebooks and monitors, but not one desktop model. Mother of Pearl, what was going on here?
“Manufacturers said that with [the soon-to-be-outdated] Energy Star 4.0 specification, the requirement for 80 percent efficient internal power supply added too much to the cost, so there are not many consumer products that meet that,” explains Energy Star’s Katharine Kaplan.
There are plenty of business desktops that meet the spec, hence the 52 pages of eligible products listed by Energy Star. Part of this reason, explains HP’s Ken Bosley, brand manager for consumer desktops, is that business machines are often configured to order and don’t contain the high-powered graphics and video cards many home models now require to display TV shows, movies, and games.
Bosley says the Energy Star spec actually impedes the performance most home desktops need to achieve to satisfy consumer demand.
The power supply requirements remain a big issue as well. Those jump from 80 percent efficiency to 85 percent efficiency with the new Energy Star 5.0 spec.
“The same dynamic is in place [as with the 4.0 spec],” Bosley says. “I think you’ll continue to see in retail a limited penetration of Energy Star in the mini-tower category. We’ve been trying to sell those computers, and we do sell them on our web site. However, we’ve had some difficulties getting retailers to carry them.” The Energy Star-level internal power supply, he says, can add about $15 to $20 the price.
It’s easier to make Energy Star-compliant products in the all-in-one form factor that have external power supplies, like notebook computers, he explains. He says that external power supplies only produce a single voltage, while the AC/DC converters inside the machine must handle multiple voltages, all within the power supply.
Bosley maintains that more energy is saved by a computer through its power management settings than through its hardware. He says that depending on how aggressively you set your computer’s power management to put the machine to sleep, a computer that’s not Energy Star compliant may actually consume less power than one e-star compliant. HP plans to have an online calculator on its web site to determine a consumer’s savings through power management.
There will still be Energy Star-rated desktop computers for home use, you just may not be able to find them in retail outlets. HP and Dell will likely have a model or two, so check their websites, as well as the Energy Star web site. Your search may just take a little work.
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Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates