Opting for a laptop computer

Last updated Monday 21 July 2008

The carbon-lite way to log on

Computers may not be the most energy-draining appliances, but we do seem to use them round the clock. Laptops use less electricity, so is it time to give your desktop the boot?

Even away from work, we seem to spend more and more time on our computers. Electricity used by domestic computers doubled between 2000 and 2005 and is expected to increase by a further third by 2020. And even if you have a green energy tariff, a lot of that electricity comes from coal-fired plants that release carbon dioxide.

Switching to a laptop won't save you from square eyes and RSI, but it could give the climate a break - laptops typically run on just a third of the energy used by a desktop PC, according to a recent report by the Energy Savings Trust (The Ampere Strikes Back). Time to go slimline?

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Photo: Opting for a laptop computer

Saves up to 120 kg of CO2 a year

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How will it make a difference?

Pub Fact

  • By 2020, entertainment, computers and gadgets will account for almost half of electricity used in the home
  • The manufacture of the average computer and monitor burns up 240 kg of fossil fuel, 20 kg of chemicals and 1.5 tonnes of water
  • A typical computer requires ten times its own weight in fossil fuels during manufacture according to one UN report
  • Putting your desktop into sleep mode reduces its energy consumption by 60 to 70%
  • On average, we use 70% more electricity in our appliance-filled homes than our parents did in 1970

The average laptop consumes as much as 85% less energy than desktops, which means that apart from the CO2 savings, you could pocket over £35 a year on electricity bills by making the switch.

Even on 'idle' mode laptops are far more energy-efficient than desktops. According to the EST's report, The Ampere Strikes Back, the most energy-efficient 'idling' desktop uses ten times more power than the best 'idling' laptop. And the worst laptop is twice as energy-efficient on 'idle' mode as the best desktop.

By choosing an Energy Star computer and printer (which are certified to be energy-efficient by the European Union) you can cut your electricity bill by £35 over their lifetimes.

And, desktop or laptop, we could all get greater efficiency from our computers if we were more careful about how we used them. The Carbon Trust claims that you can save enough energy to drive a car 100 miles by turning off non-essential office gadgets overnight.

For example, if a million more people shut down their office PCs overnight, we would eliminate as much CO2 as is emitted by about 20 return flights to Thailand.

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How do I do it?

  • Compare energy consumption between computer models on the EU's Energy Star website
  • If you're in the market for a new computer, choose a 'gold' rated product from the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT)
  • Look for the Energy Star certification to ensure energy-efficiency
  • If you need a computer for basic tasks such as email and word processing, then consider buying a second-hand laptop. They're much cheaper than new laptops and are generally 'up to the job'
  • If you're thinking of buying a second computer, new software is available that lets two people use the same computer processor at once. With a second keyboard and monitor plus a couple of extra components, a single base unit can serve two users
  • As for your old one, if there's a spark of life left in it, donate it to charity through ComputerAid,Computers For Charities or Donate A PC - otherwise get rid of any high-tech trash at Recycle-It. Under the WEEE Directive many retailers have take-back policies, and many local authorities pick up used appliances for free. Read more about it on the Environment Agency's website.

And whether you're a desktop or a laptop user, these tips will save energy:

  • Switch your computer off when you're not using it. The lifetimes of electrical appliances are commonly measured in hours of active use, so powering down could lengthen the machine's life
  • Enable the power management function on your computer, either via the control panel (PC) or the systems preferences (Mac)
  • Turn the monitor off whenever you get up. The monitor alone can use about two thirds of the energy required to power the computer
  • If you use a virtual private network (VPN), disconnect it when you're not actively using it - VPNs can prevent your computer entering sleep mode
  • Don't be in a hurry to upgrade to the latest machine with a faster processor. Increasing processor speeds tend to increase electricity consumption
  • Run your laptop off the mains rather than the battery if you can, to minimise energy loss through battery charging and discharging
  • Oh, and don't take 'laptop' too literally, gentlemen. The heat generated by a laptop at close quarters can affect your fertility (BBC report). Try to find a table instead!

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Wes Platon, Singapore 2009-06-11

Easy. Am just renting rooms here in Singapore. And have moved three times within a year. Made much more sense using a laptop.

Anonymous 2009-03-02

Easy enough to do. To also help with recycling I took my desktop to Cash Converters which also helps to pay for a more efficiant laptop

matt, bristol 2009-02-02

There are a few green issues and cost issues with laptops. The first is reparability. Say for example you spilt a cup of tea on a laptop keyboard it would almost certainly fail the same as a pc key board, however to replace a pc keyboard cost less than £10 and thatís for a wireless one. However you would have to replace the whole laptop.

Second the battery. In a laptop the battery contains expensive metals that produce a lot of co2. Also the acid in the battery will severely damage the environment if not disposed of in a safe way not forgetting the co2 from making the acid.

Ben, London 2008-11-18

I did this anyway! So this was pretty easy for me...

The Bloom Team, London 2008-08-11

Laptops are a boon for mobility - but less so for posture. A poorly-positioned laptop can hurt your back. Lugging it around with you won't do your back any favours either - the American Medical Association says that you shouldn't carry any more than 15% of your body's weight at any one time. Given that we spend so much time on our computers (one survey in 2007 found that a quarter of Americans would be happy to replace their partners with the Internet at least for a certain period of time), taking a few precautions can pay off. Attaching an external keyboard and placing the screen at a height that doesn't require you to stoop will help. All the best, the Bloom Team.

Anonymous 2008-07-13

One area you have to be aware of with laptops is that ergonomically they aren't as good for the human body as a desktop with separate keyboard and monitor. Can this info. please be added to article?

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Glossary terms used on this page
CO2, or carbon dioxide, is made up of the elements carbon and oxygen. It exists quite naturally in our atmosphere, as part of the carbon cycle. Everyday processes in the plant and animal world both add CO2 to the atmosphere and take it out. However, because it is a greenhouse gas - meaning it affects the temperature of the earth - the exact level of CO2 is important. Burning fossil fuels releases CO2 into the atmosphere, hence the anxiety that extensive use of these fuels is causing climate change.

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