Unplug Your Computer Energy Costs

Computer energy use is the secret culprit behind outrageous electric bills at almost any modern home or business office.

Most computers waste nearly half the power they draw, putting a strain on cooling fans and your wallet without doing diddly for applications. In 2004 alone, U.S. companies tossed $1 billion with lackadaisical computer-energy consumption.

Take heed of these 11 simple tricks to save without killing your computer's capabilities.

1. Check Actual Computer Energy Use
Give your system a once over with a power meter that displays how much energy you're actually eating up. Then use this handy calculator to compare your computer energy usage, wattage and projected savings with more efficient machines.

2. Downsize
Switch to a laptop when you don't need the fuller capabilities of a desktop. Laptops typically consume less power than their bulkier cousins -- even Energy Star-rated models -- and are ideal for extended stays at the airport or local café.

If all you need is Internet and word processing, netbooks are both sensible and trendy. At an average of $7 annually, they probably cost less than coffee and a scone at that very same airport and café.

3. Upgrade
Computer energy conservation should be priority No. 1 when shopping for a new machine, peripherals or hardware. If all computers in the U.S. were Energy Star-certified, it would offset the greenhouse gas emissions of nearly 2-million cars. Most Energy Star machines can be found for reasonable prices with Best Buy free shipping.

4. Recycle
When you do ditch the old comp and snag a new one, don't forget to recycle, reduce or reuse. Check the Environmental Protection Agency's directory of local and national recycle programs, sell it on Craigslist or give it away on Freecycle.org. You also might look into non-profits for that Good Samaritan high, not to mention a sweet tax write-off.

5. Ditch the Screen Saver
Screen savers make for pretty pictures but modern monitors actually consume more energy while running them. Besides, the Internet is already filled to the brim with photos of your pets doing adorable things. Why show off even more?

6. Turn Down the Lights
Turn down your monitor's brightness setting. The brightest setting on a monitor consumes twice the power as the dimmest.

7. Shut Off Peripherals
When not in use, shut down such extras as printers, speakers and scanners.

8. Sleep on It
Use computers and monitors sleep modes to save around $50 a year in energy costs per computer. Set your monitor and hard drives to turn off after 15 minutes of inactivity and you'll reduce waste by almost 40 percent.

9. Fight Phantom Power
It almost goes without saying, but always use a power strip. They save space and energy. Try and plug all your simple electronics into one strip and switch it off when you're finished. If you want to avoid rebooting, put processors on a separate strip.

10. Wipe Extra Windows
Close rarely used applications to save energy and processing power. You'd be surprised what a drain Photoshop, Firefox, Word, GarageBand, solitaire, Outlook and Skype put on your system when running all at once.

11. Create an Energy Saving System
Set up multiple power schemes to address different usage models. For example, arrange a power scheme to play iTunes that immediately shuts off your other programs and monitor without putting your system into standby mode.

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