Dell woos gamers and greens

A new heat sink turns down the temperature on overclocked PCs, and the Plant a Tree program targets greenhouse guilt. Photos: Dell's H2C PC

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
4 min read
LAS VEGAS--Dell wants us all to breathe a little easier about the power consumption of its PCs.

In his keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show here Tuesday, Chairman Michael Dell introduced a number of new gaming systems and components--as well as a program to plant trees that will suck up the carbon dioxide indirectly generated by the fast PCs.

Michael Dell Michael Dell

Although someone dressed as Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies came on stage to help demonstrate a new backup service called Dell DataSafe, the speech was generally low-key. One of Dell's other guests on stage was Naomi Halas, a professor at Rice University who has come up with a nanoparticle that may be used one day to fight cancer cells.

The "Plant a Tree for Me" program essentially encourages consumers to donate money--$2 for notebooks and $6 for desktops--when they buy new PCs from Dell. The audience clapped often, but only got responsibly excited.

For gamers, gear coming from Dell this year includes the H2C, a novel heat sink that the company says can cool off a processor more effectively than a fan blowing air onto the chip or than water-cooled devices. It's designed for people who overclock their computers, or run them faster than their designated speed.

The H2C, which will come in a version of the XPS 710 desktop, won't supercool the chip. Instead, sensors will help keep the system's temperature just above that of the ambient environment to prevent the forming of condensation that could produce electrical problems.

Dell's H2C PC

The XPS 710 H2C Edition will also come with an Intel quad-core processor and up to four hard drives. It costs $5,499.

The new version of the XPS can be bought, Dell noted, with a just-released 27-inch wide-screen LCD monitor.

The company's Alienware division, meanwhile, rolled out an entertainment/living room PC called the Hanger 18. It's a fully functional PC, but it looks more like a stereo receiver from the 1970s. Alienware will also release a new Area 51 notebook.

Joining Dell on stage were Alienware founder Nelson Gonzales and Blizzard Entertainment's Rob Pardo, who showed off an update to the company's World of Warcraft game.

The Dell DataSafe program is more geared toward general computer consumers. Under the program, consumers can back up data from old PCs onto a Web site. When they get a new computer, they can then go to the site and download the data to the new machine. Thus, old pictures and documents don't get stranded on an old PC. Dell will also install a user's old data at the factory when a new PC is ordered.

The focus on the consumer side of the PC maker's business was expected, given the "consumer" part of the CES name. Dell, however, said that business and government customers account for 85 percent of the company's revenue, a figure that has remained relatively constant for the past few years.

The final part of the speech, along with a subsequent press conference, focused on the Plant a Tree program and Dell's conservation efforts. Dell noted that his company is one of the largest PC recyclers in the world and takes in PCs from all manufacturers. By 2009, Dell will have taken in 275 million pounds of electronic waste.

"I challenge other PC makers to join us in free recycling for every customer in every country--no exceptions," Dell said.

The company has also been producing more energy-efficient PCs. A new version of the Optiplex desktop, the 745, consumes roughly 70 percent less electricity than similar, earlier versions. Much of the power savings come from new processors, but Dell designers continually shop for energy-efficient components, he said. Certain PowerEdge servers now come with 2.5-inch hard drives instead of 3.5-inch drives, which results in "significant" power savings, Dell said.

The Plant a Tree program has been opened to U.S. consumers and will be expanded globally in April. Under the program, consumers can donate money to have trees planted. The company is working with the Conservation Fund and Carbonfund.org on the project.

PCs generate a lot of carbon dioxide indirectly, said Larry Selzer of the Conservation Fund. They don't have tailpipes that spew fumes, but they run on electricity that often comes from coal-burning power plants. In three years, the average desktop will cause 1.26 tons of CO2 to be produced while a notebook will cause 0.42 tons to be generated.

A tree, meanwhile, will suck up 1.33 tons of CO2 over a 70-year life span. Thus, if the tree lives 70 years and a desktop is retired after 3 years, it's close to parity.

Consumers donate their own money. Dell, however, is making donations to offset the carbon produced in transporting the PC to consumers, Dell said.