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Google, Intel target efficient PC power supplies

An awful lot of juice meant to power PCs never gets used. Tech companies team up to make PCs and servers run more efficiently.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--The PC power chain has to got to get in shape, according to a group of technology companies.

Google, Intel and a host of PC and component companies on Tuesday unfurled the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, an effort to increase energy efficiency in PCs.

At the heart of the initiative is a push to get PC makers and consumers to adopt more efficient power supplies and voltage regulators. These two components, working together, convert AC power from a wall socket to 12-volt DC power that a computer uses.

Roughly 50 percent of the power delivered from a wall socket to a PC never actually performs any work, according to Urs Hölzle, Google fellow and senior vice president of operations. Half the energy gets converted to heat or is dissipated in some other manner in the AC-to-DC conversion. Around 30 percent of the power delivered to the average server gets lost, he added. The power in both cases is lost before any work is accomplished by a computer: later, even more energy is lost by PCs sitting idle, or as heat dissipated by other components.

By adopting more energy-efficient components, PCs and servers can utilize 90 percent or more of the electricity delivered to them. Google's own servers, in fact, are already 90 to 93 percent efficient.

"This is not a technology problem. We have power supplies with 90 percent efficiency shipping today," Hölzle said.

The problem is cost, said Pat Gelsinger, senior vice president of the Digital Enterprise Group at Intel. Making a PC more power efficient in this manner adds about $20 to its retail cost, and it adds about $30 to the cost of a server.

Part of the initiative is to figure out ways to eliminate this price difference, Gelsinger added. Some utilities, such as California's Pacific Gas and Electric are toying with giving consumers rebates for buying energy-efficient PCs. Volume production will eventually eliminate any additional costs, he said. Chances are, energy-efficient PCs and servers will take off in Japan, Europe and North America first, and later in more cost-conscious markets like China.

The organization will also work to lower power consumption by curbing PC idle time and improving other components. Right now, an un-optimized PC consumes about $30 a year in electricity to operate, said Gelsinger. An optimized PC can drop that figure to $10, he said.

Under Climate Savers' wish list, generic PCs and servers will be at least 90 percent efficient by 2010. If that goal can be met, these power-efficient servers and PCs will save 71.6 billion kilowatts of electricity in that year, said Gelsinger. The amount of electricity saved would result in 54 million tons of carbon dioxide not being put into the air that year.

PC makers are also trying to come up with ways to show how energy-efficient PCs can help a company's bottom line by lowering power consumption. Dell, for instance, sells an energy-efficient server. It costs $100 more than a typical, similar server, but the energy savings pay for the additional costs in a year, said Jon Weisblatt, senior manager of energy efficiency at Dell.

Weisblatt also added that Dell ships PCs with Windows Vista with the energy-efficient settings turned on. In general, most PC vendors ship their boxes with the efficiency setting turned off.