Low-energy computing

The Beeb reports that the powers-that-be are giving some thought to lower-power-consumption computing kit. And not before time!

This is not entirely new. In the late 1980s I had an Acorn “archimedes” computer. The ARM processor had the computing power of an Intel i386[1], but (famously) power consumption low enough to run off the waste heat of a 386. When used without an internal hard disc, Acorn’s machines were also fanless and silent! Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find anything comparable in recent years. I don’t know if the ARM still has such good power consumption, but noone markets it in a desktop or laptop computer, or components thereof.

More recently I tried an EPIA-based desktop box: the greenest (in terms of power consumption) I could find. It doesn’t bother me that these are nowhere near as powerful as normal (Intel or AMD-based) desktop boxes. But it did bother me that the hardware was badly flaky in other ways, and has now given up the ghost. So alas I’m back to a normal-power-consumption AMD Sempron-based desktop box.

(Of course, not all is bad. Today’s monitors are a huge improvement on their CRT-based predecessors).

While the news is welcome, what we really need is the market to start to take power consumption seriously. Hitherto, with electricity being ridiculously cheap for what it is, market forces have worked in the opposite direction, as witness the demise of Acorn/ARM in the desktop market. A government initiative won’t change the profligate habits of the majority. But by raising awareness, it may at least prompt the industry to re-introduce viable options for those of us who want energy-efficient computing.

[1] At the time, a 386 was a much more expensive machine, and the ARM in fact significantly outperformed it in most benchmarks, though the Intel was much faster in floating-point.


Posted on June 11, 2007, in environment. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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