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Home  /  geekspeak  /  How much power does your IT equipment use?

How much power does your IT equipment use?

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Product Review:
Belkin Conserve Insight
RRP: $49.95

Tech devices use power — that much is quite obvious — but over time the amount of work that’s been put into power conservation has been considerable. Today’s laptops and desktops are more power efficient than ever before, but this is mostly so that vendors can talk up the battery life figures of systems.  With (at the time of writing) Earth Hour fast approaching, the subject of sensible power usage is at the forefront. The actual power and CO2 savings of Earth Hour are debatable (especially if you do things like light lots of candles to mitigate the loss of light), but it’s what you do with the knowledge gained going forwards that could make a difference.

If you’re not of a mind to be worried about the effect of power usage on the planet, you should at least see that the use of power when it’s not needed is an unnecessary drain on your own personal resources, namely the money that’s in your wallet. Power prices have risen in recent years, and it’s unlikely they’ll become any cheaper any time soon.

Belkin recently sent me a number of review samples from its Conserve range, including the Conserve Insight, a plug-in power meter. Belkin’s not alone in this field — many hardware stores will sell this type of simple power meter, and if you’re really keen, it’s possible to have whole-of-house (or office) meters installed as well.

The Conserve Insight is  a chunky standard pass-through plug with a meter attached, and the claim that it’ll help you work out your real energy costs by plugging your devices into it. This obviously isn’t limited to IT-style technology power metering, but for the purposes of experimentation, I used it to measure power draw in my office, which connects up surge protected power boards to a single wall socket plug. The idea with the Insight is pretty simple; as you plug in any electricity drawing device, the display shows the choice of cost, watts or CO2 production for that device. The cost and C02 production costs can be varied if you’ve got access to that kind of information; your power bill should certainly at least show you the kW/hr cost you’re paying.

With nothing plugged in, not surprisingly the cost and power draw were negligible. A single power board with a backup drive and a couple of attached chargers saw it spring up to between $26-$60 per annum. Belkin’s claim is that over time the Insight will “average out” your usage based on actual full power draw, which is reasonable enough; many devices draw a lot of power in the startup phase but less in operation, and some more efficient IT devices have very low hibernation power draw. Adding a second power board running some speakers and an office TV on standby saw it stick resolutely just above $60, but no longer down in the $20 range at all. Plugging in a PC, however, saw the figure jump very quickly up to $295, and a second PC saw that hop up to a scary $610 per annum. That fluctuated quite a bit, but again most PCs are pretty power hungry when they’re first starting up, and over a short while things settled down a touch.

Those are annual figures for cost, although I later worked out its inbuilt charging rate was a little lower than the price I actually pay; a 20% premium or so over those figures is more in line with actual usage.

The Insight (or any similar plug in charger) won’t save you a single cent or a single square centimetre of the planet without actually acting on the information you give it. In my case, that involved wandering around the thick layers of dusty cables to spot those things I could easily leave unplugged until absolutely needed, even if it seemed like they weren’t on or might only have a minor amount of standby power usage. Devices you’ll constantly be firing up and down might not need to apply, but it’s quite likely in the average office or home there are mobile phone chargers sitting around doing little but heating the room gently, speakers that aren’t doing much speaking to speak of and even laptops lying dormant waiting for your command. There’s a convenience to having a laptop spring to life at your command, but is it equal to the convenience of having air you can breathe or more money in your wallet at the end of the year?


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