Intel is aiming to curb the desktop PC's thirst for power, in a measure that could help companies and individuals save on monthly electric bills.
The chipmaker said Thursday that four major manufacturers of power supply units for desktop PCs have signed on to follow the Intel-developed ATX 12V Power Supply Design Guide, a blueprint for more efficient versions of the component sets that carry juice from an electrical outlet to a PC. Intel says that by following the guidelines, manufacturers can enable desktops to use as much as 25 percent less power.
"Our back-of-the envelope calculations are that inefficiencies in the power supply could account for almost a quarter of total system power," said Todd Brady, a product ecology program manager in Intel's Technology and Manufacturing Group.
Brady said that in certain states, desktop power supply units waste almost as much electricity as they channel to other components. Tests by Intel researchers revealed that some power supplies were less than 50 percent efficient when not being fully utilized, such as when a desktop was performing light tasks like sending e-mail or creating documents, Brady said. Most of the waste takes the form of heat.
Intel's new design guidelines require manufacturers to increase their power supply efficiency from less than 50 percent to 60 percent, when the supply units are dealing with a light, 20 percent load. When handling electricity demands of 50 percent or higher, the units should operate at 70 percent efficiency.
Cutting wastage by 25 percent could reduce some desktops' power consumption by as much as 50 watts, the equivalent of leaving a light on all day. Typically, desktop PC and CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor combinations consume between about 150 and 200 watts.
Reducing waste will translate into annual savings for companies, especially for businesses that use desktops in large numbers. Even though power supplies that follow the Intel guideline will cost slightly more at first--a middle-of-the-road 300-watt power supply will cost $5 or $6 more than an older-style power supply--companies will make up for that cost by saving about $17 worth of electricity annually for each PC, Brady said.
Intel said the power savings could also translate into environmental benefits. The chipmaker said it consulted with the National Resource Defense Council on its power supply design guidelines in order to ensure that they could also help in this area. Widespread use of more efficient power supplies could reduce the demand on power plants and result in less pollution, Brady said.
Making the move to flat-panel displays from CRTs and from desktops to notebooks--flat panels and notebooks both tend to use less power--would also help decrease electrical consumption. But desktops aren't likely to go away any time soon. Even Intel continues to work to improve them.
Intel's quest for more efficient power supply units originally started when it began exploring smaller, more stylish PC designs in an effort to expand the PC's horizons to living rooms and kitchens. Due to their cooling fans, power supplies have tended to be large, bulky and noisy--factors that aren't exactly aesthetically pleasing, when it comes to products like the Kessler concept, a slim entertainment PC that connects to a TV and can be operated with a remote control instead of a keyboard.
Intel said that so far, four of the main power supply manufacturers have committed to producing the more efficient power supplies in the near future. They include Delta Electronics, Enhance Electronics, Sparkle Power and Celetron USA, Brady said.
Brady said that once the newer power supplies are in production, they can proliferate "as quickly as computer (PC) manufacturers decide to integrate them."