How To Adjust Computer Energy Consumption (PC & Mac)
Being able to adjust your computer’s energy consumption will not only help you save on your power bill but also help your laptop last longer between charges. This article will show you how.
- Adjust your computer settings for improved power consumption
- Ditch the screensaver to reduce power consumption
- Unplug accessories when not in use
- Use PC BIOS functions
- Power-saving usage tips
- Notebooks and laptops vs. desktops
- Upgrade your machine
Computers are an integral part of the modern world, with at least one computer in most households and office buildings in the United States.
But these machines use an incredible amount of power and energy resources. The average desktop is responsible for as much carbon monoxide production as a car driving for 820 miles in one year.
So how can you reduce the amount of energy your computer uses when you need to use it every day?
To adjust your computer’s energy consumption, you should dim the brightness and set it to switch to standby mode after ten minutes of inactivity. It would be best if you also disconnected or turn off external devices like printers or speakers when you aren’t using them and shut down your computer after using it.
A few simple adjustments to your settings and how you use your machine can significantly lessen the amount of energy you use.
Most new computers are pre-programmed to use the most efficient settings, but you can adjust them to your workstyle and computer needs, too.
This guide will give you tips and tricks to make your computer more energy efficient.
Adjust your computer settings for improved power consumption
The first place to cut down on your computer’s energy consumption is through the settings.
These controls let you choose how bright your screen is, how loud your sound is, and how long your computer stays on and active when you aren’t using it.
Most computers do not need to be turned on daily, especially computers for personal or office use.
The best settings for your computer are letting your computer shut down or enter sleep mode when you aren’t using it, which reduces the amount of power your computer needs when it is active.
You can make manual adjustments to your computer’s settings or use the pre-installed energy saver settings.
Your computer needs and energy output might change from day to day, so knowing how all of the adjustments work will help you make energy-saving decisions every day.
Lowering the brightness on your monitor is another simple adjustment that has a big impact.
Keeping the brightness at the lowest comfortable setting will save power and help you avoid eye strain. Even just a few notches down from full brightness will help.
Some models will let you set it for laptops so that the screen automatically dims when you’re using battery power instead of a power adapter.
Otherwise, you can manually adjust the brightness with your keyboard or in the settings menu. The darker the room, the less screen brightness you’ll need.
On a desktop computer, the brightness controls are usually found on the monitor.
You can adjust them the same way you do for a laptop, using the brightest settings only when you’re in full sunlight.
Consider turning the monitor off even if the CPU is still on or in standby mode to conserve energy.
Standby and Sleep Modes
All computers have standby and hibernate modes, sometimes called sleep modes. These are ways for your computer to stop using power without shutting down completely.
This lets you return to your work quickly after a period of inactivity but gets you the energy benefits of shutting down an idle machine.
Standby, sleep, and hibernate mean slightly different things.
Depending on your computer and the operating system you’re using, they can mean that the computer is in an energy-saving mode or effectively turned off.
Hibernation generally means that your computer will save your work and then turn itself off. When you turn it back on, whatever programs you were running before hibernation will relaunch.
Standby mode dramatically cuts down on the power your computer uses but doesn’t shut it all the way down.
The screen will usually go to sleep, but the hard drive and other programs will keep running, just at a lower capacity than during active use.
This lets you restart your computer more quickly than a hibernation mode.
More recently, operating systems let you specify how you want your computer to save energy. You can decide how long you want various aspects of your machine to stay active.
For example, you can set the screen to go to sleep after 10 minutes of inactivity, but ask that the hard drive stay active until after 15 minutes of inactivity.
Accessing Windows power options for computers
If you’re using a Windows operating system on a PC, you can access all of your energy-saving settings through the Control Panel.
Depending on which version of Windows you are using, you will see an option for System and Maintenance or Performance and Maintenance, or go straight to Power Options.
If you have a maintenance category, you’ll be able to select Power Options from that menu.
Power Options will let you select how long your computer should be inactive before it starts to shut systems down.
Newer machines will have energy-saving settings already enabled, but you can adjust them to work better with your work style.
Accessing power save for Macs
You can access your energy settings in Mac under System Preferences. Click the lightbulb icon for Energy Saver.
If you are using a laptop, you can change the settings for battery use and adapter use.
For a desktop, you will not have that option. You can use this menu to adjust sleep time, when the hard drive shuts off, and when the screen dims.
You can also use the schedule button to set times for your computer to wake up and go to sleep.
This is a useful way to ensure that your computer is conserving power even if you forget to turn it off when you’re done using it manually.
Using a remote desktop is one situation where you won’t turn your computer off when you aren’t using it.
The local desktop that you’re connecting to has to remain on for you to connect with it.
However, you do not need to leave the monitor of that machine turned on. That will save some energy, even though the CPU will effectively run 24/7.
When you use a remote desktop, make sure you’re conserving energy and reducing your energy consumption on the computer you’re using to access the desktop.
For example, if you’re using your laptop at home to access the desktop at your office, make sure your laptop is conserving as much energy as possible to offset the energy the desktop computer uses.
Ditch the screensaver to reduce power consumption
In early computers, screensavers were an important function in keeping images from burning into your screen permanently.
Screen technology has come a long way since then, so not only are screensavers unnecessary now, but they’re a huge waste of power.
When your computer is running a screensaver, it cannot put any of its systems to sleep.
The screen and hard drive have to run continuously to display the images. To cut back on your computer’s energy consumption, get rid of your screensaver entirely.
In Windows, you can turn off your screensaver by right-clicking the desktop, clicking Properties, and setting Screensaver to None.
For Macs, go to System Preferences, click Desktop and Screensaver, and set Screensaver to Never.
Unplug accessories when not in use
Another simple way to make a big impact on your computer’s energy consumption is to turn off and unplug accessories when you aren’t using them.
Items like printers, external speakers, external hard drives, and even ring lights can drain power even when you aren’t using them.
Whenever possible, turn off and disconnect your accessories to stop the phantom drain these devices cause.
Phantom drain is when a device continues to use power when it’s plugged into the wall, even when it’s shut off.
Devices that do this are sometimes known as “energy vampires,” and they can use as much power turned off as they do when you’re using them.
To avoid phantom drain, you can unplug every device from the power source as soon as you’re done with it.
Alternatively, smart plugs and power strips can give you the control you need to shut off power to each device individually without having to mess with cords and cables every time you need to print something.
Bluetooth and WiFi
Bluetooth and WiFi are two other computer accessories that drain your power. If you don’t need them, you can turn them off to save power.
Even if you aren’t using the internet or Bluetooth, they use power when they are on standby.
Turning them all the way off stops them from using power, and when you need them again, they turn on quickly and easily.
Apps and programs
Any application or program that you run on your computer will use power. Effective audio and video programs tend to use more power, and applications that use an internet connection are the biggest users.
Choosing programs with lower energy use will also help. For example, some internet browsers are more efficient than others.
The Opera internet browser has energy-saving features like pausing activity in tabs you have open but aren’t viewing.
You can also use local programs to work on projects and then copy them into web-based platforms instead of working directly in the web-based platform. For example, you can use Word without using an internet connection, which saves power.
You can then copy your data into a Google Doc when you need to use the web-based features. Many Google products also have the option to work offline, which saves power.
Like wifi, Bluetooth, and your computer accessories, apps and programs continue to use power in the background when you’re not actively using them.
Closeout programs when you aren’t actively using them. Not only will this save power, but it can also help your computer run better.
You can read my other article, which shows you how to disable certain programs on startup if you want programs only to run when you open them, instead of every time your computer starts up.
Many of the activities that conserve power will also help your computer function at its peak, so you aren’t just helping the environment; you’re helping yourself!
Use PC BIOS functions
If you have a little more experience with computers and want to go beyond the Control Panel settings, you can use the BIOS functions.
BIOS functions are accessible for any machine running on Windows.
To access these settings, hit the designated function key when you power up your machine. It will show you the system power settings.
You can make changes and enable sleep settings from this screen, according to your preferences. From here, you can do things like enable sleep settings when you close your laptop.
These functions are a little more specific than the ones offered in the Control Panel menu.
However, if you aren’t a computer expert and don’t understand BIOS functions, you can still impact your computer energy consumption with the regular menus.
Power-saving usage tips
The best power-saving usage tip is to turn off items you aren’t using whenever possible.
Using only what you need when you need it will maximize your computer’s efficiency and extend the life of your machine.
It can be hard to break old habits, so if you have trouble remembering to shut down programs or power down your laptop at the end of the workday, set reminders or hook your system up to a power strip with a timer.
You don’t have to be a programmer or a computer whiz to use less energy. You have to know how your computer’s operating system works and your own work habits.
Notebooks and laptops vs. desktops
When considering which type of computer uses less power, laptops are the better option. Desktop set-ups use significantly more power than a notebook or laptop model.
Part of this is because desktops don’t have a battery option. They also tend to be larger and less efficient. Given the option between a notebook and a desktop, it’s more efficient to pick the laptop.
Laptops are usually a larger up-front investment, but they’ll save you significantly in energy costs over the machine’s lifetime.
Even though they’re naturally more efficient than desktops, it’s still important to take energy-saving steps.
Only charge your laptop when you need to, rather than leaving it plugged in all the time. This will help prevent any phantom power drain.
Also, don’t leave the adapter plugged in unless you’re using timers or smart plugs. Many laptops have special energy-saving settings to preserve battery life.
You can further these power savings by mimicking those settings when you’re using your power adapter.
Upgrade your machine
Reducing your computer’s energy consumption isn’t an activity that starts and stops with the way you use your machine.
Being mindful of the computer you purchase and how you recycle it after it no longer works is an important part of the equation.
You want to choose a machine that will reduce energy use for its whole lifecycle.
When the time comes to get a new computer, look for one that meets both the Energy Star and EPEAT standards.
Energy Star machines have to meet specific standards on how much power they consume. All Apple computers meet these standards, and the vast majority of PCs do as well.
EPEAT standards don’t just look at the power consumption of the machine aftermarket.
Computers that meet EPEAT standards are made with the environment in mind for the whole lifecycle of the product.
The manufacturing process is greener, the operation is more efficient, and the recycling of dysfunctional machines is easier for EPEAT certified products.
If you’re using a desktop, you can usually replace parts of it more inexpensively than buying an entirely new machine.
You can upgrade your hard drive, your RAM, or even your motherboard with more energy-efficient versions, extending the life of your computer and reducing your energy consumption at the same time.
When your computer no longer works, look for a recycling program. Many local governments have recycling days or pick-up options to take old electronics, including computers, and safely recycle them.
Make sure you wipe the hard drive or remove it beforehand to protect your data.
Computers are an important part of modern life, but they don’t have to be a source of energy waste.
If everyone makes small adjustments to the way they use their machines, it can greatly impact the amount of energy we save.
You can make numerous simple adjustments to the way you use your computer to cut down on energy consumption.
Modern computers are designed to be energy efficient.
Still, you can take that efficiency a step further by adjusting the power settings on your machine to your work style and turning off accessories and applications when you aren’t using them.
From here, I recommend that you go and read our other article about changing the power plan in Windows 10 to gain more detailed instructions on how to change power settings in Windows.