Most of us take our PCs for granted, since they’re an essential bit of kit these days. How many of you consider power consumption when it comes to your computer (or any of your gadgets)? Compared to 5 years ago when being eco-friendly wasn’t quite so newsworthy, I’m willing to bet that these days, most of you do switch off gadgets when you’re not using them.
Well you might not have heard about a small revolution in low energy computers. These low power PCs are essentially standard computers that have a considerably low energy consumption compared to a standard desktop computer. A standard desktop computer consumes anywhere between 100W to 400W (maybe even more for really heavy duty gaming and processing). A low power PC consumes around 4W to 30W! Surprisingly, the latest energy efficient computers have comparable performance to regular desktop PCs too.
So how do these new PCs reduce their energy consumption? Well typically they have a more energy efficient CPU, they minimise the number of disk drives in use, they avoid using fans by using cases that act as heatsinks, and the power supply is often external to the PC itself to reduce the need for cooling. A typical low power PC will have a single hard drive, several USB ports, 10/100/1000 ethernet port, VGA port, a basic sound card, and sometimes a WiFi capability. So the features are stripped down to the essentials.
So on to the juicy stuff. What do these low power PCs look like, what can they do, and how much do they cost? I’ve compiled a list of the top 5 contenders in the low power PC arena.
1. Fit PC2i
The Fit PC2i is probably the best looking low power computer out of all of them. There are several models under the Fit PC2i brand, and they are constantly being updated. The latest features of the Fit PC2i at the time of writing includes DVI up to a resolution of 1920Ã—1200, dual gigabit ethernet, S/PDIF 5.1 channels, stereo line-out, line-in and mic, 4 USB 2.0 ports, mini-SD slot, Intel Atom Z530 1600 MHz processor, 2 GB RAM, WiFi, 160 GB HDD. Power consumption sits at 6W at low CPU load and 8W at full CPU load.
Prices for the Fit PC2i range between £245 + VAT to £545 + VAT, so certainly not very cheap. Read more specifications on the Fit PCi 2 specification page.
2. Aleutia T1
Aleutia is what started off my interest in low power computers, as my first (and current) low power computer is an Aleutia E2, which is sadly no longer available. However, Aleutia do have a new offering called the Aleutia T1, with a power range of 10W to 14W and a price tag that starts at £149 + VAT.
The Aleutia T1 can utilise a 2.5″ laptop hard drive, a compact flash or a solid state drive as the primary hard drive. The processor is an Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz, and the motherboard will support up to 2GB in RAM. The T1 has the usual low power PC features, such as the sound card, VGA output, WiFi, 3x USB Ports and gigabit ethernet. However, the T1 also has an optional MPEG decoder that you can have installed which allows you to play back HD content from the likes of BBC iPlayer.
3. VeryPC BroadLeaf
The Very PC BroadLeaf is a range of high performance low energy computers, with awards such as DEFRA’s Quick Wins ?Class Leader? and being Energy Star 5 Qualified. The entry-level CPU for the Broadleaf range is a 2.6GHz Dual Core processor, which is a big jump compared to the other PCs mentioned in this article. The hard drives have 250GB of capacity, and you can get up to 3GB of RAM in these PCs too.
The VeryPC Broadleaf PCs are very energy efficient, but the faster processors lead them to using more energy, with a typical power consumption of around 32W. However, the computers themselves have been ethically constructed, with careful consideration of materials, carbon emissions, and with being made in the UK, they also have low air miles. VeryPC do take the eco-friendly aspects of their PCs very seriously, which is truly commendable. Unfortunately, there’s no public pricing information on the VeryPC units.
4. Tranquil T7-330 PC
The Tranquil T7-330 PC is probably the least attractive of all of the low power PCs, but is worth a mention as it’s very customisable. The processor is an Intel Atom 330 2×1.6GHz Dual Core, the motherboard supports up to 2GB of RAM, and you get all the usual trimmings with the addition of serial ports and parallel ports, but without WiFi. The case is made from recycled steel and aluminum, and has enough space to support two standard 2.5″ laptop drives.
The Tranquil T7-330 PC is not the most energy efficient of the bunch, as power consumption ranges from 27W to 31W, however, that’s mostly due to using standard hard drives. Using solid state or compact flash drives would reduce the energy consumption by a few watts. Pricing starts at £196.00 + VAT, and there are plenty of upgrades, including 2TB drives and wall-mounting brackets.
5. Sheeva Plug Computer
The Sheeva Plug Computer is probably the only low power PC that’s not specifically targeted at general computer usage. The Plug Computer is more of a router/home automation/geek projects type device, but is still very interesting. The processor is an ARM-based CPU running at 1.2GHz, with 512MB of Flash memory and 512MB of DDR2 memory. The Plug Computer has USB 2.0 and ethernet connectivity, giving you a choice of ways to interface with it.
You can run a slightly trimmed down version of Ubuntu on these computers, with a boot time of just 25 seconds. You can use either the internal NAND memory for the main drive, or you can use an external SD card for the alternative operating system. Power usage is around 19W on a Sheeva Plug, but the price is very attractive, at £98.72 plus VAT.
Low Power PCs are already becoming viable alternatives for everyday computers, and with such a massive difference in power consumption, you could save a lot of money on your energy bills by switching to a low power computer. However, many of these PCs are still pretty expensive in the grand scheme of things, so it’s not quite cost effective to replace your desktop PC just for the sake of it. However, if you’re buying a new computer, now’s the time to consider getting one that’s a lot more energy efficient.
What do you think of these low power PCs? Do you have a low power PC? If so, what do you have?
Simon Barker is the founder and editor of Zath and has over 25 years’ worth of experience of using computers and technology in general. He can normally be found researching or testing the latest in technology products.
He has provided IT consultancy services to both home and small business users for over 15 years, building PCs, fixing hardware/software problems and providing comprehensive training.
Simon always likes to get the best out of the technology products he is using, by both making informed purchasing decisions and also optimising how they are used to get the most benefits possible.