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Editor's Green Computer Pick: ThinkCentre Desktop
Editor's Pick: ThinkCentre A61e Desktop, EPEAT Gold-certified

How to Buy a "Green" Computer

By Mia KimSHOP.COM Gadget Review Guru

You may think "green" and "computer" are terms that never go hand in hand, but PC makers and peripheral companies are making strides every day to make our computers friendlier to the environment, and healthier for users too. Today, it's possible to have a computer system that's made largely of recycled and recyclable parts, in some cases, even bio-degradable parts. A true green PC has no toxic components and has minimal impact on the environment, either during its manufacture or use. But even if you don't have a green PC right now, you can recycle the one you have by donating it, and making sure you look out for an eco-friendly model the next time you're ready to buy.

The Basics

Step 1Size: Generally, the smaller the computer, the less energy it requires to run. A laptop will be much more energy efficient than desktop, and the smaller size means fewer materials were used to make it. Desktops are also getting much smaller and efficient these days, but be sure you get an LCD monitor which uses far less power than the huge CRT monitors of old.
Step 2Energy Efficiency: A desktop computer isn't exactly a Hummer in terms of its earth destroying power, but leave a powerful system running 24/7 and you're burning through a lot of electricity. There are systems now which are built to run cooler and more efficiently without sacrificing computing power!
Step 3Materials: Most computers are still filed with bits of toxic material like lead, mercury, and cadmium. Not only are these materials possibly hazardous to use, they definitely create toxic waste and are inefficient to boot. Newer PCs have cooler running parts made with safe plastics and bio-degradeables.
Step 4Power Supply: Those giant adapters you use for your computer aren't just heavy- they're heavy users of electricity. The worst part is, generally those big power adapters are sucking up much more power than they need to keep your computer going. One of the easiest things you can do go green is get a new energy efficient power supply.

The Lingo

Energy Star: The Energy Star logo is familiar to most of us, and it's the symbol of an independent US government program run by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency to help consumers identify energy efficient products.
80 PLUS: An 80 PLUS certification on a power supply means it's at least 80% energy-efficient.
EPEAT: (Electronic Environmental Assessment Tool)  A ranking system that helps consumers and industry professionals evaluate computer systems for their environmental attributes.
Silent Vampire: A silent vampire is a device or adapter that continues to suck electricity from an outlet when it's plugged in, even if the power is turned off.
Renewable Energy: Any kind of power which can be easily renewed naturally, like solar or wind power, or fuel cells.

The Experts

Channel Web says that "As attitudes in the industry turn greener and greener every day, PC makers are racing to deliver on the growing environmental demands of their customers.One of Lenovo's answers to those demands is the new ThinkCentre M57 eco series. The Test Center spent a few days evaluating what Lenovo is calling "The smallest, quietest, most energy-efficient ThinkCentre" and it appears to live up to their promises."
PC Magazine says "The ultra-low-voltage (ULV) processor on the Toshiba Portege R500, as reflected in the energy usage scores, and a list of green certifications, which include Energy Star 4.0, EPEAT Gold, and RoHS, earned the R500 PC Magazine's GreenTech Seal of Approval. Per our PS3 International Kill A Watt measurements, the R500 (SSD) consumed 12 watts in idle state, matching the HP Compaq 2710p and besting the Fujitsu LifeBook P8010, the Lenovo ThinkPad X300, and the MacBook Air by 2W apiece. Even at maximum load, the R500 averaged only 21W."

The Brands

Lenovo: Lenovo has 51 EPEAT certified computer systems and monitors, and most of those have a "Gold" rating, the highest possible for environmentally sound production and utility.
Hewlett-Packard: HP has made a strong commitment to making green computers and computing peripherals and their newer systems use the 80 PLUS, super-efficient power supplies.
Sony: Sony has more EPEAT registered products than any other manufacturer. Most of their notebook computers and monitors are certified "Silver".

The Price

$: For just about $500, you can get a compact small-form factor desktop which has all the basics like a pretty fast processor, plenty of memory, and an optical drive, but it will most likely not include the LCD monitor. The Lenovo ThinkCentre is energy efficient without sacrificing performance.
$$: From $500 to $1000, you can get a basic notebook computer which is neither ultra-portable, nor too heavy. The mid-level Sony Vaio FZ series has a reduced impact on the environment because it uses many recyclable components (even the packaging is recyclable) and there are no hazardous leads used in the construction. And it's as fashionable as it is eco-friendly, coming in various color combinations that stray outside the usual silver and black.
$$$: If you can afford a splurge, at $1500 and up, ultra-portable notebooks like the Toshiba Portege R500 offer unprecedented features along with a lead and mercury free body. The R500 weighs under two pounds and it's 12.1" transreflective screen can be used even in bright sunlight.