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On Tuesday, a group of computer, electronics and Internet firms--Google, Intel, and such others as Dell, IBM, Lenovo and Yahoo--launched a program called the Climate Savers Computing Initiative. The aim here is to push for design improvements in computers, networking devices and other gadgets that will reduce their electrical consumption, and therefore their greenhouse-gas output.

It's a good idea. Too many electronic devices are designed with little attention to their power use, since the manufacturer doesn't pay for electricity wasted by inefficient designs. There's plenty of room for improvement, as I've found while plugging various devices into a Kill-A-Watt power meter loaned to me by a source at the EPA's Energy Star office.

* The HP TouchSmart: all-in-one computer I reviewed in February drew 3 watts when off but plugged in, 4 watts in sleep mode and about 111 when on.

* Another all-in-one, an Apple iMac Core 2 Duo, used 2 watts when off, 5 asleep and 82 in use. Giving its processor a workout by running the Parallels Desktop virtualization software cranked up the power consumption to 104 watts; leaving an external FireWire hard drive plugged in raised its shut-off power consumption to 5 watts.

* A MacBook laptop reviewed last summer used 1 watt when off and plugged in, 2 asleep and 20 awake.

* An eMachines T5048 desktop PC tested in November drew 3 watts when off, 4 watts in standby mode and 80 or so when in use.

* A 17-inch Dell LCD monitor tried at the same time: 0 watts in off or standby mode, 32 watts in use.

* The Panasonic DMR-EZ747 DVD recorder, one of two I tried this spring, uses 2 watts when off and plugged in, 21 when tuned into a digital-TV broadcast and 25 while recording it.

* The Apple TV model I tested in March used 17 to 20 watts whether on or off (it doesn't have an off button).

* Among the flat-panel HDTVs I reviewed last winter, the Panasonic TH-42PX600U plasma drew 130 to 330 watts when displaying a digital-TV signal (plasmas, unlike LCDs, use more or less electricity, depending on the brightness of the picture), for an hourly average of .18 kilowatt hours. A Philips 42PF9631D plasma set used from 230 to 300 watts in the same test, averaging .26 kwh. A Samsung LN-S4041D LCD consumed 215 watts in an hour; a Sony KDLV40XBR1 LCD, about 175 watts.

* A Dish Network DVR uses 33 watts whether on or off.

* An even older Sony DVD player consumes no power when off, but 24 watts when on and playing a disc.

* An embarrassingly ancient Zenith cathode-ray tube TV draws 8 watts even when it's off, and from 70 to 80 watts when on.

* Last winter's Christmas tree ran about 60 watts.

(Yes, I married a woman with an electrical-engineering degree. Why do you ask? :)

The lessons here should be simple enough: Turn off stuff if you're not using it, and set your computers to go into sleep or standby modes when they've been idle. But don't forget to do the other obvious things, like swapping out incandescent light bulbs for compact-fluorescent bulbs. You can save even more electricity that way, and you'll also spare yourself the recurring ritual of replacing burnt-out light bulbs--the first incandescents to be retired in my home were in the ceiling fixtures.

If you want to test out your own electronic devices, a Kill-A-Watt meter costs $30, but Arlington County libraries are now loaning out the things--I hope other local libraries follow suit.

Have you started shopping for computers or consumer electronics with energy efficiency in mind? Have any other suggestions for ways to reduce your gadgets' contribution to your power bill? The comments are yours...

By Rob Pegoraro  |  June 15, 2007; 9:43 AM ET
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