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The Power of One or Many

I walk cautiously into the laundry.  Look around to see if anyone is watching.  I slowly open the cupboard and take out my soap box.  I walk from the room and out to the street.  I place it firmly onto the ground, stand upon its top and I cry with my loudest voice…

That is right.  It isn’t often I will get onto my soap box, certainly about issues as the environment.  Working in technology me getting out there and telling people to be more conscious about energy consumption and climate change is like a cigarette company telling people they should be smoking less.  But since they do it, I think I will.

I am not about to look into statistics or show graphs, melted ice caps and glaciers.  But I want to bring attention to the portable device.  With the changes in technologies, MP3 players, tablets, mobile phones, even going back as far as torches, portable stereos, Walkman’s our appetite for portable devices and power consumption is growing every day.

Am I going to put out there to not use them, mmm, NO.  I like my Windows Phone, my laptop, my PSP, MP3 player and Nintendo DS and if possible I would also have a tablet.  I also believe I am not alone in all of this, there would be millions of people day in and day out looking at, swiping, pushing, holding, listening to and generally fondling these devices.

nokia_lumia_800_detail_micro_usb So, with out ever quest of seeking out new, funkier, more productive more power hungry devices we are in a bind on how to provide this power.  Most portable devices can be changed with USB, with the new miro-USB format, the previous Mini-USB or proprietary connections (you know who I am talking about), these devices need to be charged, otherwise our fun loving ways with said devices come to a halt quick smart.

So what I am here is just to look at the most efficient ways one can charge these devices.  A lot of them may provide a USB cable but also a wall socket that has a USB connector at the end enabling you to charge this device using any typical wall socket.  This is where I am going to say, don’t do this.  There is absolutely no reason you really need to do this, most of the time, of course there will be exceptions, but I will get there.

Most people, not everyone use a computer, drive a car, these devices often are plugged into the mains power, well not the car.  But that said, the car is generating its own power (I am not going into the carbon production of the humble motor vehicle).  Use a USB port on your computer.  It is chewing up power just to run, and will not consume any more to charge your favourite portable device, thus means your device remains charged and ready for your favourite use of it, and you are consuming more power to charge it.

Why, well often it isn’t just the charging of the devices.  A lot has been said of stand-by power and how much of the average power bill is stand-by power.  When a mobile phone is not plugged into the charger it will be consuming a small amount of power. It might not seem like much but one could say it is plugged in all the time.

So, use a computer, or if in your car, grab on of those chargers that can plug into the 12v plug in the car, or what used to be the cigarette lighter.  carchargerThey come in all shapes and sizes, that side, not the plug but the angle of the plug, the size.  There are some that are just a USB socket and then you can plug your favourite cable in, even those, proprietary ones, to charge your device.

Once again, small potatoes, but due to the ever increasing number of these devices we have it makes sense to do this and unless we are hit by a massive solar storm that knocks out ALL electrical devices, check out, this from NASA and what seems to be another “site”

Solar Superstorm

Since the chances of that happening are possible but for us losing all we have being remote, then it pays to try and save where we can.

Find the USB cables you have for your portable devices.  If you take a bag to work, put them in there.  Even if you are using a laptop on a battery you can still charge your phone with it and the drain on the battery would be no different than that of using USB drives as they only pull 5v and 1.5a max off the USB port I believe. 


We recently received a free power board from the Victorian Government.  The company, I believe is pulling a little bit of a dodgy.  Why.  Well, these decides are are meant to help reduce the stand by power of devices in one of 2 ways.  The ones for your AV reacts to the IR signal from your remote control.  Once it picks this up, it then turns the power board on, straight forward.  But this device is drawing current to monitor the IR signal and also display information on the LCD timer.  Which is not careful will automatically turn off all devices connected to it within a period of time, default is 1 hour, OK for kids watching telly.

This isn’t so bad, but their claims of reducing stand-by power is funny as it uses power.  The other is for PCs and detects changes in the power being used.  When it detects an increase it will turn on the other ports.  This is OK for older computers with older constant power supplies.  But, many power supplies have a maximum power, but as devices power down it will use less and less and it is up to the power supply to manage this.  Modern power supplies can reduce how much it pulls from the mains, here in lies the problem.  Consider the following scenario;

  • I turn my computer on, the power board detects the increase current and turns on the monitor and speakers or other devices plugged in.
  • It boots up, runs fans at high speed to clear dust from them shows the operating system.
  • I start playing a game, this increases the load on my graphics card to full, as the fans spin faster and the chip is processing more.
  • The CPU is doing the same, increasing speed as the load increases, therefore increasing the fans.

All sounds good.  But I have 4 drives in my PC. 2 x 500GB RAID 0, 1TB 10K drive and a 128 GB SSD.  The SSD uses bugger all power but the drives pull imagea little more.  I will be playing the game for a period of time.  Take a look at the dialog.  My PC will turn off the Hard disks after 20 minutes.  I have my swap file sitting o my 10K drive and I am playing my game on my SSD.  So, after 20 minutes the 2 drives remaining will power down, therefore reducing the load needed in the system and the power supply will reduce its need for power.

Maybe you can see what is about to happen. This reduction in power demand turns the power board off, the PC stays on as that is in the always on socket.  But this can also happen in areas of low graphical intensity and high as the GPU doesn’t need as much power to render these areas.  This reduction reduces the load on the power supply and in turn changes the load from the power board.

These were installed and both were turning off frequently.  While using just Windows and blogging or anything else the load difference were not enough for the device to detect the change, but the others were and speakers, NAS, network switch and monitor all got turned off.  Due to the loss in network, the game disconnected and quit.  All from the use of a simple power board.

My recommendation when it comes to PCs, do not use this power board, even if it was free.  It could be more problems than it is worth.  But if you are conscious about reducing the energy foot print of your PC and components.

  • If you aren’t using your speakers, turn them off.
  • Reduce the brightness of your monitor, this can be done on the monitor itself or, in the settings of the video card.  Since most monitors are LCD backlight, reducing the brightness reduces the power for the backlight.  This is also a really good way to increase your battery time on portable devices.  Many new phones have an adaptive setting, and often the lowest it too low to see out on sunny days.  So, this takes playing with.  But on Laptops this is very noticeable.  Reducing the brightness will also reduce the strain on your eyes, which is a win, win.
  • Do you need that wireless keyboard on a desktop computer.  This isn’t about additional power usage but since you are using batteries, perhaps try rechargeables, though they often can suck.  But try this, plug it into your computer.  My mouse, a wonderful piece of tech that Iimage love dearly, has a rechargeable battery in it, but can also be corded.  For those interested it is the Razer Naga Epic.

So there I am done.  I have stepped down off the box and put it away for another time.  Being a computer programmer often means I am not always aware of these things, I use the mouse, I play games with 27 inch monitors and 5.1 surround sound, my mouse and keyboard has backlights.  But where possible I do what I can, I have solar panels on the roof, so if I am using the computer when the sun is shining, I know I am not pulling it off the grid.  I use USB charging cables at work and at home.  I don’t have chargers plugged in and I am able to charge all my portable devices.  I have 2 batteries for my laptop, which means I am not recharging it as often^ and I am more economical with the power consumption as well.

Small potatoes sure, but they all add up.  Who knows what will happen with Climate Change or resources, we could all be fine, but then again we might not.  But is it really that much more effort to err on the side of caution than pretend it is all OK and then have the crap hit the fan.

^ One might argue how having 2 batteries means I am not recharging as often.  Well, I can go a whole day with my long life battery providing I take into account some additional power saving measures.  But the cattery also takes about 2-3 hours to charge which means often I am using it too while it is charging.  Removing batteries not in use from a laptop will mean it will keep the charge longer.