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Sunday, 08 June 2008 07:31

Intel tries to reconcile global warming and Moore's Law

Driving a V8 gas guzzler in these days of skyrocketing fuel prices and fossil fuel induced climate change is no longer considered cool. So why should it be cool to own a supercharged power hungry desktop or laptop computer? Is Moore's Law dead? Not according to Intel.

Last week, Intel Australia along with Dell, Lenovo and EDS launched the Climate Savers Computing Initiative in Australia ( at the Going Green Expo in Melbourne.

For those of you who don't know, Intel's famous co-founder Gordon Moore stated in 1965 that the number of transistors on a chip (read power) would double every two years. With Moore's Law proving correct, it would seem paradoxical for Intel to be hosting an event concerned with reducing the environmental impact of computers. Or would it?

At the Climate Savers media event, Intel's Lorie Wigle, global leader of Intel’s Eco-Technology effort and co-chairperson of the Board of Directors and president of the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, was clear that computers had a big role to play in the fight against greenhouse gases.

"Improving the energy efficiency of computers is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions,” she explained.

Not so clear, however, is how the incessant drive toward more powerful computers with more powerful processors is congruent with the drive to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

As Intel correctly points out, greenhous gas emissions is by no means just about the desktop. Consolidation and rationalisation of server resources through virtualisation and other methods as a means of reducing power consumption is becoming standard practice at many data centres.

But what about the desktop? Please read on to page 2

At the desktop, however, the issue becomes somewhat murkier. Once again, Intel correctly maintains that there are practical ways all of us desktop users can reduce our power consumption.

For instance, we can all turn our computers off at the end of the day when we're not using them instead of just leaving the screen saver running. We can also utilise the power saving features of our computers that we all have but many of us never use.

According to Intel, the average desktop PC wastes nearly half the power it pulls from the wall as heat. Once again, Intel seems to have an answer for this.

There is a discernable move to replace bulky power hungry desktops with their multiple fans and monstrous hard drives to much leaner and power efficient notebooks. Some of these even have solid state drives and no moving parts.

According to Intel, the move toward multi-core processors, which enables greater processing throughput without having to crank up clock speeds and power consumption is part of the solution.

In the past, the so-called Wintel alliance specialised in forcing consumers to buy new computers every two or three years. Microsoft and other software vendors would release new software that needed more powerful processors, more memory and bigger hard disks.

Intel and other hardware vendors of course gladly obliged by bringing new more power hungry products to market. Then in an unending vicious cycle the software vendors led by Microsoft embarked on the next grand project to make our existing hardware worthless.

So should Intel and Microsoft be hung, drawn and quartered for their strategy? Please read on to page 3

One can hardly blame Intel or even Microsoft for initiating the Wintel alliance. They're in business to make money and over the years, Wintel has arguably succeeded in dramatically lowering the cost of hardware and even software if you choose to go the open source route.

However, that still begs the same question. How do you reconcile the quest to put ever more powerful processors in personal computers, which already have millions of times the processing power of the computers that were used to put the first men on the moon, with reducing your carbon footprint?

The short answer is you don't. Unless you're a serious gamer or CAD engineer, anyone who buys even an average notebook computer from a corner store already has far more computing power than they should ever need.

Anyone who doubts the above statement should take a look at what you can do with a tiny relatively underpowered little sub-notebook like the Asus Eee PC.

If we're really serious about reducing the IT carbon footprint, it's time to bring both hardware and desktop software makers to account and let them know that less is more not Moore.

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Stan Beer

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Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 35 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

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