Is GHz per Watt the new measure?

We have reached a plateau when it comes to speed limits for CPUs. We may not see anything higher than 4 GHz in the near future.  This doesn’t mean that the computer can’t be better or faster. Multicore processors are fairly common today, allowing more than one section of code to run simultaneously. Computers are also dropping their power requirements, and let’s face it, we all want to be green, especially if it means a small electricity bill and keeping some green in our pocket.

Chip manufacturers are now touting about their CPU’s power consumption. Laptops are where this is the major selling point. Less electricity used means a longer battery life. Also, if it can do the same amount of data processing, you can have the same level of productivity for a longer amount of time. Wouldn’t we all want a laptop that can play 4 flash movies and not stutter a single one?

The desktop market hasn’t seen anything to the point of GHz/Watt. That’s because the folks in marketing think no one really cares how much electricity that computer’s going to use, unless you’re a computer dork like me running around the house with your brand new kill-a-watt.  I found an article on Wikipedia, they’ve listed pretty much every known CPU, their power requirements, speed and MHz/Watt or GHz/Watt.

Sure, there’s more to that computer than a CPU. There’s RAM, a hard drive, monitor, keyboard, mouse, USB ports and devices, network connections, fans, and other chips to support everything from video to audio to that fancy SATA II interface blu-ray burner you just had installed. Where are the power requirements, in Watts, for all these devices? Can it be found? Is it even available?

If the data can be found, could a normal high school graduate understand it? Would they even care? I’m betting most people won’t.

Recycling Your Old Electronics

We all try to be environmentally conscious, but what do you do with that old TV that stopped working? No, there is no recycle symbol on that TV. That doesn’t mean you should put all that plastic, glass, gold, mercury, copper, silicon, etc. in the landfill.

Odds are that there is an electronics recycling day every 6 or 12 months in the closest major city. You can find out by searching the local newspaper’s website. Usually, the TV news will overlook such valuable information. Here in Augusta, GA, there is one on Fort Gordon, an army base, and another downtown at Fort Discovery, a science museum.

They will take TVs, computers, monitors, keyboards, mice, speakers and stereos. Usually, they will not take stoves, ovens, microwaves, refrigerators, or any other large appliances. Make sure to check what they will and won’t take.

Minify the Web

Most websites are built for high-speed internet connections, even though there are plenty of people still on dial-up. There are many ways to make your site work much faster for all your users, dial-up and high speed alike. When a site is optimized, users are more likely to stay on the site longer and keep coming back for more.

Utilizing the browser’s cache
The browser’s cache can kill a lot of communications between the browser and the web server. To take advantage of the cache, you should limit the amount of data & code in the HTML. When a file is in the cache, the browser asks the server to send the page if it’s been modified since a certain date/time, if the browser does that.

Step 1: Use a stylesheet
Moving the style information into a stylesheet is priority #1. If you have 1500 bytes of style info inside the HTML doc and a user, on average, views 5 pages, that’s 7.5KB (3 seconds on dialup) per visit. Moving that data into a stylesheet means that the user only downloads the stylesheet once.

Step 2: Make javascript external
Just like a stylesheet, doing this will save time by utilizing the browser’s cache. Also, remove any duplicate javascript.

Minifying the javascript file is like compressing it. You can do this by hand or use one of the many tools available for free on the web. Remeber to test the minified code. A warning: DO NOT DELETE YOUR ORIGINALS. If you do, you’ll wish you hadn’t when it comes time to upgrade or fix a bug.

Step 3: Make use of CSS sprites
If you have 15 images that are on every page, that’s 15 files to download or 15 files to check for modification. Merging those 15 images into 1 larger image is fairly easy using GIMP or Photoshop. Once that is done, setting up the CSS sprites can be easy or difficult depending on how your HTML is setup.

A CSS sprite is a CSS background image using the height, width, background and background-position CSS attributes. If the image is a link, you’ll need to make a transparent image to place inside the link.

Step 4: Compress your images
This is, perhaps, the quickest and easiest way to speed up your site. GIMP and Photoshop allow you to set the compression level when saving the jpeg/gif/png. I’d suggest using 75% to 85% quality, but every image is different. You’ll have to play around with the setting a bit.

Step 5: Rework the HTML
Removing excess white space is one way. You can also rename CSS classes and element ids to a single letter, and remove any unneeded attributes altogether. This step is the most time consuming.

Other Considerations
Use only 1, 2 max, domain name(s) (www.example.com) not counting any ads/analytics you have as DNS lookups can be slow. Also, move Google Analytics and any other non-essential javascript to just before the closing body tag, that way your site shows up before the 1-5 seconds wait for that javascript.

YSlow Firefox Extension
IMO, this is the best extension for optimizing a website. It gives you a letter grade and detailed information on how to improve your score. It does require Firebug, so make sure that’s installed first.

Happy Optimizing.

Being Green

If you are like me, you are always trying to find ways to save money and the Earth. Computers can be power hogs, but they don’t have to be. There are many things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint and your power bill simply by increasing your computer knowledge. If you aren’t using your computer, why should it be sucking up the power? There are plenty of options.

The obvious thing is just to shut it down when you aren’t using it. That’s a great start, but flip the switch on the power strip too. All modern (later than 1994) computers use a small amount of power while shut off, even if you think it doesn’t. An easy way to check is the light in the back where your ethernet connection is or on the motherboard; it’s always on when power is supplied!

This isn’t the only way to cut down your light bill. If you are running Windows, you can put your computer into hibernation mode. Hibernation takes a still frame of your computer’s current state and turns off the computer. While, this is great, I recommend rebooting or shutting down your computer at least once a week.

Sleep mode is good, but hibernation is better. Sleep mode turns off your processor, drives, and devices. Your RAM, keyboard, and mouse are still consuming power. This mode can be done by Windows after a certain period of inactivity or by the user manually.

Your monitor plays an important role as well. CRT monitors are notorious electricity hogs. Flat panels use about 30%-40% of the power of a CRT. LCDs also free up desk space, so both footprints are smaller. Beware of the toxic chemicals left over from flat panel production though. Do your homework before buying a monitor.

The absolute least you can do is set your computer to turn off your monitor after 5 or 10 minutes of inactivity. This shouldn’t be your first choice, but it is better than doing nothing at all to reduce your computer’s power consumption. Think about it. Trust me, the wait for your computer to power back up is worth the money you’ll save.