It was just over a year ago that small, low-cost netbooks hit the market, and since then they’ve become one of the hottest technology trends of 2008, with the top two vendors in the space — Asus and Acer — predicting they’ll sell 11 million devices […]

It was just over a year ago that small, low-cost netbooks hit the market, and since then they’ve become one of the hottest technology trends of 2008, with the top two vendors in the space — Asus and Acer — predicting they’ll sell 11 million devices this year. While the tiny laptops may be the computer equivalent of a second home for many of the early adopters, they also offer a greener alternative than most of the full-featured laptops available to on-the-go buyers, thanks to lower power demands, fewer toxic components, and a resource-efficient approach to computing.

Because netbooks are designed for ultraportability, they strive for both lower battery weight and longer battery life.  Often, lower power consumption has meant reduced performance — a big no-no for traditional laptop marketing. But for netbooks, which strip down the computer’s power needs with lightweight operating systems and software, performance trade-offs aren’t a significant problem. By including energy-efficient components, such as highly efficient processors and solid state drives, netbooks can make the most of smaller-sized batteries.

The vast majority of netbooks are powered by Intel’s Atom processor, an energy-efficient chip inside of the laptops listed with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program. How efficient is it? Atom sports a maximum thermal design point (TDP) of 2.5 watts; compare that with Intel’s Core 2 Duo chips, which have a TDP of 65 watts 25 watts. That not only makes the notebooks more efficient, it makes the machines using them cooler and quieter, a key feature for a netbook. Netbooks’ efficiency is likely to increase in the year ahead. More power-conscious ARM-based netbooks are coming in 2009 with chips that will use no more than 1 watt of power.

Energy efficiency can have other benefits as well. The reduced weight from a small battery can help shrink the carbon footprint involved in shipping them to stores and buyers. It also can help manufacturers meet environmental standards such as the U.S.-based EPEAT program, which certifies products that achieve a number of environmental performance metrics, from energy efficiency to end-of-life management. Lenovo’s ThinkPad SL400 and SL500 netbooks and ASUS’s N-series are EPEAT Gold, while the HP Mini-note line is EPEAT Silver.

EPEAT also evaluates the ingredients that make up a computers’ components. In the EU, electronic devices must comply with the Eurpean Restriction on Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive, which limits the use of heavy metals and other toxic compounds in electrionics. Some manufacturers, including Lenovo and Fujitsu, offer RoHS-compliant netbooks to the U.S. market. Many new, full-featured laptops are moving in this direction as well, but because the entire netbooks category is new, they’ve got the jump on eco-label compliance.

But perhaps netbooks’ greenest feature is their whole approach to personal computing. They don’t offer monster performance, but most of us don’t need monster performance. Netbooks are good enough for most of what I want to do most of the time, among them email, web browsing (including blogging), music, and some occasional online video. I suspect the same is true for many consumers, and because of their low price, they’re likely to become the computer of choice for consumers looking for nothing more than light-duty Internet machines.

This “take only what you need” approach is a fundamentally greener way of looking at resource use, whether the industry we’re talking about is forestry or computing. Just be sure to power down your home computer when you’re on the go, or the eco-boost from your efficient little netbook just might go up in a plume of coal-powered smoke.

This article also appeared on BusinessWeek.com

  1. Not introduced one year ago at all – Psion had a Netbook in 2000.

  2. I recently got an ACER. My only problem has been connection with my local wireless, but it is great.
    It is quiet. Good battery power. Slips easily into my ‘man bag’ and is so good for my writing and business planning on the go.

  3. Psion created PDAs, they were as much a netbook as an Nokia E90 is a netbook. The first real netbook was September 2007, the Asus Eee 701.

  4. How about Nokia 9500?, is that a netbook too ?

  5. [...] has published an interesting article that points out Why Netbooks Are Greener Than Laptops.  The reduced power needs of netbooks compared to their larger siblings certainly makes them [...]

  6. Not so, DoesWhat. They made PDAs, they also made the first NetBook: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NetBook

  7. Let me explain why your post is horribly wrong.

    First of all your basic facts are incorrect.
    The TDP of C2D CPUs ranges from 10W (ulv-chips) to 35W (25W for the current 2.8GHz top-of-the-line model).
    65W is the TDP of Desktop-C2Ds. I bet you didnt even know there are different versions of the same CPU.

    Now, while the atom is certainly drawing a LOT less power, it is also a LOT slower.
    I cant tell how much more efficient it is, but its certainly not by a factor of 10, 5, or maybe even 3.

    So if its twice as efficient, who cares?
    A ordinary 12″ Laptop draws about 15W of power and 15W is nothing.
    Its as much as a single 15W CFL or a quarter of a old 60W light bulb.
    15W equals 66h of usage until you have 1 kWh (which costs about 15c here in germany).

    This magnitude of power is totally irrelevant and to bring it into a “green” context is almost sad.
    If any of the manufacturers would care about being “green” they would produce quality products that last, but instead its all about the price and quality comes last.

    The netbook is a secondary computer at best, you cant even write letters or emails on them because a good keyboard requires 12″ at minimum (i have several thinkpads including 10″ models and as we all know thinkpads have the best keyboards).

    The small screen limits the usage even further.

    I have nothing against netbooks, but how does it save “power” or how is it “green” if we buy ADDITIONAL low-quality products with limited usability?

    Sorry for raining on your parade, but where you see a green revolution i only see commercial interests and more electronic waste.

    1. schmolch, I don’t think you know what you are talking about. “you cant even write letters or emails on them because a good keyboard requires 12″ at minimum”. You can’t be serious? I have had my new netbook for about a month now and it my main computer. I use it for email, video, chat, gaming, everything. The only thing on it that is slow is Adobe Flash player, but that’s an adobe problem, not a problem with the netbook. This boots up, shuts down and generally runs 10 times faster than my laptop that I had.
      Hate to rain on YOUR parade, but you’re wrong(and probably an Lenovo exec. judging by your Thinkpad statement).

  8. I love my Eee701…little did I know when I bought this well over a year ago that it would spark off a new wave. I’m been using it as my “Couchbook” more and more because I don’t think I take anymore of how my Macbook “Just Wokrs” at disappointing me.

    I might upgrade it next year especially if they have a Windows 7 capable version.

  9. i wonder how long the typical ownership/use cycle will be with netbooks. because of the lower investment cost they are likely to be replaced by users more often. the environment would be better off if we all kept our computers a little longer before replacement. in fact many of the netbook owners i know own 2 or 3(this is certainly not positive for the environment)

  10. Celeste LeCompte Monday, December 22, 2008

    Thanks for the feedback, all. I have made one correction to the piece. My previous claim of a 65W TDP for the Core Duo was incorrect; that’s for a desktop CPU (ouch, sorry!). I’ve updated the post with the top spec for the notebook CPU.

    @spg and others on the multiple device ownership — more gadgets may not be better for the planet, but if multiple-device users are making a shift towards less-intense personal computing on an everyday basis, that strikes me as a good thing, if only from an energy-use perspective. And, with their eye on the international market, netbooks aren’t likely to drop eco-labels such as EPEAT and RoHS; that will help shrink their environmental footprint further, even if these are ‘second homes’ for some users.


Comments have been disabled for this post