Why Netbooks Are Greener Than Laptops

34 Comments

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

34 Comments

Tech News @ Technology.com.au

Netbooks are capturing the interest of many educators who particularly like their price, open-source nature, durability and especially the durability of battery, i mean battery life. Ultra portability is the sound feature of netbooks. Its a good fit for business too. The scale of the netbook market in 2008 is estimated to reach around 14.86 million units, boosting total global shipments growth of notebooks and netbooks to 37% on year.

steve marcus

we are getting to the zero level when mini books will be free from the internet cos as fons were free from the fon cos back inthe 60s. (ok there was a lil rental fee nobody knew they were paying)
Net providers will simply give you the lil devices free(rented) and you pay the fixed mnthly net

the market will be in providing internet.

free domiains @me.com will follow

Shivkumar

While I agree with the point that Netbooks do not necessarily mean “green”; I feel that the netbook revolution is going to be responsible for greater PC penetration in countries like India. I own 2 netbooks, a 7″ and a 10″ from Asus. I run Ubuntu Linux on both and perform all my tasks with either of the two.
Why do I think it will help with PC penetration in India?
a) Most of India does not have reliable 24/7 electricity. We get about 5-8 hrs outage in most places. A netbook with 5 hrs of battery life is great in these situations
b) No requirement of any licensed software at all; hence low cost of ownership
c) Ultramobility
d) great connectivity (Wi-Fi, Modem, Bluetooth, Ethernet)
e) Cheaper than a desktop in India

So please get out of your airconditioned homes/offices and look around the world; The netbook might just be the *only* computing device many people might have a chance at owning.

Michael Brian Bentley

The most successful netbook to date has been the Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100. It was so good that it worked without a net.

Originally sold in Japan as the Kyocera Kyotronic 85, Tandy Corp bought the rights and started selling the Model 100 in 1983. Article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_Shack_Model_100. The Model 100 was a very popular device for journalists in particular because it lasted quite a while on four AA batteries, provided a reasonably full-size, nearly full-travel keyboard, and did the necessary basics without frills.

It was succeeded by the Model 200, which looks more like current netbooks and notebooks with a display top connected by hinge to the bottom part which contains the keyboard, batteries, connectors and main board.

Ben

I hardly think that the little extra power savings from an atom makes a netbook any more ‘green’ than any other laptop. First, there are all the other components which still use a considerable amount of power. Cell phones consume even less power than netbooks. Does that make them even more green? Furthermore, the power that laptops consume is already minuscule in comparison to almost any other device we use—light bulbs, TVs, etc.

Second, and more importantly, is the “disposable” and “consumer” mindset with with netbooks are or will be viewed by many. Since netbooks are cheap, the price will be less of a hurdle to overcome in deciding to buy a new one (or yet another one). We’ve already seen millions of netbooks sold as replacements or additions to current computing devices. Each new netbook requires that many more resources to manufacture, and for every old computer replaced, those computers must be disposed of somehow–probably in a landfill. The overturn of these netbooks maybe possibly be increased compared to traditional laptops, using more resources.

Though I’m not suggesting that the manufacturing of netbooks be stopped, I think it’s spurious to say that netbooks are “green” because they consume a little less power than their big brothers. Sure, power savings does help, and the “only buy what you need” mindset is *undeniably* crucial to any hope for a environmentally friendly society. However, I would question how many people truly *need* netbooks, or if their current devices would suffice a little longer; I would question whether there may be other choices in lifestyle or consumption, on the personal and corporate levels, which could have a larger impact on our “greenness.” Of course, credit is due to those who ask these questions.

Jerry Huang

People buys netbooks because:
(1) it is cheaper
(2) it is greener (consume less power, longer battery life, more portable)

but not everyone buying is looking for the (1) & (2).

I have seen a Acer Aspire One outperform a very expensive laptop that was bought 2 years ago. The point is that netbook 2 years down the road will out-perform today’s power laptop. Moore’s law is still on.

With the cloud computing trend, if the netbook doesn’t have 200G hard drive, it is fine because cloud storage can extend it. If the netbook doesn’t run office 2007, it is fine because Google Docs runs on google’s CPU and only send the presentation layer to you in a browser. so you get more storage in the cloud and you get more CPU in the cloud.

so a netbook can continue to focus on its strength such as fast boot time with SSD HD, longer battery life, maybe bigger screen and leave the rest to the cloud. netbook+cloud is a very good thing to have

sam

The TDP of the (ATOM) processor is irrelevant. You need to compare the power requirement of the system. If you do the difference is no longer stark. Netbooks offer ultraportability…that’s it. Don’t buy it because its green!

Sebastian W.

Are you stating facts or an opinion. This reads like an opinion piece to me. Each manufacturerer has different standards, so in some cases you might find a laptop with a more powerful processor from one manufacturer be more “green” than the netbook from an other manufacturer. As other stated what about the lifespan of a netbook? Even if you recycle all components there is still an energy cost. Is a small 13″ laptop I use for 5 years better than using 2 netbooks in the same period? Speaking of energy, what good is a green netbook if the source of your power is coal? How does that compare to a laptop user who´s source is wind/solar etc? Are netbooks than still greener? There are so many factors which this article does not touch on. Personally I use a laptop for all my needs, and no other computer. A netbook alone would not cover them all. Am I greener than the guy who uses a netbook, and a PC? I have no clue. As a consumer I can only research the amount of Watts a device uses, but this only represents a small % of what makes a product green or not.

Al

Be sure to read his next blog.

Why a library card is greener than a netbook.

Jacob Varghese

Doug,

Netbooks aren’t for everyone, but for the majority of users, they are more than enough.

If it’s important to you to be using office software when a network connection is not available, then it’s not right for you. If you are a developer, it’s probably not right for you.

Most modern laptops are overkill for most users. I can’t remember the last time I used my DVD writer. I haven’t even used a CD in my laptop for over 4 months.

We don’t need one type of device to work for everyone. That’s ok.

Jake

Green is somebody else’s agenda and the new marketing buzz.

I don’t care about green.

Virtual Web Symphony

If you don’t intend to run heavy applications, carry out programming work then Netbooks are the ideal choice for you as they economize on energy, space and power consumption. But fact of the matter is since they have very limited usages one has to be very clear right in the beginning. I have used one and I was satisfied with the way it worked along for my mail checking and blog writing.

Celeste LeCompte

@Brett, It’s a fair point. I’ll have to do another piece later about how easy and/or affordable it will be to upgrade these systems over time. If you could upgrade parts, rather than replace the machine, that would be ideal. Anyone have experience with this to share?

Doug Mohney

Having carried around and used an Acer Aspire One with Windows XP since August (no, I am not a paid spokesperson, but they should send me an X-mas card at the least, because every time I’ve pulled out it out, the geeks have gathered and gaped), it’s fair to say–

1) You CAN do work on a netbook, the Acer keyboard is adequate once you get used to the funky squeeze/map of the cursor keys. However, netbook keyboards vary from model and manufacturer; the initial Asus 900 series sucks rocks, in my opinion; looks like Asus did better in the follow-on models.

2) The biggest transitional headache was having to deal with moving up to Office 2007.

3) Yes, I’d like a bigger screen, 8.9 inches is adequate. If my netbook dies tomorrow, I’m going to buy a 10″ model. But I don’t want to buy one tomorrow because

4) Battery life with 3 cells under XP is under 3 hours; I’d like to see a shift up to better battery tech (Silver Zinc? Lithium Polymer? Don’t care, need better density).

5) SSD vs hard disk – the XP load I got came with a 120 GB hard drive. The Acer Aspire One XP 8 GB SSD model showed up at Best Buy this weekend; with XP and the other software load on it, you only have like 1GB of usable space. That’s OK for simple email and document editing, but if you want to dump pictures off the digital camera onto it well… a 16 GB SSD would work, but end up requiring some dumping/backup to a portable drive or playing games with SDHC cards.

Let’s see…

“Thin client”/cloud – Well, that’s great if your airplane has WiFi and you truly believe in the ubiquity of too-cheap-to-meter wireless broadband. Maybe in another decade or two. But thin-client has been pimped for god-knows how long….

Brett

I’m not sure i buy this argument 100%. I would look at the wider impact of these types of devices. the fact that they are so reasonably priced makes them almost disposable machines – not unlike mobile phones. i’d wonder if this doesn’t mean they’ll end up in a landfill alot quicker.

Jacob Varghese

schmolch, while I see your point, I think you are missing the bigger picture of the netbook movement.

As more applications move online (Google Docs, SalesForce.com..) and more people use online storage, processor speed will not be as important. I have used thin clients in corporate environments for years.

I see netbooks as just a more portable thin client.

A netbook with a full keyboard, a good amount of RAM memory, and a SSD hard drive will be all that is necessary.
We will no longer need power hungry, expensive laptops if most of our applications are in the cloud.

I think our future netbbooks will not be limited to 7″ to 9″ screens, but could offer much larger screens.

Jerry Huang

With Cloud Computing, netbook is no longer a light-duty machine. Imaging Amazon S3 data storage, Windows SkyDrive, Google Docs, Google Picasa are all nicely integrated into Windows Explorer. Imaging you can right click a doc file and open with Google Docs. Imaging you can access your remote files and remote PCs directly over several firewalls. With the cloud storages and cloud applications integrated directly into Windows, a netbook’s value increases dramatically. Gladinet Cloud Desktop is turning all this into reality. It is currently in beta stage. A new build will be available around new year. (http://www.gladinet.com)

Celeste LeCompte

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.

spg

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)

Marcy

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.

schmolch

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.

Me

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).

DoesWhat

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.

David

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.

Jane Sales

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

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