Buying an environmentally friendly “green” laptop

by on November 30, 2008

Q: I am interested in buying a new PC laptop with all the new “green” technologies and I was wondering how I could do my part and buy an eco-friendly laptop. There’s a lot of information on the internet about OLED screens and solid-state drives, but I cannot find any laptops that are actually for sale with these technologies.

When will IBM, Dell, and the other major laptop makers be incorporating OLED, solid-state drives, and upgradeable parts? When will they announce their new models for the 2009 year?

A: I’m thrilled by your desire to “go green”! Allow me to start by providing some general tips for you to consider.

Today, most major laptop manufacturers will recycle your old computer. In fact, some computer companies will even give you credit towards the purchase of your new laptop when you recycle your old computer!

Make sure that your new laptop meets ENERGY STAR guidelines. For your convenience, I’ve linked an ENERGY STAR search tool at the bottom of this answer.

I urge you to order a customizable laptop via the manufacturer’s website; this will decrease your “carbon footprint”. You should get more storage, more RAM, and a Blu-ray drive now. Doing so will save all of the materials & energy associated with ordering, shipping, and installing such upgrades after laptop purchase.

Several laptops now use energy-efficient LED technology. But in terms of both technology and cost, LED and OLED are very different from one another. Because of current cost to screen-size ratios, OLED technology is impractical for laptop screens at this time. To give you an example of how expensive OLED-based devices are today, an 11″ Sony HDTV with OLED technology costs an astounding US$2,499.99! My guess is that OLED technology will be more practical for laptops by 2010 or 2011.

Although normal hard drives can be read from and written to an almost unlimited number of times, they do use more power due to moving parts. This results in an increased use of electricity, shorter battery life, etc. Solid-State drives can only be read from and written to a limited number of times before needing to be replaced, but do not have moving parts. So you will enjoy reduced electricity use, but at the potential environmental costs associated with manufacturing & shipping a replacement solid-state drive.

With the exception of graphics cards, which are often soldered onto laptop motherboards, most laptops are already highly upgradeable. Using the correct tools and following relatively easy directions, even the least geeky person can upgrade parts such as RAM and hard drive (or solid-state). And with the correct tools, geeks can upgrade parts such as processors, optical drives, and fans.

Each computer company has its own timetable for releasing new products, and most companies release new products several times throughout a given year. The final new 2008 laptop models should be available a few weeks prior to Christmas, and some 2009 laptops will appear in January.

You will want to visit GreenPeace.org, EnergyStar.gov, and epeat.net to get more information in your quest to purchase an eco-friendly laptop. Please note that the Greenpeace page does not yet take into account the newest Apple laptops, which apple referrers to as The world’s greenest family of notebooks.

TIP: Many of the tips above also pertain to desktops.

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