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Cool Stuff: Your 2007 Holiday Gift Guide

By Computerworld staff
November 21, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Green Gadgets for the Home

There's no question that green gifts are in. Help your loved ones save money and the planet at the same time.

Energy use auditor: Kill A Watt meter
Mention an energy audit this time of year and most people think about leaky doors and windows. But electrical appliances can also leak energy -- even when turned off. P3 International Corp.'s Kill A Watt P4400 meter ($40) can help you audit your household electrical devices so you can find the energy hogs and take action.

Kill A Watt P4400, courtesy of P3 International. Kill A Watt P4400, courtesy of P3 International.
The results may surprise you. After using the device in my own home office I made changes that cut my electricity usage by 75%.

The Kill A Watt sits in between the power outlet and the device you want to monitor. A small LCD displays power consumption in watts as well as cumulative power use in kilowatt-hours -- the unit of measure that appears on your utility bill. For the more technically inclined, it also measures and displays current volts, amperes, hertz and volt amps at the touch of a button.

If you know your cost per kilowatt-hour for electricity (listed on your electric bill), you can quickly calculate exactly how much you're spending on each appliance.

—Robert L. Mitchell  

Kill A Watt P4400 from P3 International Corp.
Price: $25-$35 | Phone: (888) 895-6282
Summary: The Kill A Watt tracks the load and power consumption over time for any 110-volt device you attach to it.


Desk lamp: Personal Lighting System LED
It's as cool as Pixar's famous hopping desk lamp, but more svelte, modern and efficient. Finelite Inc.'s ultrasleek Personal Lighting System LED desk lamp lets you go green and look good doing it.

This lamp uses state-of-the-art LED technology to do in 9 watts what your garden-variety incandescent desk lamp achieves in 100. The PLS uses half the power of fluorescents, doesn't contain any mercury, and it does the job better.

Substantial amounts of light in radiant lighting sources such as incandescent and fluorescent lamps miss the target, so they tend to bathe an entire area, overlighting the target surface and creating glare that can be tiring. LED lighting, on the other hand, is highly directional, which means a surface can be illuminated to the right degree using fewer watts of power.


Click Play to see a video of the Finelite's PLS 9 LED Desk Lamp in action.

With its spring-loaded swivel base and a cast-aluminum lamp head that spins 360 degrees, the PLS is highly maneuverable. It comes in 3-, 6- and 9-watt models. I recommend the 9-watt model as a desktop work light. The PLS produces a warmer, more natural light than some models I've tried, which tilt more toward the blue end of the spectrum.

At $283, the PLS 9 is one of life's little extravagances that you might never buy for yourself, but as a gift it just might be a perfect fit.

—Robert L. Mitchell  

Personal Lighting System 9W Desk Lamp (model DL-9W) from Finelite Inc.
Price: $283 | Tech specs (download PDF) | Phone: (510) 441-1100
Summary: This stylish LED desk lamp, which uses just 9 watts of energy, is less harsh and easier on the eyes than a standard 100-watt incandescent fixture.


Universal power supply: APC Back-UPS ES 750
You turn out the lights when you leave your home office, and your computer is configured to go into standby mode, but what about all those peripherals? From PC speakers to printers, home offices continue to leak power even when equipment is supposedly in "off" or standby mode.

Altogether, your office equipment may be consuming 30 watts of power when you're not even there, says American Power Conversion (APC). Those losses, which continue seven days a week, 365 days a year, cost on average about $26 per year in wasted energy -- and push about 40 pounds of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. APC's Back-UPS ES 750 with master-controlled outlets puts a stop to that by automatically cutting power to peripherals when your desktop or laptop goes into low-power mode.

Back-UPS ES 750, courtesy of APC. Back-UPS ES 750, courtesy of APC.

You attach your PC to the master outlet. When the PC goes into standby mode, the UPS detects the power drop and cuts off power to three controlled outlets. The master outlet can be set to trip when power drops below 10, 25 or 60 watts. The 450-watt UPS is also power-efficient in its own right. It draws just 2.5 watts of power when trickle-charging the battery, which amounts to about $2 a year in electricity costs, APC claims.

In addition to the master and three controlled outlets, the 750 includes six noncontrolled outlets. APC recommends attaching powered speakers, printers and other peripherals on the controlled outlets. I attached a printer, powered speakers and a desk lamp, which snapped off 10 minutes after I left my office. It recommends placing networking equipment and computer monitors on regular, protected outlets. (You'll need to use the monitor to shut down the computer if a power event occurs.)

The new ES 750, which ships in mid-November, will sell for $99 -- the same price as the current BE750BB model. APC also plans to introduce a power strip with a master controller feature early next year.

—Robert L. Mitchell  

Back-UPS ES 750 (part number BE750G) from American Power Conversion Corp.
Price: $99; available starting mid-November | Where to buy | Phone: (877) 272-2722
Summary: The ES 750G not only keeps devices running during a power outage but it also helps you save energy by cutting power to peripherals when your computer goes into standby mode.


Carbon-neutral computing purchase: Dell Plant a Tree for Me program
Buying an Energy Star 4.0 certified computer to replace that old one will reduce your carbon footprint but won't eliminate it. "What you can't reduce you should offset," says Eric Carlson, executive director at Carbonfund.org in Silver Spring, Md. Dell Inc.'s Plant a Tree for Me program lets you buy carbon offsets with computers ($6), notebooks ($2), and other peripherals.

Dell, the only major PC vendor to offer such a program, sends the money to the nonprofit Carbonfund.org and The Conservation Fund, organizations that plant trees in sustainable reforestation projects on your behalf. The trees consume an amount of carbon dioxide equal to what the use of those products generates over their useful life. Current projects supported by Carbonfund.org are located on protected federal lands in Louisiana and Kansas.

Does it really offset your PC's carbon footprint? The carbon accounting requires some math skills. The power needed to operate a desktop is responsible for one ton of carbon dioxide emissions over the product's three-year life cycle. A tree recaptures the same amount of CO2, but over a 70-year lifespan. Most of the recapture starts once the seedling is mature -- after about five years. In other words, you're actually running a carbon deficit over time, repaying in future years emissions from the electricity you consume today.

Viewed from another perspective, it would take 11.7 full-grown trees to offset the carbon emissions from that computer in real time. But Carson thinks that's the wrong way to look at carbon offsets built on reforestation projects. "It's the only carbon offset which actually reduces CO2 emissions," and the benefits of that forest continue to accrue long after your carbon debt is repaid, says Carlson.

Carbon offsets are just one leg of a strategy to combat global warming that includes conservation, energy efficiency and using as much renewable energy as possible. About 20% of global warming, Carlson says, is a result of 150 years of deforestation. "Whether it's done today or over the next generation, we have got to reforest our planet for habitat reasons, for water security, for weather patterns and for climate change," he says.

While the program is just getting going, Carlson hopes to post pictures of the trees and buyers will be able to visit the sustainable forests they helped create. That's a gift that keeps on giving.

—Robert L. Mitchell  

Plant a Tree for Me from Dell Inc.
Price: $6 per desktop, $2 per notebook, $3 per LCD monitor, more prices | Phone: (800) WWW-DELL
Summary: Purchasing carbon offsets for computers and peripherals shows you care about the Earth as well as your gift recipient.




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