The computer helper: Money-saving tips and tricks
Feb 3, 2009, 15:09 GMT
Washington - Sure, using a computer costs money. Electricity, printing, paper, and Internet access aren't free. But they're probably closer to a necessity for you than an option.
So the challenge is to find ways to save money while continuing to reap the productivity benefits that computing affords. Read on for some ideas.
Q: I'm using the Balanced power saving feature of Windows Vista, but I would like to know more precisely how much energy I would actually save by switching to Power Saver mode or customising a power scheme.
A: That's a good question. Windows Vista - and other versions of Windows - don't really tell you that much about the amount of energy you'll save by using the various power saving schemes available in the Power Options section of the Control Panel, available by selecting Hardware and Sound? Power Options. The more aggressive power saving modes simply turn off some components - such as the monitor and hard drives - sooner than the less aggressive modes. The idea is that a component that's turned off - or in sleep mode - is using less power than one that's not.
While that's certainly true, you still have no idea of how much electricity you're saving by turning off the monitor sooner than, say, the hard drives installed in your system.
Luckily, there's a free utility called LocalCooling (http://shareme.com/download/local-cooling.html) that will give you much greater insight into the amount of power that the components in your computer are drawing. Compatible with all versions of Windows, LocalCooling inspects the components in your PC and gives you a part- by-part breakdown of how much power each component is drawing.
On the computer I'm currently working on, for instance, LocalCooling correctly identified the monitor, hard drives, processor (CPU), and graphics card, and it told me exactly how much power each consumes. The monitor is by far the biggest power hog, coming in at 90 watts, while the CPU - an Intel Core2Duo E6850 - is second, sucking up 45 watts. The three hard drives draw a combined 45 watts, while the graphics card needs a relatively paltry 6 watts.
You can use this information either to set up a customised power scheme with Windows, or you can use LocalCooling's Advanced tab to create your own component shutdown routine. LocalCooling, in other words, can replace the Windows power controls, and it will even shut down your entire computer after a time period that you specify.
To make you feel good not only about the money you're saving but also about the reduced impact you're having on the environment, LocalCooling keeps a running tally of how many trees, gallons of fuel, and kilowatt hours of electricity you're saving by employing the various power saving schemes. You can even use the utility to view how much energy you're saving relative to other LocalCooling users.
Q: My kids are now required to type and print out their school papers, so we are using a lot more ink than we used to. I have heard that buying refill cartridges is a bad idea. Are there other ways to save on printing costs?
A: Yes. First, traditional black-and-white laser printers are much cheaper to run than are inkjet printers. Typically, the cost per page of running a laser printer is about half that of the average inkjet printer due to the great difference in the cost of consumables - and that's assuming that you print only in black with your inkjet. If you print using any colour at all, the cost per page skyrockets over that of a black-and-white laser printer.
So while you might pay a bit more up front for the cost of a laser printer, you should quickly recoup that money - and more - if your printing needs are substantially higher than they used to be. Consider limiting your kids to printing only in black, and look around for inexpensive black-and-white laser printers.
Second, whether you're running an inkjet or a laser printer, you can probably drastically reduce your ink or toner consumption - and therefore your printer's operating cost - by using the printer driver to reduce the amount of ink or toner that's used when printing pages. If you're in Windows, open the Control Panel's Printer section, right-click your printer driver, and select Properties from the pop- up menu. From within the printer's Properties panel, look for an 'economo mode' setting or a setting that allows you to specify 50 per cent ink usage.
Econo mode will generally result in printouts that are a bit lighter than they otherwise would be, but they'll still be legible, and you'll save a lot in ink or toner costs.
Q: Are there places on the Web I can go to find where the best deals are online?
A: If you're looking for particular items, the price comparison search engines are a good place to start. But these generally will not list special sales, coupon codes, or other one-time offers that can save you a good deal of money.
Ev-reward (http://evreward.com), though, is a relatively new site that does a decent job of culling the latest deals and coupons from a wide variety of other sites and presenting them to you in a concise fashion. You can search either for deals at a particular vendor, such as Dell, or you can browse the site to see which retailers are offering special savings.
Sometimes, though, the best way to find spectacular savings and give-aways online is to frequent one of the money-saving forums on which the members post notices to one another about the bargains they're finding on the Web. FatWallet (http://www.fatwallet.com) and Money Saving Expert (http://www.moneysavingexpert.com) are chock-full of limited-time bargains and freebies that you probably won't find by trying to uncover bargains through a search engine.
--- Have a computer question? Send it to the Computer Helper at firstname.lastname@example.org.