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Those Tiny Chips With Huge Smelly Footprints

Low Tech Magazine presented the article titled “The monster footprint of digital technology” in which they show how the power consumption of our high-tech machines and devices is hugely underestimated:

When we talk about energy consumption, all attention goes to the electricity use of a device or a machine while in operation. A 30 watt laptop is considered more energy efficient than a 300 watt refrigerator. This may sound logical, but this kind of comparison does not make much sense if you don’t also consider the energy that was required to manufacture the devices you compare. This is especially true for high-tech products, which are produced by means of extremely material- and energy-intensive manufacturing processes… The energy consumption of electronic devices is skyrocketing…There are multiple reasons for the growing energy consumption of electronic equipment; more and more people can buy gadgets, more and more gadgets appear, and existing gadgets use more and more energy (in spite of more energy efficient technology – the energy efficiency paradox described here before).

However, most of the energy involved in electronics is not much about their use. Larger amounts of energy are being used for the production of the technology, the embodied energy.

The energy used to produce electronic gadgets is considerably higher than the energy used during their operation. For most of the 20th century, this was different; manufacturing methods were not so energy-intensive…Advanced digital technology has turned this relationship upside down. A handful of microchips can have as much embodied energy as a car… The embodied energy of the memory chip (of a computer) alone already exceeds the energy consumption of the laptop during its life expectancy of 3 years.

The trend in the manufacture of electronics is going toward more energy-intensive processes and heavier costs in terms of raw materials and resources. Did the fast development in computer processing speed and memory, coupled with the huge amount of energy needed for manufacturing them make them faster and more productive? Every Windows user knows that after one or two years of use the operating system becomes cluttered and slows down considerably.

Defragmenting the hard disk, cleaning the registry and uninstalling applications have little effect. The cooling fan runs often, often the hard disk works like hell with no apparent reason, operations get slower and slower. This can be blamed on the poorly-engineered Windows operating system, but even alternatives like Apple or Linux, though better, don’t come any closer to match the development in hardware at the software level


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