If laptop years are calculated in the same way as dog years, my trusty Dell Inspiron is a world-weary 63. A confirmed Luddite, I just want a computer that will allow me to type, send e-mails and access the internet.
If you could plug a broadband cable into an old typewriter, that would do just fine. Now, after nine years of loyal service, the Dell has begun making cries for help. By this, I mean it regularly fails to start up, shut down or go from one web page to another in less than 60 seconds. Sometimes when it does start up, it shows a hallucinogenic screen of swirling colours. Is it seeing God?
When a blue screen of death appeared with critical error messages, I knew it was time to buy a new laptop. Before you ask, the old one cannot be fixed – it would be like trying to turn a hand whisk into a Kenwood Chef. The first thing I discovered when I tried online shopping for a laptop is that it is not like choosing new shoes. You don’t say, “Nice heels, nice colour,” click ‘add to basket’ and then wait for delivery. No, you are confronted by descriptions like this: “Intel Core i3 2370M 2.4GHz, 6GB RAM, 500GB HDD.” It is beyond tedious. I thought I was on to a good thing when I found three reviews that all mentioned the Samsung Series Three as a best buy. “Sorted,” I thought, then found out that within this category there is a seemingly endless range of models.
The second thing I realised about shopping for laptops is that environmental credentials don’t get a look in. Everyone is so fascinated by processing power, memory and how the graphics stand up to an intense bout of gaming that they couldn’t care less about toxic circuit boards or energy usage. But I’m not everyone. I do care – and you do too.
So how do you assess a laptop’s eco-friendliness? First stop is the Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics. The latest edition was published in 2011 and rates manufacturers rather than products. HP, Dell and Nokia made up the top three. Ethical Consumer also produces a guide to laptops, and topping its list (with a rather meagre ten points out of 20) are the Archos netbooks, Asus notebooks and Mesh laptops. For me, this just increased the baffling list of options.
So what are the key environmental issues surrounding laptops? There are concerns around mining of rare earth materials in Mongolia and conflict minerals from the Congo. Manufacturing laptops requires a lot of energy, particularly when they’re made of new rather than recycled materials. Then there’s the fact that the smaller, thinner and more integrated the computer, the less chance there is of easily taking it apart and separating it into component parts for repair or recycling.
In the search for green laptops I stumbled upon Epeat, a standards body that certifies products. My preferred Samsung laptop got a gold rating, meeting the required criteria for end-of-life design, longevity and reduction of environmentally sensitive materials, but losing points for materials selection and energy consumption.
It’s worth pointing that the Energy Saving Trust label doesn’t appear on any laptops, but EST does say a laptop typically uses 85 per cent less electricity than a desktop computer over the course of a year, so that’s some consolation.
Exhausted by the whole business, I went ahead and ordered the laptop that appeared on all the best-buy lists. Will I recycle the old one? No, I’m keeping hold of it as back-up for when the new one’s built-in obsolescence kicks in.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Monday 20 May 2013
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