Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


April 28, 2008

Review: Smart Strip Saves $1.60 to $5.70 of Electricity per Month

Category: Green Reviews,Household,Save Electricity,Technology – Tom Harrison – 11:26 am

The Smart Strip power-saving surge protector will pay for itself in 6 months (for me) and probably less than a year for a typical computer setup. Or home theater setups. This is one of the best $35 I could spend. I plan to buy two more; one for Theresa’s computer and one for our TV/Stereo setup.

I do have an important tip for laptop users that solves a problem others have reported.

Review: Smart Strip Model LCG3, by Bits Unlimited

The power strip is well designed and clever in several ways. It’s the first I have used that neatly fits all of the things I need to plug in to it all in one. The layout of the plugs is wide enough for the big “brick” transformers many peripherals use.

It’s smart because it knows when to turn off power to all those energy-sucking transformers that are only useful when the computer is on! That can be a significant amount of electricity … and I can measure this all because I have a Kill-a-watt, a simple mini-electric-meter that measures electrical use one plug at a time.

The Smart Strip is Pretty Smart

The Smart Strip works like this:

  • It has one plug called “master”
  • It has 5 special plugs for things that can go off when the master is not in use
  • It has 3 additional plugs that are always on
  • So plug the computer itself into the master
  • Plug in monitor, speakers and various other devices into the special plugs
  • When the computer is off, the Smart Strip automatically turns off the 5 special plugs

Using A Lot of Electricity When Off

Yes, all those things plugged in were sucking 14 watts, night and day.

My low number, $1.60/month saving, is simple. I have 5 transformers plugged in; together, they draw 14 watts … constantly (I have an iPhone and iPod charger, a USB hub, speakers and the power cord for my laptop. No printer or other gizmos. The Kill-A-Watt reads 14 watts when everything is off).

My electricity costs $0.19 per kWh (it’s right on the monthly bill). Assuming I use the computer 4 hours a day, this power strip lets me not use 14 watts, 20 hours per day, 30 days a month. which is about 8.4 kWh (14 * 20 * 30 / 1000), which cost me $1.60/month. I completely waste 8.4 kWh per month. Start doing a little math and you’ll see that while not a huge savings, it’s simple waste, which is bad, and the power strip will pay for itself in a year or two.

But wait, the ugly truth is that it will pay for itself a lot faster (kind of :-).

Problems with Computer Standby and Hibernate

I have been struggling with a problem for a while. My computer will not reliably go into standby mode (nor will it “hibernate”) automatically. In standby mode it uses a lot less power, and turns back on in a second or two when you move the mouse.

When a computer “hibernates”, it does pretty much the same thing as Standby but turns the computer off completely. Hibernating takes a few seconds more to come on, but still remembers exactly where you left off (it saves your “state” to the hard disk).

On Windows (and Mac), you should be able to cause your computer to automatically move into various power-saving modes, including standby and hibernate, after some period of inactivity. Even without the smart power strip, you should make sure your computer is sleeping when not in use — I am a certified computer geek and have had regular troubles making this work reliably on Windows XP.

My standby mode hasn’t been working. Neither has standby on Theresa’s home computer, also running Windows XP. As I searched and searched for this problem, I found that many other Windows users have the same problem.

72w to 84w When On

So (blush) I have left my computer on overnight more than I realized, and lately that has been most of the time. When the computer, monitor and the other bits are on (like now) they are drawing about 80 watts. (The screen power settings do work, so with the monitor in power saving mode, the whole setup draws 50 watts). That comes out to 30kWh per month (or $5.70 a month in electricity bills).

By fixing that, I can pay for the power strip in about 6 months, and I think I got it to work, so I am a happy camper.

The Smart Strip is not brilliant; I had to struggle with my laptop

A number of other people have written reviews and are disappointed to see that it doesn’t work with laptops. I found it worked fine when I used my laptop’s screen and keyboard, but not when I use an external monitor (and keyboard), which I suspect a lot of people are doing these days.

But after some tinkering, I found a simple solution: plug the laptop plug into an “always on” socket, and make the monitor the “master”, when it goes off, everything else does too … except the computer (but the computer can then go to sleep on its own, using the normal power settings).

The problem with a laptop is that it uses too little electricity when it’s screen is off (when the lid is closed), so the laptop itself going into standby doesn’t trigger the smart strip. The monitor is what really makes a difference.

A Standby Twist with Laptops

After I figured out that the monitor needed to be in the master plug, I had the laptop plugged into a special plug — the laptop A/C adapter is itself a transformer, so I wanted it off as well.

But there’s a twist: when the monitor goes off, it switches off power to the special plugs. Because the laptop’s A/C adapter is not getting any juice it causes the laptop to switch to battery power. And when the laptop switches to battery power, it resets the power settings; if the monitor was off, it turns it on to start a new power-saving cycle. But when the monitor goes on again, the smart strip turns on all the special plugs, putting the laptop into normal A/C power mode … causing Windows to restart it’s new “plugged in” power mode!

Back and forth, forever, never turning off!

So you have to plug the A/C adapter of the laptop into an “always on” plug on the smart strip. When everything is off and the laptop battery is not being charged, the laptop A/C adapter draws 1 watt.

Kill-A-Watt Proof!

All On: 74 Watts (varies)

All Off (Hibernated): 1 Watt

Standby: 3 Watts

15 Comments

  1. Out of curiosity, where are you paying 19 cents a kwh?

    that is very high.

    Comment by John — April 28, 2008 @ 7:45 pm

  2. John — NStar, our electricity provider in the Boston area breaks the cost down into delivery charges and generation charges, which this month are $0.079 and $0.111 respectively. The total cost of electricity to my outlet last month is $0.19/kWh. Tom

    Comment by Tom Harrison — April 28, 2008 @ 11:29 pm

  3. I was just about to order some Smart Strips when I saw your post on terrapass. I have 2 laptops, no extra monitors or keyboards being used as desktop replacements. Will the Smart Strips not work for the printers and other peripherals when I turn the laptops off?

    Comment by Lisa Seal — June 19, 2008 @ 6:34 pm

  4. Lisa —

    The smart strip worked just fine for me when I used my laptop as you have described (no external monitor or keyboard) — when it turned off, the smart strip responded by turning off other peripherals.

    It was when I tried to get it to work with an external monitor and keyboard that I ran into problems (solved as a described above). This was the scenario of others who reported problems in online reviews.

    So I think the Smart Strip should work fine for you.

    Tom

    Comment by Tom Harrison — June 20, 2008 @ 9:59 am

  5. […] more by replacing a computer file server with an Apple Time Machine. And I just ordered another 2 Smart-Strip power strips for my wife’s computer, and for our TV/Stereo system. Yes, some of these things cost money, […]

    Pingback by Save Electricity — Our 45% Reduction Saves $1,250/year (Updated) | Five Percent: Conserve a Little Energy — September 19, 2008 @ 12:48 pm

  6. […] want it. Of course the power strips often have a light in their switch! (Update 2009 — get a smart power strip, which turns off power to vampires when they are not in […]

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  7. Will the smart strip work for A DVR if it’s plugged into the master port or do you lose viability if the item plugged in has a digital clock?

    Comment by Laurel — April 27, 2009 @ 1:53 pm

  8. Laurel —

    There are three kinds of plugs on a Smart Strip: master, switched, and always-on on the Smart Strip. For a TV/Cable Box (sound system, etc.) setup you would typically plug the TV in to the master; when it is turned off, the other peripherals in the switched plugs are turned off, too.

    In the case of a DVR, you would most likely want it to be on all the time, since shows may record at various times when the TV is otherwise off.

    The master port works by determining that the thing plugged in has stopped or started using electricity; the change between and off needs to be significant. But even when a DVR isn’t recording, it still uses about the same amount of power, so the Smart Strip wouldn’t be able to tell.

    What we need is a Really Smart Strip, I guess :-)

    To answer your question, I can’t speak for all DVRs, but I suspect most are like TiVo (which I have) and synchronize their clocks to some master time at the cable company. So if you did turn off the DVR, it would probably come back up just fine.

    One thought I had for this was to instead use a simple night-day time-of-day timer for the DVR (simple ones are available to make your house look lived-in by turnings lights on and off while you’re away). I don’t think there are any shows we record that are after midnight or before 7am, so little or nothing would be missed.

    Comment by Tom Harrison — April 27, 2009 @ 2:20 pm

  9. If we would all go back to “horse and buggy” and newspapers, and candles etc., we all would save money and live with a lot less stress in our lives! All Aboard!

    Comment by Gary Ingalls — October 27, 2009 @ 2:08 pm

  10. Did you try adjusting the “adjustment” screw? That changes the sensitivity… I have a macbook pro and a macbook and have no problems with smart strip turning off my devices when it is in standby.

    Comment by pressingonalways — January 27, 2010 @ 5:02 am

  11. Yep, I tried adjusting the sensitivity (actually tried it with both a Dell laptop and a Mac mini, haven’t tried with my new macbook) — none drew enough power to trigger the turn off. But no worries — my monitor has its own (non-operating system) power-save mode; I just set that for a short time and when the monitor goes into power-save, all the other peripherals are switched off.

    Comment by Tom Harrison — January 27, 2010 @ 9:51 am

  12. Seems a very good appliance for laptop users that need that extra bit of energy to finish off their work. Never thought that something like could exist, more because it has “smart” functions. Thumbs up for any kinda of device that turns your product into energy efficient. Nice one, will definitly buy one. Cheers for the info. Will recommend it.

    Comment by British Gas Energy Smart — March 4, 2010 @ 7:25 pm

  13. […] a few from computers that I do need, but only when the computer is being used; so, I put them on smart strips. Those changes equal 45 Watts […]

    Pingback by Saving Lots of Watts by Sleuthing | What's on? — June 2, 2010 @ 1:59 pm

  14. Great, detailed article on this Smart Power Strip. I’ll definitely look into getting this. With a 6 month payback period, it’s a good deal. Electricity in my area is $.16 per kilowatt, so my payback period would be slightly better.
    Like you, I have Windows XP and I too have problems getting standby to work correctly, so that’s another incentive for me to go to something like this.

    Comment by Mike — February 17, 2012 @ 5:21 pm

  15. […] Special note for laptop users: Check out the tip at FivePercent.us to make sure that your laptop functions correctly in the control outlet. […]

    Pingback by Save LOTS of Energy and the Life of Your Gadgets with a Smart Power Strip - The Fun Times Guide to Living Green — March 6, 2012 @ 1:20 pm

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