% fortune -ae paul murphy

MacTel's carbon footprint

Here's the "Future" paragraph from an open letter, signed by Steve Jobs and posted on Apple's site on May 2nd, discussing steps Apple has taken, or is taking, to develop and hold a green advantage over competitors including HP and Dell.

Today is the first time we have openly discussed our plans to become a greener Apple. It will not be the last. We will be providing updates of our efforts and accomplishments at least annually, most likely around this time of the year. And we plan to bring other environmental issues to the table as well, such as the energy efficiency of the products in our industry. We are also beginning to explore the overall carbon 'footprint' of our products, and may have some interesting data and issues to share later this year.

As almost everyone knows the current Macs use Intel Core Duo architecture processors - ranging in power demand from a claimed 31 watts for the low end of the laptop line to well over 180 watts at the high end of the desktop line.

Now, for fun, lets imagine that Apple hadn't gone to Intel but had, instead, accepted either P.A. Semi's low power design or gone with Freescale's offer to expedite production of the MPC8641D and its 64bit e700 series successors, while filling out its 2006 laptop production with IBM's low wattage 970FX.

That would have let Apple maintain its traditional cost, performance, and reliability advantages over Wintel while, more importantly for today, also giving it a significant energy use advantage. Thus the MPC is a true "system on a chip" with more built in functionality than the Core Duos, but runs at much lower power:

The MPC8641D processor integrates two e600 cores, each scaling up to 1.5 GHz, two memory controllers, Gigabit Ethernet controllers, serial RapidIO technology, PCI Express I/O interface and an MPX bus that scales to 667 MHz -all at just 15 watts of power dissipation.

A bit less than half of Apple's Macintosh sales are desktops, the rest laptops. The most conservative thing on the laptops is to assume that they all exceed the imaginary PPC alternative by just the minimal 16 watts processor difference, and, similarly, that the desktops exceed it by only the 47 watt announced low end processor difference - making the "fleet" average difference a minimum of about 31 watts per usage hour.

What this means is that, at the very least, the six million Apple computers being sold in this fiscal year would be burning 186,000KW per hour less power if Apple had not switched to Intel's x86 products.

If we make another heroic but conservative assumption: that the average machine is run only seven hours a day, five days a week; we can conclude that the difference comes to about 338 gigawatt-hours per year.

According to U.S. department of energy data, burning coal to generate electricity produces about 2.11 pounds of CO2 emissions per KWH generated - so the lowest possible estimate for the additional greenhouse gas burden imposed on the planet by Apple's decision to prefer x86 over PPC is about 357,000 tons per year.

At not quite a thousand tons a day - think of it as about what a column of SUVs 100 feet apart and 38 miles long run 24/7 at 60MPH would produce - this doesn't amount to much on the scale of Mt. St. Helens. Remember, however, that these are rock bottom guesti-ti-mates with more realistic ones easily reaching a million tons a year - and then think about Al Gore, the political star on Apple's board.

Given his political posture you'd think he'd have raised the greenhouse gas issue with Jobs and perhaps even resigned in protest over the Intel decision, but he didn't. Instead, it's my understanding that Gore not only voted for the MacTel switch, but actively campaigned on Intel's behalf prior to the vote -meaning that Apple's next "green letter" should perhaps explain Mr. Gore's enthusiastic support for a move which not only hurt U.S. economic diversity, but is directly responsible for pouring at least another three hundred and fifty thousand tons of green house gases into our atmosphere each year.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.