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I currently use Mac OS X on a Retina Macbook Pro. Apple is known to be quite a green company, in terms of its hardware and the power required to manufacture, sell, and market it.

But I think I can do much better.

What would be some much more sustainable computing solutions out there, and/or what practices and principles could I employ towards this goal?

Assume these are my minimum hardware requirements:

  • CPU, RAM and graphics chips (whether soldered on to hardware or not)
  • ability for a screen, to use UI graphics (whether connected or in-built)
  • ability for either in-built audio speaker and/or headphone jack for sound
  • ability for Ethernet networking for Internet connection
  • ability for USB keyboard and mouse for navigating the software UI

And in general, minimum software requrements:

  • (ongoing) standards-compatible Internet research (via via the World Wide Web)
  • (ongoing) standards-compatible Internet communication (via services such as Email and Facebook)

I am thinking that using an open-source board like Raspberry Pi, combined with a Linux distribution like Ubuntu, is about as good as you can go (without having to literally engineer your own hardware, or code your own software, from scratch).

But perhaps a modern all-in-one (power-efficient device), such as a self-contained, green-as-possible laptop (or even a powerful smartphone with peripherals keyboard and mouse attached), is better, all things considered?

As for usage of the computer (which no doubt affects how much the hardware/software is strained and thus its sustainability performance comparison with other hardware/software), I can only give a very non-scientific figure that the usage would be 'average web use' (at most), which you could gather from statistics / existing studies on computing impact if necessary.

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As you probably know, the whole tech industry is not very sustainable. Actually far from it. Most manufacturers obviously don't really care but even for the rare concerned company it's very hard to make any significant steps. (Mines…)

So to answer you question: For your requirements I would say it's the most sustainable option to use a second hand laptop and use it as long as possible. Most laptops (older ones as well) are quite energy efficient. Buying something new is not a sustainable option atm. and many people sell (or toss) their old hardware, so you might also keep it from the landfill.
Name it, take good care of it and dare to repair it.

(btw. there are versions of Linux that play especially well with old hardware.)

  • The problem is, what if custom hardware (like super efficient raspberry pi-like boards, again with Linux) ends up saving more energy over time than what the initial acquiring process in the case of a second hand laptop can save (Especially if it is more bare bones components that don't have as many plastics or rare earth elements as the laptop also)? And then maybe second hand board/parts for such an 'open-source' hardware solution, would be better than those two alternatives, itself? Combining the two ideas, so to speak? – user487 Dec 1 '14 at 4:14
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    Ok, I have no idea how much energy is involved in producing it-hardware. Yes, a Rasberry PI, with a 10" screen uses very little energy, but it will also take a lot longer to check your mail. Also, at your end, you can choose to use it with green electricity. Again, new is seldom the answer. The amount of plastic and rare earth in a second hand laptop doesn't really matter, after all you keep the toxins and plastic of the landfill by using it. Getting old single board computers is fine obviously, it they are fast enough. – elpoto Dec 4 '14 at 21:59
  • I realize now, that my answer might have been to pragmatic where you wanted a hypothetical one. Right? – elpoto Dec 4 '14 at 22:04
  • Totally pragmatic :). I am looking to do exactly this some time in the future! Not only for sustainability though, but this question of course deals with only that part of the it. Speed does not matter so much, just ability as noted in the Q. This may be unpopular with some sustainability fanatics, but due to health also being a priority for me, as well as a philosophy about one's approach towards resource-hungry materials, I tend to believe it is best to simply not SUPPORT the CREATION of said materials in the first place (by not using, OR continuing to use them); to take a stand, so to speak – user487 Dec 5 '14 at 4:16
  • I guess I get your point. But just to stress this again: If you want to save resources like rare earth elements, don't buy new hardware. A Rasberry Pi might use less, but still a lot more than nothing :) Make a difference by suggesting to other people to do the same or by supporting the few people who actually try to change their production. – elpoto Dec 5 '14 at 23:47

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