How many kilograms of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere when manufacturing a laptop or desktop computer? Calculating the carbon footprint of an electronic device is an extremely complex exercise, and manufacturers provide only shaky approximations. Nevertheless, after having reviewed a few hundred assessments, The world is able to identify certain trends, but they must be considered cautiously.
Their carbon impact appears to be significantly higher than that of smartphones, which very rarely exceeds 100 kg of CO2 equivalent. An entry-level laptop generally ranges from 200 kg to 300 kg, a high-end model is often in the range of 250 kg to 500 kg, excluding machines designed for gamers.
This tally includes not only manufacturing but also a portion of the impacts related to the use of the computer, including the electrical consumption of the device over its lifetime. In the case of laptops, this consumption weighs relatively little in the overall calculation – about 10 to 20% – because portable computers are designed to be energy efficient and preserve their battery.
The numbers vary greatly from one model to another: there’s not much in common between a computer the size of a big book and one as big as a suitcase. Miniaturized models, which typically sit on top of the desk, range in carbon footprint from a hundred kilograms for ultra-compact models with minimum technology to 500 kg for a tiny mid-range desktop tower.
Large desktop towers, which tend to fit under the desk, start at around 400 kg and rise to over 2,500 kg for large professional machines. These figures again exclude PCs designed for 3D video games. They also do not include the computers’ screens, whose carbon footprint is calculated separately.
The exception is the all-in-one models where the computer is housed directly on the back of the screen. They are logically heavier in their carbon footprint, often between 400 kg and 800 kg, and easily exceeding 1,000 kg for top-of-the-line models.
For desktops, more power is required than for laptops: one to two-thirds of the total carbon footprint.
The figures are difficult to find for gamer models. The two main graphics card manufacturers, Nvidia and AMD, explained to The world that they do not calculate the carbon footprint of their graphics circuits. On the manufacturer side, only one, Lenovo, publishes estimates for the machines it produces for gamers. This manufacturer tends to make more pessimistic calculations than more mainstream computer manufacturers. Its figures also contain variations that are particularly difficult to explain.
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