Pentium IIs noncompliant with EPA regs

The emergence this year of new and more powerful computer chips is making it difficult for agencies to comply with a federal policy that requires them to buy PCs equipped with energy-saving features according to agency executives and industry vendors. The Energy Star program created with an executive order by President Clinton in spring 1993 and managed by the Environmental Protection Agency requires PC users to buy computers that save energy by consuming 30 watts of energy or less when sitting idle. To buy noncompliant systems users must apply for a waiver with the designated agency office.

However in May Intel Corp. the primary supplier of PC processors introduced the Pentium II family of chips which offer much more processing power but also consume much more energy making it difficult for vendors to design high-end PCs that meet Energy Star guidelines.

According to sources in the federal market many PC users are now buying these new systems but in many cases buyers are not getting the required waiver. Sources said agency buyers are frustrated that the Energy Star guidelines have not kept pace with the technology and buyers are not willing to wait for policies to catch up.

"If we want to improve the ability of organizations to do things better faster and less expensively we are going to need to get to the higher-end systems " said Fred Wendling director of the Information Systems Division at the National Science Foundation. "Yet we are forced into purchasing [systems] that are not Energy Star-compliant.

"If manufacturers are not going to meet [Energy Star requirements] we need to set a standard that is reasonable and attainable " said Wendling whose office has gone through the waiver process for a number of Pentium II acquisitions.

Vendors agree. The Energy Star program must adapt "otherwise you're going to keep people in the Stone Age and force them to buy outdated machines " said Alan Bechara vice president and chief operating officer at Comark Federal Systems a reseller in Chantilly Va.

In part the problem stems from Intel's decision to design the Pentium II processors without a power-down feature according to several industry sources. Given the need for more processing power across the market "industry and individuals don't care [about Energy Star] so Intel went ahead and designed the chip to work and to be salable " said the federal contact for one major vendor who requested anonymity. "We are handcuffed by Intel."Intel officials could not be reached for comment.

Manufacturers can design Pentium II-based Energy Star-compliant systems by installing software or power strips that power down an entire system when it is not in use. However given the added cost not all vendors do so.Compliant systems are available on some contracts but noncompliant systems are being purchased off contracts and the General Services Administration schedule.

For example on the Air Force's Desktop V contract Hughes Data Systems now offers two Pentium II systems: one from Compaq Computer Corp. that is Energy Star-compliant and one from Micron Electronics Inc. that is not.

Desktop V had an exemption from the Energy Star requirement for its Advanced Desktop line item. However the Air Force is working with industry vendors to ensure that all systems meet Energy Star guidelines said Joel Grigg the Desktop V project manager for the Air Force's Standard Systems Group.

Meanwhile Defense Department buyers are likely to buy what systems they feel they need. "I think people are looking for computers to meet their requirements. If the [Pentium IIs] are going to meet those requirements they are going to buy them " Grigg said.

Likewise on the Army's PC-2 contract run by the Army Small Computer Program Fort Monmouth N.J. the Pentium II desktop systems are compliant but the larger PC minitowers are not according to the Army. The apparent problem with compliance "definitely does require more investigation " said Anthony Battista fielding team leader for the Small Computer Program.The Energy Star program office recognizes the emerging problems.

"Given that computers have gotten more powerful with added functionality there has been an inherent difficulty in meeting Energy Star guidelines for the higher end " said Andrew Fanara the Energy Star program manager at the EPA.

However the program office is concerned about the reported circumvention of Energy Star guidelines by agency buyers in recent months. Fanara said such problems stem not from the guidelines but from misperceptions about the program.

If PC buyers need high-end system performance to run mission-critical applications "that is a viable exception and no one will be kept from buying what they truly need " Fanara said. "Most procurement folks have done a reasonable job of dealing with this."

Bolstering Buyers' Information

However in response to recent difficulties the program office is looking to strengthen the program by refining some of its policies and procedures Fanara said. In general the office is interested in making sure agency buyers are better informed about the Energy Star guidelines and in enhancing compliance with them. The program also would like to develop better methods for tracking compliance across government.

"We would want to streamline the process which we think ultimately would lead to better tracking [of compliance information] which is what I think we are really concerned with here " Fanara said. "If we can have a process that is a little bit easier to track we can better understand the effectiveness of the program."

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