Sunday, January 21, 2007

Shades of Grey on Black Google - Interview

We have the author of the "Black Google" post with us today to answer a few questions, and see where we are headed with this interesting topic.

Mark: Welcome to ecoIron.

Mark: It's good to be here, Mark.

Mark: Let's start off by mentioning that the post was incredibly popular - it was on Digg for a while, then it also appeared on Reddit as well?

Mark: Yes, we got about 40,000 hits yesterday. That's about 400 times what we normally get. Good thing we use Blogger to host this site, it handled the traffic well.

Mark: Why do you think the post was so popular?

Mark: Well, I think that there is some general concern about the greening of the IT world out there, a general sense that all this electronic gadgetry is costing us, as a society, some money, and maybe some other costs as well, such as health and environmental damage. Also, there is a growing awareness that there is a lot of waste in the industry, and that technological solutions can and need to be done smartly, and more efficiently.

Mark: I can certainly see that. Almost every vendor now has some sort of green IT campaign going, and there are a lot of eWaste regulations, such as RoHS and WEEE, that have been passed in recent years. It seems like people are waking up.

Mark: They are waking up, and it's exciting. It's exciting because when you start to look for these solutions, a lot of them are right under your noses. Like the Black Google thing.

Mark: Okay. Now there were a lot of comments on the post, including some that it wouldn't work on LCDs, or was misguided in general. Could you respond to that?

Mark: Sure. A lot of posters responded that the 'color' black costs no energy to produce, or even costs a little energy to produce, on most LCD systems. That's fine, I didn't get any links to any studies on that, but if that is true then that would change things a bit. But, the point is that it would just change. So maybe the most efficient color is not black for a global site like Google - it might be the right color for your Intranet, where you have nothing except CRT monitors. Or, as one poster pointed out, it might be the right thing for TV commercials, broadcasting, where a lot of the receivers are still CRTs. I do disagree with the statement that everyone has a LCD monitor out there, I just don't think that's true. And if so - say there are still 20% CRTs left in the world - then the right, most efficient color is probably a shade a grey. For big sites like Google.

Mark: That's why the background is changed on ecoIron today.

Mark: Right. But I'm tiny. (laughs.)

Mark: Is/should Google going to do anything about this?

Mark: I don't know, and ironically it's not important. I chose Google because it is a high volume site; I could have chosen any site, the site is not important. A lot of readers mentioned that Google would never "go black" because it would be too hard too read, it's not their brand, etc. These are very valid observations which I agree with, it's not so simple. You know, every company has to work within their customers' framework for change, and Google is going to do exactly that. Just like every IT professional who reads this is going to do. That's really the point.

Mark: I completely agree. Anything final words today?

Mark: No, that about covers it. But if there are any studies, or experts on this topic in the audience, I'd love to hear from them. I'd like to pursue this more, come up with more definitive results. Thanks for having me on your blog.

Mark: Great! Thanks for your time.


Unknown said...

You don't need a "study" to demonstrate that black uses MORE energy than white on LCD screens. It follows from the way they are designed. White = crystals off. Black = all crystals on.

Matt D said...

come on... if white = all crystals off, why does a moniter go black when you turn it off? according to your statement; it should go white.

Mark Ontkush said...

Hi Susan,

thanks for replying. I think we do need some hard numbers here; for example, does an LCD monitor need to maintain a charge on those black pixels to keep them black? That seems to be a point at issue. Also, what about OLED monitors? Like CRTs, black seems to be the most energy efficient state, and they are growing in popularity. What about plasma?

My point here is that there is a color that, after taking into account all the types of monitors out there and what they do, there is a color that is most efficient for large sites to use. The goal is to find that color.


Unknown said...

@ wavemster

Because LCD's use a backlight and the pixels block the shades instead of projecting them as in a CRT. It goes black when it turns off because the backlight is turned off as well.

Fat Knowledge said...

Congrats on getting 40,000 hits via digg, this is an interesting topic.

I used the Kill-A-Watt to measure the electricity use of a 19" CRT and 19" LCD.

I found that the CRT uses 83 watts on a white screen and 60 on a black screen. On an LCD it used 35 watts regardless of a white or black screen.

Another thing I have been wondering and maybe you find it interesting enough to look into is: how much energy does it take to do a Google Search?

If you take all the server farms that Google has running doing search and divided it by the number of searches, how much energy does it take per search? This post puts Google at having 50,000 servers and using 20 to 30 megawatts, but I don't know what % of that is dedicated to search.

This goes to the idea that while we think of searches as being "energy free" there are actually a lot of servers running behind the scene using a lot of electricity in order to make it happen. Would be great to see an estimate of how much energy my daily queries take up.

Mark Ontkush said...

Hi Fat Knowledge,

This is great, thanks for taking the time to do the numbers. So it seems like the CRT numbers have a wider spread and the LCD numbers have no difference. Would all other colored screens be the same on the LCD as well, 35 watts?

Eric said...

My gosh this is disinformation. The comment by Susan just scares me - it's the same kind of "we don't need to bothered with data" mentality that leads to things like Iraq wars and teaching intelligent design as science in schools.

The vast majority of power consumed by an LCD panel is used by the backlight. It takes roughly the SAME amount of energy to maintain liquid crystals in ANY orientation. There isn't a concept of "off" or "on". LCs work because the light from the backlight is polarized. Twist the LC in one orientation (perpendicular to the polarized light), and it doesn't pass. Twist it in the other direction, and light passes.

Perhaps Susan should "study" a little more before making ridiculous uninformed statements.

The US alone generates 4,100,000,000 Megawatt hours per year. 3,000 Megawatt hours amount to about 0.00007% of US energy consumption. Reduce that number by 75% (because it only applies to CRTs), and we're talking about 0.00001% of the US energy generation for a year.

I'm quite sure it would take MUCH MORE energy to "spread the word" about this "issue" than it would save in energy. Don't know if this is hype for the sake of hype, or some misinformed person genuinely trying to do the "right thing", but I think there are better ways to go about encouraging energy consumption that to lobby for COLOR usage on websites.

Gaby de Wilde said...

Reminds me of an idea to paint the desert black to fix global warming.

I joked that after millions of years of research they would find out that living forest green would be the best color to sustain the climate.

So I now think a green Google would be better, I know I know the idea is millions of years ahead of it's time but it could only work.

Why is it green right?


Unknown said...

@ Eric E.

Does this mean that only the process of changing state would require more energy?

I'm not questioning your comments. I'm simply asking because you seem to know more about this than I do.

Mark Ontkush said...

Hi Kayn,

thanks for posting. I originally thought that black was more expensive to produce on LCD monitors by a few watts. Since it is the reverse on CRT monitors (black is much cheaper), I thought that, overall, some shade of grey would be the correct color. After researching it, I am fairly convinced that all colors displayed on a LCD monitor cost the same. Therefore, I'm sticking with black being the cheapest color to produce.


Unknown said...

The situation with LCDs has been touched upon. Yes they have a backlight which stays constant. Black, white or any other colour costs the same to create. It's the changing the state of the pixel which uses the energy. so, extrapolating from that information, we wouldn't save energy on an LCD by colour, rather by reducing the number of times the pixel changes state.
A blank single colour page would use less energy scrolling down that a page filled with details. Of course, a blank page isn't quite as interesting as a mage with something on it .....

Unknown said...

... oh, it seems that LCDs use less energy than CRTs, but if we were to look at plasma screens (at least in TV) they use way more than a CRTs according to what I've read.
OLEDs on the other hand, well, they're supposed to use next to nothing.

suraj said...

I've done testing on 3 different LCD's and they all indicate that a black Google would be more energy efficient.

compare to:
A custom black google search accessible via the link "SafeDarkSearch"
on the 2nd post from top at:

Tested on:
NEC 2070NX - 20" LCD
DELL2407Fbp - 24" LCD

Use: Watt's Up? Pro -
for loads above 10 watts,
the device is +/- 3% of
the DISPLAYED value

Max window for both Googles (leave other non hidden toolbar up for more real world feel).

NEC 2070 NX:
Max Black Google:
.56 Amps - .57 Amps
42.5 Watts -43 Watts

Max Regular Google:
46.1 Watts - 46.5 Watts

DELL 2407Fbp:
Max Black Google:
63.8-64 Watts

Max Regular Google:
.56 Amps
65.3-65.4 Watts

A 2nd run yeilded:
Max Black Google: 62.8-63 Watts
Max Reg Google: 64.8-65 Watts

Note that the 24" monitor's results were close to the error of the Watt's Up? Pro, but I think that since the draw actually "ranges", that it is indeed outside of this margin of error.

The 3rd LCD that I ran was a different experiment - using pure black versus pure white and using black with dark brown lettering versus white with dark brown lettering. Those results showed a 10% difference in draw. This was done using Planar 20" monitor: PL 201M BK and a Kill-A-Watt

Sanjay John Gandhi said...

At least for Google Search in different colors, one site is:

I am not sure people like the dark background that much-but maybe it is a question of getting used to it.

Sanjay John G.

Ananthoo said...

that was amazing..the original post itself and this one..its sad that i saw it so late..great find i shud say..

S. Potter said...

I did a very simple (but valid) experiment to show quantifiable results (since some people aren't able to believe how LCD monitors actually work). The experiment took 3 minutes to conduct and anyone else is welcome to conduct the same in their LCD setup:
My Blackle Energy Consumption Experiment

Unknown said...

"Google queries" does not equal visits to the Google main page.

I suspect that, like me, a lot of people use the search from the browser toolbar.

That said, the point of the article is that an easy change could help conserve energy. What if every page used 10% more black (or whatever color is most efficient)?

J. Wolf said...

Well there is now a site that is falling into the middle ground that this blog mentioned.

It has a grey background and dark text. Might be useful to compare this for readability vs. blackle and if there is any energy savings happening.

Michael Smith said...

check Black Google

Unknown said...

I can't believe everyone is being taken in by this as a genuine attempt to help the environment.

Now, as it happens, it CAN help the encironment a tiny little bit. As someone pointed out, if the whole world changed it would save something like one thousandth of one percent of energy output, and of course the world won't all change so it will save a tiny fraction of that. But that isn't really an argument against it, because taken in isolation,every act to save enery is trivial - what percentage does it save if you turn your lights off when you leave the room? We all need to take lots of trivial steps, and some less trivial.

HOWEVER, call me a cynic, but surely the real motivation behind "Blackle" is to make money for it's owner as a google affiliate? If that's not the case, I challenge the owner to disclose his earnings and prove that the money has been used to help the environment!