Q: What is better for a computer, leaving it on all the time or shutting it down every night? — Justin
A: This age old question has been debated since the beginning of the personal computer era and with today’s possible combinations of uses, the answer is even more complicated.
The reality is that the answer is different for everyone, because it depends upon how you use your computer and what automated or remote processes might be in play. In the beginning, this question was generally focused on whether leaving it running or turning it off would extend the life of the computer. Today’s components are designed to run continuously for an extended period of time that generally outlasts the average usage, so the ability to extend the life with either approach isn’t likely to be significant. The exception to this would be if you have an inexpensive computer that uses cheaper components; the various fans on the computer may fail sooner if you always leave the computer running. In general, when a fan begins to fail, it typically starts to make grinding sounds or vibrate the computer more than usual, so you generally have some warning signs of an impending failure. Blowing the dust off the fans on a regular basis will do more to extend the life than turning it off every night, especially if you have pets or smoke in the house (or both). If conserving power is your focus, most of today’s computers can be set to go to sleep when not in use, which uses a fraction of the power. Your monitor can be a big power draw, so turning off the display at night is always a good habit. Most people don’t realize that running a screensaver will actually cause your monitor to consume more power than if you set it to go blank. Screensavers are designed to prevent screen burn-in by constantly changing the images, which increases power consumption by your monitor. Most screensavers will also access the hard drive to generate the images like when you set them to randomly display your pictures, so if saving power is your goal, make some changes there. Most of us these days have automated processes that are scheduled to run late at night or when the computer has not been in use for a long period of time. Things like scheduled maintenance, automatic updates and especially online backup services generally run in the middle of the night. In these cases, turning off your computer isn’t a good idea. These scheduled processes will attempt to run when you turn your computer on in the morning, resulting in slow performance as they run in the background. Another reason to leave it running is for those situations where you might want to remotely access the computer, especially when you are traveling. Once again, turn off the monitor when you leave to minimize the power consumption. If security is a concern, turning it off whenever you aren’t using it will certainly make it impossible for any outside entity to access your computer. Frankly, a properly secured and updated computer is a much better approach than turning it off, as it’s sort of like burying your head in the sand if you think your computer might be susceptible. You also increase the chances that the updates necessary to protect you aren’t installed in a timely manner because you don’t allow the computer enough idle time to accomplish the updates.
• Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the Data Doctors Radio Program, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.