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Leave It On or Turn It Off?

(from the 6/07 issue of the CompuNerds Nerdsletter - sign up for it here)

by Larry Spinak

One of the oldest unresolved controversies in the computer world is: Should you leave your computer on all the time, or turn it off when it is not in use?

Compelling arguments have been made on both sides. I’ll try to sum up the important points on either side, and I’ll even give you my recommendation, but ultimately, it’s up to you.

LEAVE IT ON:
Constantly warming up and cooling down is bad for electronic equipment, and the computer experiences some mechanical wear and tear every time you turn it on and off.

There’s also the issue of convenience. It’s much easier to plop down and go to work when you want to, rather than having to wait several minutes for the computer to turn on and boot up.

TURN IT OFF:
The hard drive may last longer. Since it is composed of moving parts, it stands to reason, the less they move, the longer it will last. This may not be much of an issue with newer computers. The hard drive will probably last longer than the useful life of the computer, regardless.

If the computer is on all the time, it will suck more dust through the ventilation vents. More dust = more heat = shorter life span for the computer, so it may be worthwhile to turn it off when not in use.

All computers can benefit from the occasional reboot, and turning them off allows this to happen. Over time, minor things go wrong and the computer doesn’t bother to inform you; it tries to patch itself up and moves on. The cumulative affect of all these little hiccups can be to reduce performance or even cause the computer to freeze or crash. Turning the computer off now and then gives it a chance to reset itself and start fresh.

Turning the computer off when idle uses less electricity. Depending on your computer, it may use as much electricity as one or more 100 watt light bulbs. That can add up to quite a few dollars over the lifetime of the computer. Also, less electricity expended means less carbon emissions, which is better for the environment, reduces global warming, etc. etc. etc.

ON THE SUBJECT OF ELECTRICITY:
While we’re talking about electricity, there are settings on all computers that we can adjust to save power right now.

If you have a PC running XP, right-click on the desktop, and choose “properties” from the menu that pops up. This will open a little window titled “Display Properties” with several tabs underneath. Click on the “Screen Saver” tab. On the bottom of this tab is a section titled “Monitor power” with a button labeled “Power...” - click on this button to bring up a window titled “Power Options Properties.”

On a Mac running OSX, choose “System Preferences...” from the Apple menu, then click on “Energy Saver.”

Computers running different systems will have slightly different menus and settings, but the main idea will be the same. Explaining all the different settings is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say, these settings let you control how long the computer can run unattended (with nothing going on) before different parts of the system are turned off, or put to sleep, to save electricity. There are separate settings for the monitor (screen), hard disk, and the system (the entire computer).

Depending on how you use your computer, you can experiment with the settings to complement the way you work. Don’t be afraid to tinker. Nothing you change here will damage the computer. Of course, the more things you turn off, and the sooner you turn them off, the more energy you’ll save.

MY RECOMMENDATIONS:
These aren’t Commandments; they’re suggestions. Be flexible and tailor them to your needs. If you plan on using your computer in the next 8 hours, leave it on. If not, turn it off or put it to sleep. I leave mine on during the day, and turn it off overnight. My computer is set to go to sleep if I walk away for more than twenty minutes. This way, my computer benefits from the occasional reboot, and I can reduce my total energy use, even if it is only a little bit.

A POSSIBLE EXCEPTION:
Distributed computing. If you’re running a project like SETI@home or Folding@home on your computer, the benefits of leaving your computer on all the time may outweigh the negative points. That’s up to you. For an explanation of what the heck I’m talking about, please see the next article.

 

 

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