On or Off

"Should I leave my computer on or off at night?" For years this has been a popular question from my clients. Computer "techies," love to argue over the correct answer which, in my opinion, depends on how you use your computer.

I will present some of the reasons people do or don't shut down their computers each night so you can decide how often to give your computer a break.

For some people, rebooting their computer is a test of patience. The "eternal" wait of three, or five, or seven minutes to boot up each morning is unbearable so they leave their computers on all the time. I understand the impatience and I suffer from it too.

Some people turn their computers off to save energy. Since each computer draws different wattage and contains widely varying components, specific energy costs per hour are tough to estimate.
However, in general, you can expect a running desktop computer, printer, and monitor to cost roughly three to four cents per hour without power saving features enabled. This means that while you power down your body for eight hours of sound sleep, your computer may be spending ($0.04 x 8 hours = $0.32) the equivalent of parking meter money for the benefit of not having to reboot! Need that cash elsewhere? Shut down each night.

A scary term called thermal stress is a reason some owners keep their computers on. When you turn your computer off, the internal components eventually cool to room temperature. Turning the computer on heats them to much higher temperatures. Thermal stress occurs when your computer's components expand and contract with its temperature fluctuation. Over time thermal stress can cause damage that leads to system failure. Believe it or not, some of the components in your computer will last much longer if kept on at a constant temperature.

One the flip side, keeping your computer on all the time can cause other components to wear out sooner than they would otherwise. Hard drives contain delicate circuitry that benefits from constant temperature, yet they have bearings that can wear out from constant use. Fortunately, most computers have power saving features that can turn off the hard drives during idle times while keeping the computer's other components on.

Power failures are a risk factor if you leave your computer on all the time. Yanking the power from a running computer is on my list of "violent acts" I discourage, along with "smacking a computer in frustration." The more time your computer spends "on," the higher the risk of assault by a power failure (unless you have a backup power source).

You can probably now see why I can't give you an absolute answer on how often to turn off your computer. For the record, I leave my computer running constantly on weekdays and usually turn it off on the weekend or if I will be away from it for more than 24 hours. I consider this schedule to be the "middle ground" in this debate. So far this frequency has kept me and my computer happy.

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