Should you leave your computer on all the time?

by
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Play

It’s a question that I get asked all the time: Should I leave my computer on all the time, or should I turn it off at night?  There are valid reasons for both options, so I’ll present you with the pros and cons and you can decide what’s best for your situation.

sleeping computer

 

Why you should leave it on:

Maintenance and backups
Your computer has stuff to do just to take care of itself.  Your antivirus needs to update itself and do a scan regularly, and Windows Updates get downloaded and installed at least once a month (the second Tuesday of each month, which is known in the geek community as Patch Tuesday).  And if you use an automated online backup process (which you should), that has to happen as well.  It’s nice if all of these things can happen in the middle of the night, when you’re not using the computer.

Convenience
If your computer is a bit old and slow, it might take a while to completely boot up.  There are ways of speeding up the bootup time, but it is kind of nice to just walk into the room and the computer is already on and waiting for you.

Usable life
This one is debatable (which is why it’s listed in both categories).  There are some people that say it’s better to leave the computer on, because when you turn it on it heats up all the components – especially the processor, which does get pretty hot.  Then you turn it off and they cool down again.  This constant heating/cooling temperature change taxes the computer’s components and thereby could be shortening the life of your computer.  If you leave it on all the time, the processor and other parts generally stay at a more level operating temperature, which means they might last longer.

Heat
As mentioned above, your computer generates heat when it’s running.  My office is usually the hottest room in the house because of several computers running.  If you live up north, this can be a nice thing in the wintertime!  Granted, it’s not the same level of warmth that a space heater or wood stove would provide, but a couple of computers running can take the edge off on a cold winter morning.

 

Why you should turn it off:

Electricity usage
This is probably the strongest argument for turning off the computer when it’s not in use.  It uses electricity, and will continue to do so all night even though you aren’t using it.  It still uses a little even when it’s powered down, but not very much.  So you would most likely see a savings in electricity if you turned off your computer(s) overnight.

Usable life
This is the flip side of the argument I mentioned above.  Some people say that your computer has a limited number of hours that it will run over its lifetime.  So theoretically, if you shut it off for 8 hours every night, you could be adding those 8 hours on to the end of its usable life.

Room noise
A laptop has at least one fan inside, so it does make a certain small amount of noise.  The cooling pad that it sits on will have 2 or 3 additional fans to add to the noise.  And a desktop computer can have 2 or 3 inside the tower.  If your computer is in your bedroom, you might find it difficult to tolerate that noise while you’re trying to sleep.  Not to mention the 3 am alert sound that you just got an email.

Heat
As I mentioned above, with several computers running in my office, it’s the hottest room in our house.  Here in Florida, that’s not necessarily a great thing, especially in the summer.  In addition to being uncomfortable, it also makes your AC system work harder, which of course adds to the bill each month.

So as you can see, there are good points to be made on both sides of this debate.  You have to decide which factors are the most important for your situation.

There are a few more important points to consider:

First, even if you do leave the computer on all the time, you should still restart it at least every 1-2 days.  This frees up the memory and allows it to be running as efficiently as possible after the restart is finished.  And a restart should not inconvenience you at all – just do it at night, when you are all done with it for the evening.  Then it will be nice and fresh when you come back to it in the morning.

Also, you can leave the computer on overnight but you don’t need to leave the monitor on.  If you use a desktop computer, just turn off the monitor when you’re done for the evening.  The computer will continue to function just like it would if the monitor were left on, but you don’t have the screen using electricity or lighting up the room all night.

Finally, if you use a laptop as your primary computer, you should always have it on a cooling pad – especially if you leave it on all the time.  Laptops run hotter than desktops by nature because all of the components are crammed into that tiny space.  A cooling pad (such as this one – $12.48 at Amazon) keeps your laptop running as cool as possible

listen to my podcast in iTunes

 

Share this post

7 comments Add your comment »

Get updates when new comments are added. Subscribe to the comments RSS Feed

Jack Holland
June 23rd, 2014

Scott, Thanks for the info on this important subject. Does setting on SLEEP or HIBERNATE mean computer is on or off????

Jack Holland
June 23rd, 2014

Scott, Thanks for the info on this important subject. Does setting on SLEEP or HIBERNATE mean computer is on or off????

Ron Geisheimer
June 23rd, 2014

Thanks for the notes on leaving/not leaving computer on. I leave mine on and the first thing in the morning I check my mail. Then I go to search at AOL.com. When I touch on the icon it automatically reboots me to windows email. Having just left that site I don’t need to see the empty mail box. Is this fixable?

Scott Johnson
June 23rd, 2014

Most programs won’t run in Hibernate mode, and some won’t run in Sleep mode. It depends on the program in question.

Scott Johnson
June 23rd, 2014

Hi Ron – this sounds very fixable. I can do this remotely. Email me directly (or call) and we can set a time.

Larry O'Grady
June 23rd, 2014

Scott,

My Win7Pro (desktop) allows me to use the ‘hybrid sleep’ where the computer actually shuts down for all practical purposes but still draws a teensy bit of power (kind of like your tv does when you turn it ‘off’).

And like a tv, the computer powers up almost instantly when you’re ready. The cool thing about hybrid sleep is that you don’t lose any data if there happens to be a power failure while it’s sleeping. I ‘hybrid’ it every night because:

While it is ‘relatively’ quiet, I have modified my homebuilt desktop somewhat – it has 6 (that’s SIX) fans installed and running SPEEDFAN (http://www.almico.com/speedfan.php) I can change some of the fan speeds but find that I’m running quite cool at around 37C. Still, it makes ‘some’ noise.

– L –

Scott Johnson
June 24th, 2014

Sleep and hibernate are both sort of “in between” being fully on and fully off. They are different levels of sleep.