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Do You Keep Your Computer Running All the Time or Turn It Off?
March 8, 2004 1:18 AM   Subscribe

Do you leave your computer running all the time or turn it off when not in use? Why or why not?
posted by Jaybo to Computers & Internet (34 answers total)
 
At work, I leave it on, company policy dictates.

At home, I switch it off as I try, where possible, not to waste energy.
posted by davehat at 1:31 AM on March 8, 2004


I turn it off (or rather, let it go into suspend mode) because it saves power and is less noisy.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:32 AM on March 8, 2004


No real reason to leave it on at home, especially if you are not running a physical firewall and your ports are exposed to the outside world 24/7. (this is a bad idea to begin with, though)
posted by Space Coyote at 1:34 AM on March 8, 2004


I've always heard that it's bad to repeatedly put the machine through the start-up process. And that, when possible, a person should put the computer to "sleep" (or a similar function). Is this just an urban legend then? Could it make a difference either way?
posted by herc at 1:50 AM on March 8, 2004


The start-up process can occasionally cause a power-spike which may blow out a component, but this is very rare. It's up to you - I leave my computer on at home and work, though if it's connected directly to the internet I'd recommend you keep your virus checkers up to date, and any and all firewall software should be switched on.
posted by BigCalm at 1:56 AM on March 8, 2004


According to a recent pc-Pro article, the shutdown/startup cycle used to wear a PC down, but this is no longer the case. They state that you won't shorten the lifetime of a modern PC by shutting it down when you don't use it.
posted by seanyboy at 2:07 AM on March 8, 2004


...although you will shorten the life of Hard Disks by heat. Putting a fan in front of your hard drives increases hard disk life by at least one year, according to studies. (Print studies, not online)
posted by Keyser Soze at 2:14 AM on March 8, 2004


It's best to leave it running. When it starts up, everything heats up and expands, and when it shuts down, everything cools down and contracts. Repeat twice a day and you can see how it could shorten the lifespan. Bit like a lightbulb; a lightbulb left on all the time will last a lot longer than a lightbulb that's always being turned on and off.
posted by derbs at 2:58 AM on March 8, 2004


Ballpark power figures: an average PC will consume around 150W of power (roughly half that on standby). A CRT monitor is another 100W or so, but only uses about 10W on standby; LCD monitors are somewhat better.

Of course, a modern Intel/AMD powerhouse will be quite a bit worse, and a laptop (or one of those Mini-ITX toasters) will be quite a bit better. But as a rule of thumb, it's equivalent to leaving one or two lightbulbs turned on.
posted by Galvatron at 3:02 AM on March 8, 2004


Love the environment: switch it off when you're not using it.
posted by Blue Stone at 3:56 AM on March 8, 2004


I've heard that even just leaving in the power cords of laptops, even when they are off/charging uses quite a bit of power.

I do shut down my (XP) destop every night, but I leave my (Mac) laptop sleeping all the time (i.e. never off.) I value the speed at which I can get back onto the Mac when I need to. Dunno if that is justification enough, but that is my habit.
posted by gen at 4:11 AM on March 8, 2004


We shut down all the computers at night via the surge protector because they have little blinky lights that keep us awake. I also use very little electricity at my house and when my boyfriend moved in with his server and also his laptop and we kept them on all the time, I really noticed a jump in our power consumption. No super-strong reasons, just a general feeling of saving energy by shutting them off.
posted by jessamyn at 5:34 AM on March 8, 2004


Remember that burning a 75 watt bulb for 1 year uses 12 gallons of gas (or something like that...). There is an environmental concern regarding leaving them on, especially if you have multiple units as well.

I turn both my PCs off when I leave every day.
posted by benjh at 7:09 AM on March 8, 2004


When do lightbulbs burn out -- while they're lit, or when you turn them on?

Exactly.

Same thing with computer monitors: the only time I've had them fail is during power-on. I've normally left them on 24/7 for years at a time; they've only ever burned out (with flames, once!) when I was foolish enough to power-cycle them.

Losing one monitor is more environment-harming than leaving it on for years at a time.

Hard drives are particularly susceptible to the hot/cold expansion cycle. Back in the old days of bulky drives with servo stepper motors, I had one that I had to mechanically assist when it was powered-on. Once it was up and running, it could be left indefinately. It ultimately failed during, you guessed it, a power-on cycle.

I recommend setting your BIOS or OS to use power-saving features, and not powering-down your computer. In standby mode your system will use far, far less energy than that required to manufacture a replacement.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:36 AM on March 8, 2004


It's best to leave it running. When it starts up, everything heats up and expands, and when it shuts down, everything cools down and contracts. Repeat twice a day and you can see how it could shorten the lifespan.

You are considering the right information, but you are drawing the wrong conclusion.

The main enemies for all computers are heat, static, dust, and moisture. Turning the comptuer off reduces the risk from all of these to almost zero.

Energy issues aside, the best reason to shut off your computer (or to put it to sleep) is because leaving the computer on exposes the computer to constant heat. Continuous heat stresses the computer far more than shutting down and restarting. The expanding and contracting is microscopically minor and happens over a period of hours. It is to be ignored, unless you are out-of-doors.

For typical PC, in a typical environment, this point is inarguable: shut the computer off or put it to sleep, no matter what.
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:43 AM on March 8, 2004


PS: A computer is not a light-bulb. The last computer that I had which ran on tubes was, oh, never.
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:46 AM on March 8, 2004


Mo: yes, but the principle is the same, both a bulb and a PC need a higher-than-normal surge of power to jumpstart the circuit and send electricity through the entire mechanism. I recall reading that the power used to start an average PC these days is the wattage equivalent of what's used to leave it on for a few hours, so the difference in power use overall is minimal. As for damage, you're safe as long as you have a good surge protector and a large enough power supply.

What it really comes down to nowadays is noise, not power consumption. I need to turn my PC off some nights because it's a behemoth with six fans that sounds like a soviet-era German refridgerator.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:57 AM on March 8, 2004


I never turn mine off, though it goes into sleep mode by itself. Why not? Because I don't pay for my own electricity and it takes too long to boot back up.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:11 AM on March 8, 2004


I leave my desktop PC on except when I'm out of town for several days, because I regularly access this machine remotely. For my purposes a computer will need replacing for other reasons before either heat or startup stresses become a problem. I could turn it off at night, but I also run Seti@Home, and although some would debate it I think the scientific merit of such applications is worth the relatively low power use (my monitor turns off automatically after a few minutes). If a computer is not being used at all I definitely think it's worth turning it off.

I am sensitive to the environmental concerns of excess power consumption and am careful in other areas. In the long run the key is to have clean sources of electrical power. If we use, say, solar or geothermal heat to produce power then we needn't worry in the same ways about a running computer.
posted by Songdog at 9:16 AM on March 8, 2004


At my office we are encouraged to shut down at the end of the day because our IT staff uses the bootup scripts to push out updates (including virus definitions). At the office we are a Windows shop. At home I put my Mac to sleep every night, and wake it when I need it.
posted by terrapin at 9:29 AM on March 8, 2004


Shouldn't any wear on individual components due to startup voltage jumps be regulated by a decent power supply? I've noticed that usually when any of my computers have "died", it's just been the cheap ass budget power supply that was included with my case when I bought it. I started buying seperate, quality power supplies for myself and others that I do work for. Time will tell if it makes a difference.

On that note, most wear that will occur on components should not shorten their life siginifcantly beyond their actual useful life, that is, before they are obsolete. If you upgrade your computer every 2 or three years, then minor wear on your components due to startup-shutdown stress should be rendered insignificant by that, I would think.

Other than power supplies, the only other piece of hardware I have ever had outright fail on me has been a harddrive, and that alone is enough to make me shutdown so it isn't running or being heated during the 10+ hours I am out of the house everyday. That, and I live in California, where power issues are "interesting" to say the least, so I try to keep consumption down.
posted by Hackworth at 11:33 AM on March 8, 2004


I leave my home computer on all the time, because I use it like a server, and want it to be accessible over the network at all times.

I've been leaving my computers on 24/7 for 10 years or so now, and over that period of time I've owned three machines. Two power supply fans (in different machines) have died. The other components don't seem to mind too much.
posted by hashashin at 12:23 PM on March 8, 2004


I've been leaving my computers on 24/7 for 10 years or so now

thats nice... i wonder if you will explain to your children why there are no more glaciers when they are growing up?
posted by specialk420 at 12:56 PM on March 8, 2004


i wonder if you will explain to your children why there are no more glaciers when they are growing up?

Well, considering that I haven't owned a car in that 10 years, I don't really lie awake at night fretting over how much energy my computer is wasting. But certainly, if your work doesn't necessitate an always-accessible server, then to use some metrics from earlier in the thread, leaving your computer on for a year would be equivalent to burning about 24 gallons of gasoline per year, and if you only use it a third of the time then that's 16 gallons wasted.

Moreover, there's a story going around today that indicates the manufacture of a PC eats about 1.8 tons of raw materials, so extending the useful lifetime of your computer is worthwhile beyond simply saving the cost of an upgrade.

I was trying to point out that leaving computers on all the time has not seemed to drastically shorten their lifetime, in my experience.
posted by hashashin at 1:25 PM on March 8, 2004


In my experience, not leaving computers on all the time does drastically shorten their lifetime.

Which means the 24/7 energy use -- which isn't much when they kick into powersaving mode -- is a lot less than the energy required to replace them.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:08 PM on March 8, 2004


thats nice... i wonder if you will explain to your children why there are no more glaciers when they are growing up?

So I assume you turn your fridge and freezer off every night do you... or better still not own one?

Anyway five fresh fish certainly nailed that self righteous comment with this statement:

In standby mode your system will use far, far less energy than that required to manufacture a replacement.

Quite an interesting coincidence that article hashashin linked to was posted on slashdot today!

Here's the Slashdot link
posted by derbs at 4:56 PM on March 8, 2004


The main enemies for all computers are heat, static, dust, and moisture. Turning the computer off reduces the risk from all of these to almost zero.

Funny, then; the only time i've ever lost a computer is when the power supply exploded when I powered the machine up in the morning...

Heat doesn't damage electrical goods (not excessive heat anyway). It's temperature variations that do.
posted by derbs at 5:03 PM on March 8, 2004


I leave mine on because I'm paying for DSL 24/7, my computer is aging quickly, and there's too much good stuff to download. In other words, it's rarely not in use, whether I'm sitting here or not.
posted by muckster at 5:08 PM on March 8, 2004


I leave it on 24/7 to fold. Glaciers vs cure for cancer and Alzheimer's--decisions, decisions.
posted by DaShiv at 6:44 PM on March 8, 2004


Funny, then; the only time i've ever lost a computer is when the power supply exploded when I powered the machine up in the morning...

My experience shows me that any computer that dies on startup is just as likely to die at any other time, and has probably already demonstrated related flakyness.

I recall reading that the power used to start an average PC these days is the wattage equivalent of what's used to leave it on for a few hours, so the difference in power use overall is minimal.

The issue, for me, isn't power consumption: it's computer lifespan.

I don't know why I'm still arguing this point, except that, in my years of working with computers, let's say thousands of them, computers that died on startup almost always had problems that manifested themselves at other times. Meaning, the computer might have been running if left on all the time, but it certainly wasn't reliable. And the number of computers that died on startup? Maybe three, ever. I'm serious. I've had hundreds die while running in the middle of the night for no explainable reason whatsoever.

The point above about power supplies is right on: a good power supply constantly gives power to a computer, even when it is "off." This is why you can press a contact button rather than hit a saddle or toggle switch to turn it on. This is why you should leave a computer unplugged, not just turned off, when working in its guts: it still has power when plugged in! The capacitors are charged! The power suppy may even be warm. Even asleep computers use power. You know how the motherboard battery in a Mac will run out fast if the computer is not plugged into the wall? That's because plugged into the wall, the computer is getting power.

So all this spike and surge nonsense is to be disregarded: if you're running a homebrew crap PC, fine. Turn it off. Maybe your computer is crap and surges and spikes are a fact of life because you have a garbage power supply. But if you're running name-brand, forget it: shut the thing off or put it to sleep. Power surges are not an issue.

I always have preferred a computer up and died on me than be flaky, anyway. Powering the sumbitch up runs it through all the startup tests which prove it's fit. If it fails on startup, then bidey-bye, I can't trust my work to it anyway.
posted by Mo Nickels at 6:47 PM on March 8, 2004


Of course, if you are running Windows, it is unlikely that you can leave your PC on 24/7 without a degradation of performance, due to (I believe) memory leaks that necessitate a regular reboot. Having tried both leaving them on and not, booting the machine at the start of the workday seems to provide a better performance throughout the day with less likelihood of program crashes.

*waits for someone to mention how many years their *nix machine has been running non-stop*
posted by dg at 7:49 PM on March 8, 2004


Actually, dg, I've left my Windows 2000 box on for weeks at a time. In my experience, if you get solid hardware, Win 2K is fairly stable. Nothing compared to *nix, but quite good compared to earlier versions of Windows.

For what it's worth, I say turn it off. As someone mentioned above, it'll almost certainly be obsolete before it breaks down. Even if you don't care about the environment, you can still save a few bucks a month on your power bill. And it's less noise - I have multiple cooling fans, so the noise is not insignificant.

I usually turn it off at night, unless I'm rendering video or downloading something, and then turn it back on in the morning, and leave it on so I can access it remotely during the day.
posted by RylandDotNet at 12:00 AM on March 9, 2004


I leave mine on 24/7. The only time I reboot is when switching between Linux and Windows.
posted by salmacis at 2:41 AM on March 9, 2004


dg i'm running panther on a fast G4 and i find after about a week's uptime, I get a lot of hard disk thrashing and general slowness. A reboot always fixes things.
posted by derbs at 3:25 AM on March 9, 2004


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