Does booting often hurt my computer?
April 11, 2006 9:02 PM   Subscribe

Does booting a computer often lower its life expectancy?

I just did the boot camp xp and osx process on my macbook pro. I have 1 application that is windows only that I use once a day. it now occurs to me that I will be booting my laptop at least twice a day to run that software, whereas I used to boot my macs once a week.

Will this cause my hardware to fail more quickly? I've always loved how long my macs last. If it will hurt the computer, I'll switch to a virtualization solution like Parallels.
posted by visual mechanic to Computers & Internet (15 answers total)
Best answer: Other than the checks that are being performed when the machine posts, i don't really think that anything different is going on in the machine when it's booting that when it's running normally. The only reason i could think of something going wrong is that all those things are happening in rapid succession. It may have been an issue with older machines (power-supplies and all that), but i seriously doubt you have anything to worry about with modern hardware.

Also, if you are only booting the machine twice a day (once into windows, once to get back to the mac) that's nothing.
posted by quin at 9:07 PM on April 11, 2006

Best answer: The only thing about booting that could impact the long-term life of the computer is if you let it cool down before rebooting it. Generally electronics doesn't like heat-cool cycles, so if you can keep it warm (running), it'll be fine.

I have an old computer that worked just fine until we had a power outage one day, and then it wouldn't boot when the power came back. Turns out that the power supply's plastic fan had cracked.
posted by intermod at 9:33 PM on April 11, 2006

It used to be that certain hard drives which were constantly spun up and then down again would develop a problem known as "stiction" where they would eventually freeze and wouldn't spin up at all. However, that was the result of a manufacturing quality control issue (they were using too much lubricant) and it's been a long time since any HD model has suffered from that routinely.

Twice a day is not a problem, all other things being equal.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:43 PM on April 11, 2006

Laptop disks cannot develop stiction. Unlike desktop disks, the read-write heads never touch the media.
posted by ryanrs at 10:10 PM on April 11, 2006

A power-down causes a small amount of wear and tear on a system, a simple reboot shouldn't make a bit of difference.

The power supply is still running, the disks are still spinning. It's not any different than the system sitting briefly idle, then getting very busy for a minute.
posted by Good Brain at 11:06 PM on April 11, 2006

Best answer: What I've always heard is that power cycling-- that is turning a machine 'off' then 'on' is what is considered 'hard' on hardware. Even then, I wouldn't worry unless you're flipping the switch more than several times a day, since this falls well within the range of typical use that hardware should be designed for.

However, it sounds like all you are doing is a software reboot, which should be no different than doing anything else in software. Even the 'reset' button works via a signal (and not power-cycling,) and therefore should be very benign.

Also, laptops are typically designed to power down/hibernate/wake up/etc/etc all the time, so I would hope it would be able to handle some play. This includes the hard drive, which, as I understand, laptops typically spin up/down all the time anyway to save power.

ryanrs: when do desktop hard drive heads ever touch the media? It was my understanding that this never EVER happened, or your data was toast. (
posted by blenderfish at 11:15 PM on April 11, 2006

Blenderfish is right.

No hard-disk-based magnetic media involves its respective drive head TOUCHING the media. Ever. It's not a 76. It floats an almost imperceptible distance above the platter, (microns, methinks) but touching == toast.
posted by disillusioned at 12:47 AM on April 12, 2006

Nope, you're both wrong. See Wikipedia: Hard disk and search for land. Then grab the datasheets for a couple disks and look for spec labeled Contact Start-Stop Cycles. Two examples are Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 and Western Digital Caviar SE16.
posted by ryanrs at 1:54 AM on April 12, 2006

Best answer: Desktop hard drives are designed for ~100000 load/unload cycles, and laptop hard drives are designed for ~500000 load/unload cycles.

So unless you reboot your computer every 5 seconds, you shouldn't worry about it.
posted by Sharcho at 4:52 AM on April 12, 2006

Powering on a computer is harder on it than just running. Most of the circuitry comes on at once, and the power supply goes from no load to peak load quickly.

This isn't easy on the powersupply. The worst current hogs on startup are the drive motors. Large drive arrays use a sequential start system, spinning pairs of drives at a time, to keep the power draw down.

So, yes, power cycles are harder on the gear than just leaving it on. But they're designed to take that abuse, to a certain extent. The best prevention here is a quality power supply.
posted by eriko at 5:36 AM on April 12, 2006

Also -- server grade power supplies aren't built for constant power cycling. This may seem silly, but it isn't -- servers (at least, well maintained ones) rarely power cycle. Instead, the power supplies are built to hander much higher loads for longer periods of time.

Server disk drives, however, are built for unload -- indeed, they're built for hotswapping, which (electrically) is about as nasty as you get. I often suggest spending the extra money for either older server SCSI drives or the newer WD Raptors, which are WD's server drives with SATA, simply because the drives are much less likely to fail over time.
posted by eriko at 5:43 AM on April 12, 2006

Is it better to shut your computer down every night or to leave it on?
posted by spakto at 11:03 AM on April 12, 2006

For the computer, it's better to leave it on all night; for your energy bill, it's better to turn it off.
posted by davejay at 11:37 AM on April 12, 2006

Thanks, ryanrs.

FWIW, I power up/down my desktop a 2 or 3 times a day on average (I always turn it off when I'm not going to use it for >1 hour,) and have done so with PCs for probably 14 years, and have never had a problem. (And I have always used the el cheapo power supplies.)

<knock on wood>
posted by blenderfish at 10:10 AM on April 13, 2006

Another argument for turning it off is that the hard drive operating shock tolerance is significantly lower than the non-operating shock tolerance.
posted by Sharcho at 9:45 PM on April 14, 2006

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