Should you turn off your computer every night or leave it on?

Q: Should I turn off my computer every night or leave it on?

Although this may seem like a simple question, the answer for each person will be different depending upon how often you use the computer and how many automated tasks the computer is set up to perform.

If you use your computer for a short period every day, turning it off when you’re done probably makes sense. For just about everyone else, it can get more complicated.

Power considerations

There was a time when computers, especially those using tube style monitors (CRTs), consumed quite a bit of electricity, but today’s computers are much more efficient.

Not only are they more efficient, individual internal components can be designed to go to sleep when they aren’t being used in order to reduce heat and extend the life of the component.

Laptop computers typically use a fraction of the power that a desktop computer requires; so even if it’s plugged in all the time, the consumption is pretty minimal.

Unless you’re still using a computer that’s over a decade old, the power savings from turning it off every night is negligible, as long as you have it set up to go to sleep when it hasn’t been used for a specific time.

Displays can be one of the more power-hungry components, so running a screen saver that keeps changing what’s on the screen will use more power then setting your screen to go black or better yet, just turn off the display when you know you aren’t going to use it for a while.

Sleep vs. hibernate

To minimize the use of power when you aren’t using your computer, you can set your computer to either go to sleep or hibernate after a period of inactivity.

Sleep mode puts your computer in a low-power usage state, but keeps everything right where you left it by keeping the active memory (RAM) powered. This means when you wake it up, it will return to a working state quickly and all your apps and data will be where you left them before it went to sleep.

Hibernate does something similar, but instead of storing everything you’re doing in RAM, it creates a special file on your hard drive to store everything and then shuts down the computer completely.

Hibernate uses no power, but takes a lot longer to restart. It’s also known to be problematic on some computers that can sometimes force a hard reset. Hibernate is best used for laptops running on battery power.

Automated tasks

A very good reason to leave your computer powered up overnight is so it can perform automated tasks, such as updates, disk maintenance and backing up. Programs that are designed to perform these tasks modify your computer to automatically wake up when it’s in sleep mode.

Reboot regularly

If you do leave your computer running 24/7, it’s important to remember to refresh the resources by rebooting your computer on occasion. If you use a lot of different programs and open a lot of browser tabs as a regular course of computing, rebooting once a week should suffice.

Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on Facebook or Twitter.

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