Wednesday, February 24, 2010

They Turn Off?

I constantly get asked about whether or not it is OK to leave your computer on all of the time.  The good news is that I have an answer.  The bad news is it is probably as simple as you would like.  Lets take a look at your options.

Leaving the Computer on all of the Time:

Leaving the computer is not a bad option at all.  The major downside is power consumption.  If you use your computer often, leaving it on means that it is ready to go when you are.  When your computer is on, it is also able to keep up with normal maintenance tasks such as virus scans and updates.  Many people are worried about more stress on their computer when it runs all of the time.  The truth is, very few parts in your computer are mechanical, so constantly running will have little impact on their lifespan.  There are also studies that have shown that turning on and off a computer frequently is actually more stressful to the mechanical components than leaving it on.  The other downside of leaving it on all of the time is the noise and lights.  If you sleep in the same room as a computer, this is not a good option, so read on my friends.

Turning the Computer Off when it is not in use:

This is another very common approach.  The big advantage here is saving power and cutting down on the noise.  The major downside is that you have to wait for it to start up and shut down when you want to use it.  The other downside, that most people don't even think of, is that your computer usually does most of its maintenance tasks at night.  If you turn your computer off at night, it is not going to have a chance to do those maintenance tasks.  Some tasks will run the next time your computer starts, but this will cause your computer to be sluggish as it is catching up on everything when it is first used in the morning.  Other tasks will never get caught up and will cause degraded performance due to never getting the option to run.  If you are going to turn your computer off when it is not in use, you should reschedule any important maintenance tasks to a time when you will be able to leave your computer on.  That, however, is another post.

Have the Computer Hibernate:

Hibernation is a one trick pony in my opinion.  It is good if your laptop battery is low and you want to save all of your open programs.  In hibernation, your computer writes all of its current information to the hard drive and then shuts itself completely down.  Yes it opens all of your programs again when you turn the computer back on, but it is not very quick and it does not have all of the benefits of a clean restart of your computer.  More to come on that later.

Have your Computer Sleep:

This is a very good option in your computer power playbook, but it too is not without fault.  In sleep, also called standby, your computer shuts of all but the most essential internal components.  It can bring power usage down to about 1 to 3 watts compared to a couple hundred watts when running.   In standby your computer will also wake itself up for those all important late night maintenance binges.  However, in standby, your computer is not getting regular restarts.  Believe it or not, the number one troubleshooting/maintenance tool you have is restarting your computer.  A computer that is restarted regularly runs faster and smoother then one that is not.  Restarting your computer clears out the memory and removes any errors that might have built up over the time that it has been running.  The main drawback to standby is reliability.  Computers can have problems going to sleep, staying asleep and waking up.  Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet as this can be caused by a number of different things.  In my experience, sleep problems are mainly caused by devices that use a USB connection, so start your quest for the snooze there.

Where does that leave you?

The good news is that there is no bad answer to this one.  Any of the above options work if you allow for nightly maintenance tasks and restart your computer at least a couple of times a week.  I would personally recommend using sleep if it is an option.  Otherwise, it comes down to how much power you would like to use and how quickly do you want your computer to be ready for you when you sit down.  If your current power settings work for you, then go for it.  Visit your control panel and then power options to configure sleep and hibernation options.

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