One of the most common questions a new computer owner will ask is “Should I shut down my computer every night?”
The simple answer is no. Or, not necessarily. Or, it depends.
In the early days of home computers, we used to shut down our machines at least nightly, and during the day if it was going to be more than an hour or so between uses. Back then, computers didn’t really have the power management features they do now. A computer was either ‘on’, or it was ‘off’. A computer which was powered on but sitting idle was wasting power, generating a fair amount of heat, and adding wear and tear on the hardware.
Modern computers are different. They now have hardware support for advanced power management, and operating systems such as Windows, OSX, and Linux all take advantage of those features.
The most common power management feature is “sleep mode.” In very simple terms, sleep mode is exactly what it sounds like. Your computer takes a ‘nap.’ Depending on the hardware and software settings, you can ‘wake’ the computer up by simply tapping a key on the keyboard or moving the mouse. The computer can also wake itself up to perform automated tasks such as virus scans.
However, some computers don’t “nap” well. They wake up, looking like they’re on, but are like a cranky tw0-year old who didn’t get enough sleep. If you find that’s the case, turn off your computer more regularly.
While in sleep mode, the signal to the monitor is usually turned off, which in turn causes the monitor to go in to a low-power mode. Sleep mode also lowers the power to the drives and most motherboard components. The Operating System (ie. Windows or macOS) will check the system for events such as a key press, and also check the system clock, and run any scheduled tasks when needed.
To be fair, a computer in sleep mode is still using power, but not nearly as much is it would be during normal operation. While using sleep mode can extend the lifespan of disk drives and monitors, it probably won’t dramatically extend the life of the CPU or other chips on the motherboard, as they are still in use.
Nowadays, it’s better to leave the computer turned on, and schedule tasks such as virus scans and operating system updates for late night or early morning hours. We generally recommend any computer be shut OFF, however, at least once per week. This gives the unit a chance to install updates, which sometimes need to be done on shut-down or on start-up. A restart does not accomplish the same thing.
It can’t hurt to turn off peripherals, such as monitors, printers, speakers, and most other gadgets. If you use a wireless mouse and keyboard, it’s a good idea to turn them off when not in use, to conserve battery life.
So, when should you turn your computer off?
Well, answers vary. Normally, if it won’t be used at all for more than 2 – 3 days, it’s probably safe to turn it off. Also, in the case of a desktop, it’s always a good idea to turn it off, and unplug the power from the PC and monitors, if there’s an electrical storm, or if you have reason to believe that the power will be disconnected due to repairs or power company issues. And, of course, any time you physically move the PC, even if it’s just from one side of your desk to the other, you should turn the computer off completely.