Ask LH: How Often Should I Shut Down And Restart My Computer?

Dear Lifehacker, I've heard it's bad to shut down your computer every night. Is it really better to leave it on all the time? I have a high-end machine and want to take care of it, but I don't know the best way to do that. Sincerely, Puzzled by Power

Dear PbP,

We're not sure how it all started, but the idea that it's harmful to shut your computer down every night is a myth. Unless you shut it down incorrectly (ripping out the power cable and laughing maniacally), there's really nothing to worry about.

In fact, shutting down your computer every night offers a few advantages: it won't draw as much power when it's off, and it won't wake you in the middle of the night with an unexpected alert. On the other hand, an always-running computer has the advantage of being able to handle tasks while you're sleeping.

Whether you shut down regularly or keep your computer running indefinitely really depends on your needs. Let's take a closer look at the pros and cons of both options, and how you can deal with the downsides.

Shutting Down Regularly

Shutting down regularly is the practical option, but it's not without its downsides.

Pros

  • Lower energy costs: Computers can draw a large amount of power, especially if you're running a high-end desktop. Shutting your machine down when it isn't in use will prevent excessive and unnecessary use of power, wasting less energy and saving you money on your electricity bill.
  • Fewer temporary system issues: Those who keep their machines booted up indefinitely are familiar with the little problems that crop up when a computer is in use for a long time. Strange little issues occur and they're often solved with a reboot. If you're essentially rebooting every day, you're giving your machine a fresh start. This helps avoid minor system issues.
  • Quiet hours: When your machine is running, it's capable of making noise. The sounds of the fans can be bothersome if you're sleeping in the same room, but you also run the risk of the computer sounding off an alert unexpectedly. This is easily rectified by muting your your computer's volume each night, but you have to remember to do it. (You can automate the process on Windows and Mac.)
  • A longer-lasting machine: While you can never really know when your computer is going to fail, less stress placed on its components will contribute to a longer life. You still have to keep it clean, dust-free and well-maintained, but less activity can help your hardware last longer.

Cons

  • Inconvenience: The biggest disadvantage of shutting down and booting up on a daily cycle is that it's inconvenient. You have to get everything in order to shut down each night and wait to start up in the morning. On top of that, if you forget to boot up and need to access your machine while you're, say, at the office, you won't be able to because it's offline. This problem is easily solved by automating the shutdown and startup process. Doing so puts your computer on a schedule that's more convenient.
  • Energy used for nothing: While you certainly save energy by shutting down your machine, it'll still draw power when off. While an operating desktop would draw a lot more, it would at least be capable of doing something while you're away. This problem is easily remedied with a power-regulating socket like the Belkin Conserve. Alternatively, if your desktop supports it, you can use it as a USB device charger overnight so that small power draw isn't going to waste.
  • You can just hibernate instead: Why shut down when you can hibernate? Hibernation draws about as much power and saves the current working state of your machine so you can resume right where you left off. This is a standard operation for Windows machines, but Macs can use it too. Apple calls hibernation "Safe Sleep", and it's only regularly employed in laptops when battery levels are critically low. You can enable this feature with apps like SafeSleep and SmartSleep.

Never Shutting Down

Keeping your computer powered on is the more convenient option. It offers a few distinct advantages that can save you a bit of time and frustration, but it also has a few major downsides of its own.

Pros

  • Your machine is always ready to go: It's nice to be able to sit down at your machine and just start working. Such a luxury comes at a cost — a higher electricity bill — but that may be worthwhile depending on your needs.
  • Your computer can work while you sleep: There are plenty of ways your computer can work while you sleep. It can perform tasks such as backing up, system maintenance, video encoding, software updates, downloading, uploading and virtually anything else it can do without your presence. This is a great opportunity to perform intensive tasks when they won't encumber your work.
  • Run a server: If your computer is on all the time, you can use it to serve up whatever you want. Perhaps you just want the machine to be remotely accessible when you're away from home.

Cons

  • Heavy power usage: Running your computer 24/7 draws a lot of power. If there's any reason to turn your machine off with any regularity, it's to avoid wasting resources and saving some money on your electricity bill.
  • Rebooting can be a pain: If you're not used to shutting down regularly, the rare reboot can be pretty annoying. Aside from just feeling more like an inconvenience, you'll never be prepared to shut down. If you have several documents, browser windows, applications and services running, you probably do not have a process in place to easily suspend everything. Mac OS X Lion and Mountain Lion users have the advantage of the Resume feature, which allows you to restore the computer to the working state it was in before shutting down, but that only works perfectly if all your apps support it. Rebooting isn't some horrible, horrible thing, but it is an inconvenience if you're not used to it.

As you can see, each option has its advantages and disadvantages. What works best for you will depend on your needs. But the idea that it's automatically a bad thing is definitely a myth that's worth busting.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    Hi,

    +1 for this review to start. It is very informative.

    There is as always an exception to the rule; if your machine is watercooled/ALC then leaving the water pump on is a must. It stops any corrosion on parts of the loop which are Bio-degradable, all loops suffer from this even if additives are used.

    Another exception is if your machine is being used as a file/print/web server in your home, allowing access to your films, music and other media from a centralized location to devices such as XBOX 360/PS3, Smart TV, Wi-Fi radios, etc .

    2 Other things I feel were missed from this report are [email protected], for those of you that do not know about this program it is used to search for cures to diseases(mainly cancer) and of course ET.

    The other and very important fact which was overlook was the introduction of SSD's (Solid State Drives.) These are extremely fast HDD (intentional wrong name) and boot windows in a fraction of the time old HDD's took.

    Just my input.

    I find that the only time I leave my computer on overnight is if I'm torrenting something. Boot time is barely an issue these days with the speed of SSDs, I can usually be at my desktop in under 30 seconds.

    I always shut my computer down, The sound of the fans would drive me insane. Then again I have a high end machine with a top of the line Solid state drive boot and shut-down times are a non issue for me. But working in a school with my work laptop I just hibernate it because is a older machine and its more convenient.

      I agree, the sounds of the fans working away is a complete pain in the ass. As for an SSD I am yet to catch that train, but every time I turn on the PC when I wake up I go make a tea. So nothing bothers me.

    I've been using the preview of Windows 8 and the boot/restart speed is really fast. Saying that I always shutdown overnight unless I'm wanting to finish a download, in which case I have uTorrent set to shutdown when it's done.

    the only people that would keep there computer running non stop are people with too much money.

      Thats my mate... Yet his dad complains about the high power bills. Keeps air con on througout winter.. Likes the buzzing sound........

      Generalisation much :P

      I have many PC's in my house, one of them stays on at all times. Admittedly it is a purpose built server, lives in my rack, has no monitor etc and was made with the most power friendly components i could find, but it still definitely bumps my power bill up (along with the switch, router, wireless radio, UPS etc)

      I realise this means i pay more, but the tradeoff is worth it to have a constantly available server for file shares, DNS serving, torrents, VM's, DHCP, DLNA etc, all of which are used throughout the house on a daily basis by every person in the house.

      I dont have too much money, i have just made the call that this cost is worth it, similar to how everybody else here runs a fridge 24/7 despite the cost.

      On the topic of power consumption, making an effort to reduce your usage in other ways (lower heating and cooling, changing lights to high efficiency CCFL's etc, shutting down other PC's, TV's etc when not using them) can easily offset that cost...

    Get a SSD, then enjoy shutting down your computer.

    I have my system automatically shutdown late at night and it automatically boots up in the morning I never have to worry about closing it down or turning it on as it does it by itself

      Automatic shutdown I get, but how do you do automatic startup?

        Through your BIOS.

    I must be old fashioned. I just turn my computer off the second I'm not using it.

    I want low power bills.

    I 2nd the use of an SSD though. Going from off to usable in under 30secs never gets old. It might even be faster than that. It's great.

    I thought the 'hardware lifetime' was more about temperature variation? Moving parts like fans/Harddrives wear out faster while on, solid-state components do not...but they can be affected by repeatedly varying the temperature 30 degrees.

    I reboot when there's a power failure, I move house, I'm swapping out hardware, or there's a major OS revision. it averages out to about once every four months. I remote in a lot, and having it running is worth more to me than the 15c I'd save a day.

    I was running my computer 24/7 as a server until I actually measured the power consumption accurately. 250w power draw (not counting the monitor) works out around $450 per year! I have just bought a NAS and will be running that instead. I should be getting the power consumption down to around 35w by using the NAS for my server.

    The idea about not turning your computer off every night was based on the belief that hard drives would last less time if they had to spin down and spin up alot. It was about not increasing the chance of a mechanical failure [wear & tear on the drive arm and spindle].

    I put my computer to sleep every night [not hibernation], monitors are turned off, and the drives stop spinning. All I have to do to start up again is touch the mouse and log back in. Easy & quick.

    I shut down my PC and turn it off at the wall. Why would I want (or need) to waste power like that?

    I'm sure it's different for people who torrent or have other reasons to leave a machine running. My machine boots in about 10 seconds thanks to an SSD, so yeah...

    Wait there's an idea that shutting down your PC is bad?! I've been using PCs for a long freakin' time and I've never heard of this myth before. Of course you turn your PC off unless there's an actual reason to leave it running o.0

      Me neither. Someone must have started it to see how gullible their co-workers were or something. I turn mine off and on several times a day, mostly to save the moving parts from unnecessary wear and tear and to save power. Of course, many of the points in favour of leaving it on don't apply to me as I only have my modem on when I need internet access (probably only 3 or 4 hours a day).
      With WInd8 and an SSD, my Zenbook starts in around 15 seconds, which is faster than the modem boots and roughly the time it takes me to take the mouse and keyboard out of their slip-covers and switch them on.

        Funny that the stop/start cycle is often what is the death of electrical/electronic/mechanical components, so your repeated off/on cycles are actually contributing to a likely higher level of wear and tear on components.

          Given how fast we replace computers as part of an upgrade cycle, this damage is so minor that it's not even worth worrying about. No doubt the temperature changes may cause some damage, but it's unlikely to be so significant that it'll cause regular failures to the point where it's better to leave it on 24/7.

          I have yet to have a disk die from being turned on and off twice a day for six years. I have had eight disks die from being left on for many months before being switched off.

          I'll take the chance and keep turning my computer off (at the wall) when it is not in use. One day I will pay the price, I am sure. But until then, I shall be enjoying lower power bills.

      I've heard it before. The touted theory is that the electrical components undergo their highest amount of strain during the initial turning on of the system. Somewhat similar to a light bulb being turned on or how a car performs differently going around a city in a stop start fashion vs a constant speed on a motorway... if for different reasons.

      I can't imagine in the slightest that it matters but given the tolerance built into the parts and the fact your probably talking one or two on/off cycles a day in most cases tops.

        On the flip side, many of the components have a rated life but again it's so long that it matter to those that leave the system on.

        Yep. Anything electrical/electronic has a much higher chance of failing during a startup cycle than while it is running.

        The incident stats of PSUs, disks, fans, etc. dying when powered on are quite compelling.

    My download box and network media server is a laptop which is on 24/7. I have set to run at the lowest CPU frequency to conserve power. The lid is shut to switch off the LCD when not in use.

    Turning this machine on when I want to watch something would be a PITA, also my off-peak downloads start at 2AM and theres no way I'm getting out of bed to kick that off!

    I'm tempted to say "if you really need to ask this question maybe you shouldn't be using a computer", but that would sound mean.

    Whoops, I just did :P

      I'm tempted to say "if you really need to make this response, you must be an ass", but that would sound mean.

      Whoops, I just did :p

    I shut both my desktop and laptop down all the time. I used to hibernate my laptop, but now with the SSD and Win8, I just don't need to. My desktop takes a bit longer to start up (HDD and Win7) but the few times I've used Sleep, it's woken up. I think that's down to the wireless keyboard and mouse, and I rarely see the need for to put it on Sleep so I never bothered to look in to it.

    If you unplug then it cannot draw power, I hope

    My work system is a laptop that I only really shut down as part of an update process or if it's Friday afternoon and I'm in the mood to get out. Turning the system off gives me an excuse not to come back to anything that may cross my mind as I walk out the door.

    My home laptop is on almost permanently too, again other than to perform updates. I do close the lid on both systems when not in use and turn off any external displays, although I can't imagine those actions really save me anything power wise at all.

    I tend to always leave my PC on when not in use, partially because I like it being "ready to go" because I will usually, when not gaming, only use it half an hour at a time then go do something else and come back to it. Also because it was an older PC I usually needed to reboot it every couple of weeks when it started getting a bit sluggish.

    I say 'was' because it died last week. Currently looking at a replacement. Maybe I'll treat this one a bit better...

    Interesting seeing how many people say "i have an ssd, my computer boots in under 30 seconds"

    My current system does not have an ssd, just a decent hard drive and windows 7 optimized with un-needed services turned off etc....
    It boots to fully useable in around 30 seconds...
    *shrug*

    I agree with PuckManster. My PC has a 11000 rpm hard drive since I upgraded it. It boots up in 15-25 seconds.

    Desktop, I shut down every night - means I have to finish what I was doing the night before, so a fresh start in the morning.

    Laptop, Hibernate - quick boot times, and the only thing that is open is Chrome.

    A computer that is left on gathers motherboard dust, wastes electric power (250W) and is noisy. I use a program to keep mine asleep (molliesoft winsleep).

    So it's not bad to shut the laptop down all the time? Here at my shit college to get the wifi to work, I have to shut down & turn on my laptop for a minimum of a half hour before it works. It's not my laptop, everyone has troubles with the wifi, just different ways of dealing with it. This works for me.
    So that should mean I'm good... right?

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