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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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