Most homes are trying to reduce power costs by turning off lights and appliances, but do the same rules apply to computers? After all, it requires more than flicking a switch on your way out the door. Some people believe you should shut down after every use to save wear and tear, others believe you should never shut down your computer – ever. Others simply want to make sure the pages and apps they left open are still there waiting for them. So, who’s right and what are they really doing?
Back when computers were clunky behemoths that took a long time to start, you’d go nuts at the person who shut it down when it was your turn because it took so long to turn back on. Or, you could leave it on forever and it would slowly start to get buggy and unstable due to memory leaks. These days, modern computers are built to work differently.
You should leave your computer on (but you can turn the monitor off)
Speed and maintenance are the big selling points here. You can literally sit down and start working where you left off without the delays of bootup, finding your program, opening your saved files, scrolling down… it’s all right there and ready. Computer these days use so little power that leaving them on just doesn’t use enough electricity to justify the constant on-and-off that most people used to do. Also, modern Windows operating systems are designed to perform regular maintenance tasks during an idle time when you aren’t using your computer. If you constantly shut it off or put it to sleep, it will never get the chance to perform those tasks or even worse, it could try to do them when you turn your computer back on, right when you are trying to use it!
But you should reboot regularly
All that being said, you will still need to remember to reboot the computer once in a while to allow it to ‘refresh’ itself. While your computer is on, Windows and other updates are running in the background. If you never reboot, those pending updates may stack up and be ineffective until they either force a reboot (at the most inconvenient time) or the computer becomes unstable enough that it will crash or you give in to a restart on your own. This is why a reboot can fix strange issues. There is a good reason IT people always ask “have you tried turning it off and on again?”
There are times when actually fully shutting down your computer is the best option. If you are leaving town or otherwise not using the computer for an extended period of time, you may want to shut it down and unplug it to prevent any lightning strikes from affecting it. Just remember when you come home and turn the machine on, you may need to wait a little extra time for everything to ‘catch up’. If you notice a problem with the machine, like a funny noise or a suspected infection, you should immediately shut the computer down until you are able to bring it to your local repair shop. In cases of potential data loss, leaving the computer or repeated attempts at booting the machine on can make matters worse. Finally, older computers or those under heavy strain like gaming or video editing machines can benefit from a rest to allow components to cool down.
What about laptops?
Our general recommendations still apply to laptops. They are still computers after all. BUT, there are a few more things to keep in mind. Since laptops have two power modes (battery and AC power), it is important to note that our recommendations only really apply to when the computer is plugged in. If you are needing to use your battery, you are going to want the computer to sleep when it is not in use. Most laptops will trigger sleep mode when you close the lid, so keep that in mind if you are wanting it to stay on while plugged in per our recommendations.
The short version
Since the whole point of having a computer is that it’s ready to work when you are, we recommend leaving the computer on normally and simply restarting it when you finish working for the day. Don’t shut it down, just RESTART IT. That way the computer will be able to finish installing updates and turn back on by itself. It can do all of this while you are out of the office. It will be ready and be waiting for you the next morning with all of its maintenance and backup tasks finished, and you’ll get the best of both worlds – speed and stability.