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Computer Care: Is it better to turn it off or let it sleep?

POSTED: March 3, 2012 1:00 a.m.

One of the most common questions I get asked by clients is, "Should I turn my computer off when I'm done or leave it running?" Many leave them on 24/7. I have read good arguments on both sides of this debate. Here is my take.

Unless I'm done for the day, I leave mine on. However, when I'm finished working at night, I do absolutely power it down.

On my laptop I have it set to go into sleep mode when I close the lid. On both desktop and laptop I use power settings to first dim the display, then a few minutes later, kill the hard drive and finally after an hour I have them go to sleep.

To awaken from a sleep mode, all you need to do is tap the space bar or shake the mouse. Give it a few seconds and the display will come back alive, waking the rest of the system with it.

This is good at times when you're working, but get called to the phone or to dinner. There is no reason to keep the computer running if you're not using it.

There is sleep or standby mode and there is hibernation. Let me say that I don't advise an XP machine to hibernate. Often an XP computer will fail to awaken properly from hibernation to experience data loss. I recommend you turn off that feature if you use XP.

The difference between the two modes is that in standby, all your work is saved to RAM (system memory) and comes back quickly. When a system hibernates, the data is saved to the hard drive. It takes another few seconds to recover when you wake it, usually by hitting the power button instead of the mouse or keyboard.

Don't confuse screen savers with sleep mode. They are nothing but a distraction and were initially used to prevent phosphor burn-in on the old cathode-ray tube monitors. Today they are just something to look at or something to block your screen from prying eyes.

There is an argument that a computer can't handle daily power cycles. I don't subscribe to that theory. Your television, stereo, game box and a plethora of other electronic devices power down often with no ill effects. Computers are manufactured to actually withstand up to 40,000 on-off cycles before failure. Most computers will fail from something else in that time frame.

By cycling down computers, the fact is not only are you saving electricity (we'll get to that in a moment), but it is actually better for the system to be turned off every now and then.

By turning your cellphone off every day or two, you reacquire the signal from the cell tower. By turning off your computer, you refresh the system memory. It also fixes little ailments.

Often my wife will shout across the house that her browser won't open or that she can't play a song. After I ask her if she tried rebooting, I get a "Never mind."

When you terminate a program in Windows, you don't get the entire amount of RAM back that it was using. Some simply gets lost. Only by using a memory utility that refreshes it or rebooting the computer, will all that system RAM be available again.

Aside from the fact that your computer can benefit from turning it off, it will save electricity as well as the planet.

It's not just your computer either. I walked in my dark lab one evening and thought I was at NASA. There were glowing LEDs from assorted PCs, monitors, battery chargers, power adapters and transformers, devices in standby, devices with illuminated clocks, power strips, my modem and router. Except for the last two, I have since changed what I leave on.

You don't think it adds up, but it does. Even a cellphone charger not connected to a phone still draws current. Multiply that by everyone who leaves theirs connected. That's a lot of wasted electricity.

Using sleep-mode on a computer that is on only four hours a day will have a 70 percent energy savings over leaving it on 24/7. Experts claim that electronic devices in standby mode burn up 5 percent of all the electricity used in the United States.

Energy Star says that by using devices with their logo on it will conserve a considerable amount of electricity by powering them down when not in use. Smart power strips monitor power usage and will terminate electricity at appropriate times.

Even non-smart strips have power buttons on them. If you toggle it off when done, it will help save electricity.

Turning off your devices not only reduces energy consumption, it also reduces pollution that is created by the power plants that makes our electricity, no matter by what method unless wind or solar.

On the average, you could save approximately $200 annually by turning off your computer when you're done with it.

So I say to those power abusers who never turn their computers off: Get with the program. Save money, save your computer and save the Earth.

Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville. His column appears biweekly on the Business page and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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