To shut down, or not to shut down? That really is the question

·4-min read

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Happy young female Indian employee working distantly on online project on computer, typing email communicating with client, preparing report or presentation, sitting at table at modern office room.
Power down? Sleep? Hybernate? What's the best option for you? (Photo: Getty)

Ask your average person this simple question of tech hygiene — should you turn your computer off at night, or leave it on? — and you’ll likely get a variety of answers, many of which are half-remembered rules of thumb from decades years ago. The shutdown-versus-sleep-mode debate has raged for years, and you’ve probably wondered about the answer a time or two yourself. (Or, like many people, you’ve ignored it completely: one poll found that only 37% of people shut their computers off at night.) That’s why we took it upon ourselves to solve the riddle once and for all.

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Why It Matters

There are a few things potentially at stake. The most common argument for avoiding full computer shutdowns is that they cause wear and tear on the machine’s components, reducing its longevity. Given that computers are a big expense, you want them to last as long as possible. But the flip side of this is that running a computer nonstop also takes a toll. The fan that keeps your computer cool is of particular concern; according to experts, forcing it to run endlessly without a break is one of the quickest ways to shorten your computer’s lifespan.

Another factor is processing speed. Experts agree that never shutting off your computer can slow it down significantly. The longer you use the machine, the more applications you run, downloads you store, and background entities you enable. Omega Computer Services advises that once you turn off the computer all of those turn off, too, allowing the machine to run smoothly again.

Many people also wonder if leaving their computer on will make it more vulnerable to cybercriminal activity. But according to HelpNet Security, the only real threats arise from leaving a still-running computer in public (making it vulnerable to in-person attack) or logged onto a public, unsecured network. If you’re not doing either, you’re not exposing yourself to any greater harm by using sleep mode. In fact, you’re far more likely to fall victim to phishing and other forms of cyber-attack by using your computer, so make sure to protect it with a program like Norton, which stays on guard for malware, spyware and other forms of cybercrime.

Handsome man working on laptop
Do you power down your machine after every use? (Photo: Getty)

What About Energy Use?

We’re all trying to be more conscious of the energy we use, and how much each mode uses is a common question. Obviously, the state that uses the least amount of power is a full shutdown, followed closely by “hibernate”—and trailed significantly by “sleep,” which uses the most power.

Here’s some outdated info we’ve likely all heard before: Many of us were told decades ago that while a shut-down computer uses almost no power, in the long run it uses more because turning it back on requires a huge amount of energy. To be fair, this was largely true at the time — because early computers ran on far less sophisticated hardware. These days, however, booting up a computer doesn’t require the same outlay of energy it once did.

The Verdict

The long and short of it is that every person’s situation is different, and how you use your computer should dictate how often you fully turn it off.

If you use your computer frequently — more than once a day, most days of the week — and on your own secured network, you’re fine to stick with sleep mode. However, you should power it all the way down at least once a week to keep it running smoothly. (This is the advice that one Apple-recommended commenter gave on the Apple discussion board last year.) If you use your computer infrequently, say once or twice a week, do your electric bill (and planet) a favor and shut it down between uses. Finally, if you’re going to be away from your computer for an extended period but don’t want to lose the work you’d been doing, or if you’re traveling and don’t know when you’ll be near a charger again, opt for hibernate mode, which offers the best of both modes. It preserves the work you’d been doing so you can jump right back in, while still using very little energy.

Try System Mechanic for 30 days free*

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