Should I turn my computer off, or leave it on?
Clients often ask me, "Should I turn my computer off, or leave it on?"
For some clients my answer is, "In your case it doesn't matter. What would make you happy?"
For others my answer is, "In your case it depends. Let's talk through the trade-offs."
What is best for your computer when you're not using it? Should you use Shutdown, Sleep, Hibernate, or simply leave it on all the time?
This depends on your situation and your priorities.
I recommend asking yourself the following two questions:
What are your current habits, i.e., do you already turn your computer on in the morning and off at night, or do you leave it on 24/7?
Which of the following goals matter to you? You can choose more than one.
- Hardware: Maximizing the life of your computer.
- Hardware: Minimizing how much electricity it consumes.
- Hardware: Minimizing how much internal dust your computer accumulates, which (after a few years) can cause it to overheat.
- Software: Ensuring that your scheduled maintenance tasks (antivirus scans, backup, software updates, etc.) all run successfully.
- Software: Minimizing the chances that a hacker might install (or trick you into installing) malicious software, especially ransomware.
- People: If your computer acts as a "server" on your local network, ensuring that other people (if any) in your home or office will have access to your computer's shared files and printers.
- People: If your computer is a remote-access destination over the internet, ensuring that other authorized people (if any) outside your home or office who need to access your computer will be able to do their work. This might include your bookkeeper, computer support person, etc.
See below for my advice regarding each of these goals, plus what to do next.
Hardware: Maximizing the life of your computer
While this is a very good goal, I have not found any strong evidence that leaving your computer on vs. turning it off has any effect on how long your computer lasts. There are other things that you can do that might help extend its life, see "Where to go from here" below for a tip on how to research this question.
Hardware: Minimizing how much electricity it consumes
Hardware: Minimizing how much internal dust your computer accumulates
These two goals would certainly lead you to use Shutdown, Sleep, or Hibernate when you're not using your computer (since whenever it's on it consumes electricity and its fan may draw in more dust), but in my experience they're not as important as the goals below.
Software: Ensuring that your scheduled maintenance tasks all run successfully
In order to accomplish this goal, you'll need to find out when each of your maintenance tasks is scheduled to run.
For example, your antivirus may scan every Sunday at noon, and your backup may run every day at 10pm. On the other hand, your antivirus may not have a fixed schedule, and your online backup may run continuously (or as needed) throughout the day and night.
Software: Minimizing the chances that a hacker might install (or trick you into installing) malicious software, especially ransomware
While this is a good reason to turn off your computer when you're not using it (as well as numerous other things that you should do to protect it beyond that), I suggest that you make sure all of the other maintenance and access issues are dealt with first.
People: If your computer acts as a "server" on your local network
People: If your computer is a remote-access destination over the internet
To make sure that your computer is available to those other people, you might:
- Find out in advance when those other people (your bookkeeper, computer support person, etc.) would need access to your computer,
- Schedule each time when you'll make sure that they can access your computer,
- Decide to give them as much access as possible, e.g., 24/7,
- Or you might decide that they will only have access whenever it suits your schedule.
Putting it all together
Now that you have a list of the many things that your computer needs to do, and whether other people need to have access to it as well as you, here's my overall advice:
- Make a list of all the times when your computer needs to be on, for any of the reasons listed above.
- Compare those times to your current habits regarding when you turn your computer off.
- Are there any conflicts?
- For each conflict, how will you resolve it?
- If you typically turn your computer off at 8pm but your antivirus is scheduled for 10pm, then your habits are likely to prevent your antivirus from performing its scan. You could change your antivirus to scan at 6pm instead.
- If your antivirus and your backup are both scheduled for 10pm, that's also not good, since they will likely slow each other down.
If you decide to leave your computer on 24/7 (or if that's already your current habit), I recommend Restarting it at least once a week, or right away if it starts to act strangely or appears to be sluggish.
I also don't recommend turning your computer off and on again multiple times per day. In extreme cases that can cause unnecessary hardware wear and tear.
You might also be wondering the same thing about your iPhone, iPad, or Android.
In my experience, you might need to power your mobile device off if it starts to act strangely, e.g., you're having problems with the sound, one or more apps aren't working correctly, etc.
Otherwise, leaving it on 24/7 probably won't be a problem. Note that "locking" your device (which turns the screen black, either by briefly pushing the power button or simply not using it for a few minutes) doesn't actually power it off.
As long as your habits permit your scheduled maintenance to run successfully, and anyone else who needs to access your computer can do so, it's entirely up to you whether you leave your computer on 24/7 or turn it off.
Where to go from here