Technology Column: Should I leave my computer on?

October 2, 2013 

Pause and think for a moment: When you finish work at the end of the day, do you turn your computer off or leave it on? What about at home or if you have a home office? If you ask 10 different people what you should do then you can be sure you'll get 10 different answers. Whether to leave a computer on all night is a common question we get too, and the answer is not as straightforward as one might think.

So, let's take a look into whether you should shut your computer down at night. The first thing we should do is look at three myths that surround this topic.

Myth 1: My computer is safe from power surges if I turn it off

If you live in an area that has an unstable power grid, or is prone to random blackouts, you may be worried about power surges. In truth, if one reaches your computer when it's off, it will do almost exactly the same amount of damage as if it was on. Therefore, you should ensure that your computer is plugged into a surge protector, even if it's switched off.

Myth 2: Leaving a computer on will cause it to overheat

This isn't quite true. Both laptops and desktops have fans and heat sinks that are designed to cool a computer efficiently while it operates. If your computer has a working fan, leaving it on overnight will not cause it to overheat. On the other hand, if the fan isn't working properly there is a high chance it could overheat. In other words, if the fan isn't working, you should get it fixed before damage is done.

Myth 3: Turning a computer on and off, or leaving it on will cause parts to wear out quicker

In theory, this is actually true. When a computer runs, it gets hot -- high end video cards can run as hot as 180-degrees F -- and when it is shut down, the parts cool quickly. Anyone with a basic understanding of science knows that many substances contract when cooled and expand when hot. Therefore turning your computer off and on will cause wear from expansion and contraction. Well, in truth, it really makes little difference. Think about other similar electronic devices like your monitor, TV or even phone. You no doubt turn these off and on all the time with no problem. Most computer components are designed for this too. In fact, many are designed to outlast the expected time you will use the computer. This means that the vast majority of people won't notice a difference.

The truth behind these myths shows that there will be little outright harm to your computer if you turn it off, or leave it on. But the question about which is best to do still remains. Check next week's Technology Column for the top reasons you should or should not turn your computer off at night.

David Spire, president and CEO of United Systems, holds multiple professional certifications, including Microsoft's Small Business Specialist. He can be reached at 941.721.6423 or by email at david.spire@uscomputergroup.com.

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