NORMAN — I saw something very strange last week. My across-the-street neighbor walked out of his house, got in his car, started it up and then went back inside.
Maybe that would not seem strange in the winter season, as many people like to “warm up” their car before driving, but this was happening in the middle of August.
Perhaps, I thought, he wanted to turn on the car’s air conditioner and cool it down before driving. Strangely, though, he never came back out to drive away. The car just sat there, chugging away, all night long.
The next day, the car was still sitting there in the driveway, still running. This went on, day after day, week after week, month after month. My neighbor even hooked the car up to a giant gas tank so it would never run out of power, and could stay on perpetually. Strange behavior indeed, wouldn’t you say?
I once had a customer call me (this is a true story, unlike the one above), explaining various problems he was having with his computer. When I asked how long it had been since he turned it off, his answer took me by surprise.
“Turn it off? What do you mean? How do you do that?” After more questioning, I learned he had not turned off his computer for three years.
After teaching him how to turn off his computer, I said, “Turn it off, let it sit for about five minutes and then turn it back on. Let me know what happens.”
About 10 minutes later, he called. “Everything is fixed. It’s a miracle! You’re a genius,” he exclaimed. Problem solved.
As you have probably guessed by now, the moral of this story is that the idea you should leave your computer turned on all the time is wrong. It is a myth that may have had some validity 30 years ago, but it has none today.
Old school 1980s-era thinking held that turning a computer on and off would put a strain on its components because there might be a power surge when it was turned on. This power surge, it was believed, would cause the computer to wear out prematurely.
With modern computers and modern computer power supplies, this thinking simply is not true. In fact, the opposite is true. Leaving a computer turned on all the time will wear it out prematurely.
Consumer-grade computers (i.e., anything outside of military-grade equipment) are not designed to be left on all the time. With laptop computers, this is especially true. Unless you are using a Panasonic Toughbook or some other ruggedized laptop used by police departments and the military, you should be turning off your laptop, at least at night, when you are through for the day.
Some people complain that it’s just too much trouble to endure the inconvenience of actually having to turn their computer on and then wait countless seconds for it to become ready to use. They want their computer to always be instantly ready to use, so they prefer to simply let their computers “sleep.”
While a properly configured “sleeping” computer can save electricity, even so-called sleep and power-saving modes like standby and hibernate still needlessly waste electricity. Why waste even a little electricity when you don’t have to waste any?
With all that said, one of the most important reasons to turn off your computer on a regular basis is that many security and performance updates and patches will not fully install until the computer has restarted.
I’ve seen many situations where a computer user thought everything was up-to-date, only to discover their new security protections would not actually be there until the computer was restarted.
My advice is to turn your computer off, at least at the end of the day, when you are through using it. It will last longer, be safer and use less electricity.
You don’t leave your television turned on all the time, do you? If you do, you should call my neighbor; you guys could start a “leave it turned on all the time” club.
Dave Moore has been performing computer consulting, repairs, security and networking in Oklahoma since 1984. He also teaches computer safety workshops for public and private organizations. He can be reached at 919-9901 or davemoorecomputers.com.