Is it better for my computer to leave it on or shut it off when I’m not using it?

To my way of thinking, there are four main reasons to be concerned about leaving a computer on all day and night. They are: electricity cost, data security, damage from power spikes, and thermal/environmental issues. All of these can be causes of damage to your computer or files. All of these may require you call us for data recovery.

Electricity cost: According to the SETI@home program, it costs less than a dollar a day to actively run a computer for 24 hours. Most computers sold in the past few years have an energy-saving feature that puts the computer “to sleep” after a while. My unscientific estimate is that leaving a modern computer on all day and turning it off at night probably costs about 35 cents.

Data Security: If you have a dial-up modem, there’s little to worry about, as long as your modem disconnects after your session is over. If it doesn’t, you can set it to do that. If you have a cable modem, DSL (or other broadband), you should have a firewall. It’s better still to get a router that lets you turn access off and on with a switch. Turning off the router or turning off the computer makes your data safe from hackers.

Power Spike Damage: You’ll find that experts disagree on the subject, but here’s my rule of thumb: turn your computer on when you first use it, and turn it off at the end of the day. There are some exceptions. If you’re only planning to use it once during the day, then turn it off right after you use it. It’s a good idea to shut down the computer before using power tools, air conditioning, washer, dryer, laser beam, or light saber. If you’re expecting a brownout or a thunderstorm (not common occurrences on the Central Coast!), you should shut down the computer as well. If a power surge crashes your computer, we can usually recover the data. There are things that you can try as well.

Get a UPS: No, not the shipper, but an Uninterruptible Power Supply. Power spikes can damage your computer, and worse, your data. A UPS has several outlets for you to plug your computer’s power cord into and the power is supplied by a battery inside the UPS. The UPS is hooked up to a wall outlet, so the battery is continually recharged. This keeps voltage spikes from affecting your computer. It also gives you a few minutes to shut the computer off. Otherwise a power loss may do it for you and damage your computer and its data.

Can’t I just get a surge protector? Surge protectors don’t stop all the power spikes or variations, and they don’t help at all in a brownout or blackout. A UPS can be had for as little as forty dollars. Get a UPS and practice safe computing!

Environmental/Thermal Issues: One of the biggest sources of failure for disk drives is heat. The inside of your computer is hotter than the room that it’s in. When we are away from the computer, or from the house or office, we are not likely to be monitoring the temperature inside. A very popular brand of disk drive is not supposed to be operating at a temperature over 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

One sure fire way to have the drive not operating at such temperatures is to have it off when you are not around. It is likely that many head crashes result from too-hot conditions. We have recovered hundreds of disk drives with crashed heads, but they account for the most difficult and expensive data recoveries. Nonetheless, the odds are not bad for recovering data from drives with crashed heads. If this has happened to you, drop us a line.

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