Should I leave my computer turned on after hours?

For years, there has been a debate, often heated, among computer users and system administrators about whether desktop PCs should be turned off when not in use or left on at all times. The dispute has gained renewed visibility with the recent (and very welcome) increased awareness of environmental issues. We at Acorn Technologies have been environmentalists since long before environmentalism was cool.

There are, however, compelling reasons for leaving PCs turned on when they are not in use. Most desktop PCs run a version of Microsoft Windows, and Windows is considerate enough to download and install updates and security patches when the computer is not likely to be in use, normally at 3:00 am. Likewise, anti-virus software often updates overnight. A conscientious system administrator will schedule recurring processes such as backups or disk defragmentation for times when PCs are not in use. Attempting to back up a PC while it is in use is practically futile, since any documents or other files that the user is using will not be backed up. Disk defragmentation is a very resource-intensive process. Performing it while a computer is in use can cause the user’s programs, such as Microsoft Word or web browsers, to grind to a halt. To provide a balanced view, programs such as Diskeeper do a superb job of perform disk defragmentation in the background without interfering with user programs.

In addition to the user efficiency that can be gained from having an updated, well-maintained PC, our experience has shown that computer components are most likely to fail when the PC’s power is first turned on, in the same way that a light bulb is more likely to fail when turned on than at any other time. Like the light bulb, a computer component that fails when turned on was marginal and in need of replacement, but it’s definitely preferable from a work efficiency standpoint to replace such components on your schedule, rather than the computer’s.

There are many other ways to increase energy efficiency in computing, such as selective reuse of waste heat from servers or switching from CRT monitors to LCD screens, without the potential to interrupt business operations. Leave the PCs on, but don’t forget to log out!

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