What the Tech: saving energy when you’re not using your computer

I missed earth day last week, but I thought we’d answer a question I get pretty often about saving energy. Namely: Is it best to turn off the computer when you’re not using it?

It’s kind of a tricky question.

Let’s take a look at the desktop computer. It makes sense that if you turn it off when you’re not using it, you’ll save on your electricity bill. All of those discs and parts won’t be spinning but, then again, when you turn the computer back on all of those spinning parts have to start again.

Too much on and off can harm those parts and cause the computer to break down sooner, but many of today’s computers have solid state drives that don’t spin.

The U.S. Department of Energy says today’s computers are designed to handle some 40,000 on-off cycles before failure, and you’re not likely to hit that number before five to seven years.

But many experts believe it’s best to completely shut down the computer only if you’re not going to use it for a couple of days. Otherwise, if it’s overnight or while you’re at work, put it to sleep.

On windows computers, sleep and hibernation options are next to the shut down button. On macs, click the Apple icon. On laptops, just close the lid, and it goes into sleep mode. Whenever you walk away from your computer, turn off the monitor. Screen savers don’t save energy.

What’s the difference between system standby and hibernate? 

Not much. You’ll save somewhere around $50 a year using either of these options. A computer in hibernation will save your work in the event of a power loss.

I got all of this information from the Department of Energy’s Energy Star website and it has lots of other tips. You can find it at energystar.gov.

If you do keep your computer running when you go to sleep, it’s a good idea to reboot it every few days. The majority of computer websites suggest turning off the computer when it isn’t going to be in use for several hours.

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