Each time I pick my long-suffering MacBook up and put it on my lap to feel the warmth of its overworked insides, I feel a pang of guilt for being the worst at remembering to turn it off more than maybe once or twice a week. But in reality, the practice of regularly shutting your computer down and booting it back up is not without its dangers - all that work can actually stress a computer out. So what should we do to ensure the longevity of the machines that keep our work (and home) lives humming along? Simon Hill from Digital Trends took this (digital) age-old question to the experts.

The short answer? "It depends on how often you use it," tech support guy Steven Leslie, from Geek Squad, told him. (Being Australian, I had no idea what a 'Geek Squad' was, but it turns out they're a group of computer technicians who run a 24-hour support service out of the US.)

"If you use your computer multiple times per day, it's best to leave it on. If you use it for a short time - say an hour or two - just once a day, or even less, then turn it off," says Leslie.

And here's why there's a difference. Leaving a computer on all the time, day and night, is stressful for your computer, but it's a constant stress. If you're not making things worse by overloading your computer with a stream of memory-munching programs, it will steadily power its way through. But if you're turning your computer on every morning - or multiple times a day - and expecting it to work for many hours a day over several years, that small surge of power that helps spin everything up can ultimately shorten its lifespan.

But on the other hand, if you have an old machine, the risks of leaving your computer on for extended periods of time could actually outweigh those associated with turning it off and on all the time, says Hill at Digital Trends. If you've got a newer machine, it likely contains a solid state drive - a device that has done away with all the moving parts of the traditional hard disk drive to achieve a better lifespan. The problem with traditional disk drives is that those parts wear down the more you use them, and this only gets worse when your computer heats up from constant use.

"Some items have a limited life cycle. For instance, if the [LCD] panel is left on all the time, it's only spec'ed for about 15,000 hours, or about two years. For this reason, it's good to let the panel time-out and turn off when not being used," HP's Ajay Gupta, Director of Notebook Product Management and Commercial PCs, told Digital Trends. "The battery and hard drive also have a limited life cycle. Allowing them to turn off (or sleep) and spin down when not being used will extend the life of these components."

But even this isn't the whole story, as Hill explains:

"There's still debate about the impact of shutting down and starting up modern components. To many, the very concept that shut-downs and start-ups create extra stress is dated, based on old components and mechanical parts we no longer have in modern systems. Leaving that argument to one side, there are some solid reasons for leaving it on or turning it off that aren't up for debate."

These reasons are mostly no-brainers - leave it on if you want to use your PC as a server or run updates in the background, turn it off if you want to save electricity. The occasional reboot is important though, he says, as this generally improves the performance of your machine. And Leslie says using the 'sleep' option is much better than letting the machine 'hibernate', as the latter causes similar levels of wear and tear as turning it on and off does.

Head to Simon Hill's article at Digital Trends to get more great advice, including why you absolutely need a surge protector in your life. 

Source: Digital Trends