Q: Does it hurt the computer if it stays on all the time and never goes to sleep?
— Donna McDonald, Palm Coast
A: In most situations, this will cause no harm to the system itself.
It wasn’t always like that. In the past, it was often recommended you shut down your system when not in use to help defragment your RAM.
While keeping it on, or using Sleep Mode or Hibernation Mode repeatedly, kept your sessions active and available to you quickly, doing so also built up fragments in the RAM that would progressively slow system performance over time. Shutting down prevented that from happening, since that would clear the fragments from the RAM.
That isn’t the case anymore. These days, hardware is more resilient than ever and RAM defragmentation has become part of the operating system’s everyday task load. As such, the choice to keep the machine on continuously, or even to put it into Sleep Mode when not in use, now depends more on the tasks at hand than anything else.
So as expected, keeping the computer on all the time still provides a convenience factor. By doing this, you can always start working the instant you return to your keyboard, with all the applications you had open before your departure waiting for you upon your return. Plus, impact on RAM or the hard drive now tends to be minimal, if not inconsequential.
(Note: Putting it into Sleep Mode does not change this; it also keeps your session active, but after waking it tends to take about 30 seconds before all resources become available to you. This delay tends to take a little more time when waking from Hibernation Mode and even longer, as you can imagine, with a full fresh restart. Please adjust your computer’s power settings, located in the Control Panel, to fit your needs best.)
Similarly, if you need to keep the machine connected to the internet continuously (i.e. as in a base server scenario), then you will want to keep it on all the time, as well, so it can continue doing this.
The same goes if you like to perform daily virus scans, backup hard drives, install updates and the like. By keeping the system on all the time, these tasks can be scheduled while the system isn’t being used (like overnight).
At the same time, please know that you will need to restart the computer now and then to finalize updates, installations and such.
Similarly, it couldn’t hurt to perform a Shut Down if you know you will be away for a few days or longer. This is more to ensure nothing unexpected happens to the system while you’re away (i.e. power surge, etc.).
If you prefer your system not stay connected to the internet while you are away from it, you should place it into Sleep Mode or shut it down at the end of your session so any web-connected programs or tasks disconnect until you return to the machine.
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