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Will Power Cycling Hurt My Computer?

23 September 2009

I talk to a lot of people about phantom load, or the constant electricity leak caused by leaving electronics plugged in.  Phantom load costs our country an estimated $4 billion a year in wasted electricity, but luckily the solution is simple – use power strips to stop the leaks! Turning off a power strip stops all power to attached electronics, which helps families save money and energy in their homes.  I especially recommend starting with entertainment centers and home offices, which are typically the largest offenders.

Recently, however, I have talked to a few people who told me that power cycling my computer – turning it on and off several times during the day rather than leaving it on and plugged in all the time – is shortening its lifespan.  This concerned me because my computer is my main entertainment hub – television, DVD player – as well as my main source of communication to the outside world.  If my computer crashed, it would majorly crimp my style.  So I did some research, and this is what I found:

“Modern computers are designed to handle 40,000 on-off cycles before failure, and you’re not likely to approach that number during the average computer’s five- to seven-year life span. In fact, IBM and Hewlett Packard encourage their own employees to turn off idle computers, and some studies indicate it would require on-off cycling every five minutes to harm a hard drive.”

Source: Rocky Mountain Institute Home Energy Brief #7 Computers and Peripherals. Link: ENERGY STAR

“The belief that frequent shutdowns are harmful persists from the days when hard disks did not automatically park their heads when shut off; frequent on-off cycling could damage such hard disks. Conventional wisdom, however, has not kept pace with the rapid technological change in the computer industry. Modern hard disks are not significantly affected by frequent shutdowns.

Source: “User Guide to Power Management for PCs and Monitors”, Bruce Nordman, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, January, 1997, LBNL-39466. Link: ENERGY STAR

So.  If my Dell desktop can handle 40,000 power cycles before it dies, and I turn it on and off (and cut the power!) at MOST three times a day….theoretically, I would be able to power cycle it without ill effect for over 36 years.  I don’t think it’s going to come to that.

So, don’t be afraid to use power strips to cut the constant power drain of your computer and unplug it during the day when you’re away or at night when you’re asleep!  It won’t harm your system and you’ll save money.

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