Which Is Better: Shutting Off Your PC or Putting It to Sleep?

Shutting down your PC versus putting it to sleep has been a long-debated subject. Some argue that turning a computer on and off too many times will damage the components which decreases the overall lifespan. Others say that putting a computer to sleep is a waste of electricity, especially if left unused for an extended period of time.

So who’s right in this matter?

In this article we’ll explore the pros and cons of these options to decide which is better for your computer.

A shutdown is like an off switch to software and hardware components. All opened programs receive a timed notification from the OS to stop reading and writing files before a forced shutdown occurs.

Shutdown signals are then sent to the remaining devices and drivers, slowly cutting power little by little.

However, if you force a computer to shut down by holding the power button, you’ll risk file corruption and potential damage to the hard drive.

Think of sleep mode as a way for your computer to take a nap.

powermode-sleepmode

All open files are stored in the RAM (random access memory) which runs in a low-power state.

Most other software and hardware components are also disabled during this time but can be quickly “woken up” by tapping on the mouse or keyboard.

Stress on Hardware Components

This is arguably one of the biggest factors in the Shutdown versus Sleep Mode debate.

Back in the day, computer components were a little more susceptible to possible damage from consistently powering the computer on and off, most notably with the hard drive and fans.

powermode-hardware

Nowadays, these parts are manufactured better, so they are able to withstand this kind of stress (both from sleep mode and a shutdown state) to a certain degree.

Unless you are constantly powering your PC on and off like a toy, the wear and tear from a daily shutdown is very minimal and won’t cause noticeable damage.

Power Consumption

Sleep mode draws power to the RAM to store opened files and programs. This means an increase in electricity usage which some consider to be a wasted resource since the computer isn’t being used during this time.

While a PC still draws a little bit of power when shut down (unless it’s unplugged from the power source), it still remains a better energy-saving option.

Clean Reboots

Think of this as a way for the OS to clean itself out.

powermode-reboot

Shutdowns clean out minor system issues like bugs, leaked memory, and unused network connections. Also, Windows runs its update in the background and some of these updates require a reboot.

If you never power off (or reboot) your computer, all of these issues snowball and may cause a decrease in performance and load times.

Power Surges

Although it’s rare, random power spikes and surges can damage your computer when powered on or in sleep mode.

Major damage includes file corruption, a scratched hard drive, and data loss, which can all lead to an unbootable computer.

A shutdown lowers the risk of this type of damage happening to the components.

If your computer is in sleep mode, it can quickly be woken up with a tap of the mouse or keyboard.

powermode-convenience

Powering a computer on from a shutdown state requires extra time waiting for it to boot and load all of the necessary files (although this can be expedited with an SSD card). This can be seen as an inconvenience to those who frequently use a computer throughout the day, as a lot of time is lost waiting for a computer to boot up.

Background Maintenance Programs

Your computer runs important maintenance programs in the background like virus scans, disk cleanup, and system backups, particularly during evening hours (while your computer is in sleep mode).

Unless you schedule these tasks to be done during daytime hours, shutting off your computer may interfere with these necessary programs, which may leave your computer more susceptible to malware.

Considering the above factors, it’s better to shut down your computer during an extended period of time (such as overnight) and put it in sleep mode during shorter periods of time (such as throughout the day).

In other words, leveraging a combination of both is ideal for the longevity of your computer. You will get the daily benefits of a clean reboot with less power consumption when you only use your computer when you need it. The risk of a power surge is also lowered, and background maintenance programs can still run normally throughout the day with a nightly shutdown. More importantly, you don’t need to worry about potential damage to hardware, especially since computer parts are manufactured better (just don’t constantly power your PC on and off like a toy).

Image Credit: Derek Σωκράτης Finch, John Mitchell, Ryan Franklin, Eric Norris, Steven Lilley

13 comments

  1. You didn’t mention hibernate, which turns off the power, but keeps what was active stored in memory, so that it opens to exactly the same location. Good for spreadsheets and programming, etc.

    • Well hibernate is a big problem if you dual boot say Win10 and Linux. The reason is that hibernate writes code to the drives which when you boot into Linux will cause a drive read problem. When this happens you won’t be able to read any NTFS drives in Linux. The cure is easy – eliminate hibernate in Windows via command line but you have to reboot into Windows from Linux to do it and them reboot back into Linux – a lot of work. If you don’t use Linux then hibernate could be a viable option except that I’ve found my desktop icons in hibernate and or sleep mode scattered all to one side of the desktop when the computer comes back awake.

  2. You must be talking about Windows computers because Linux computers do not require frequent reboots.

    “Power Consumption”
    When considered by itself, a PC in sleep mode does use a negligible amount of power. Considered by themselves all the other instant-on devices in the house also use negligible amounts of power. But when all those negligible amounts are added up, you get a one significant amount. To paraphrase Sen. William Proxmire, “A watt here, a watt there and pretty soon you’re talking about serious amount of power”. Almost every electrical device that we own is using electricity 24/7/365. Even if you consider only one household, not much power is wasted. However, multiply that by millions of households and the wasted power gets to be in the hundreds, if not thousands of megawatts.

  3. Thank you for that information. It was really helpful. Because, so very many times I have to button push to close my 64bit laptop because the screen gats so darn FUZZY I have so shut off by button and reboot so many times it’s rediculis I had stop buying inexpensive mobile pads I saved up what little money I have, because I am a physicly sick and diabled and my PC is my windows of all the unsolvable problems, encluding those I have no knowlage of ie ” THE UNIVERS IS EXPANDING BY 3X X LIGHT SPEED AND ALL THE top phyisasists and theorecticak physasist have no idea WHT IT IS EXPANDING INTO???
    AND my personal hobby is infact REASERCH AND I AM EXTRA GOOD AT IT SO I KEEP ON GOING ALL THE POSSIBILITY”S OF WHAT MIGHT BE IMPERICAL GESSUMATIONS OF WHAT MIGHT MIGHT BE>

  4. You’ve written; “However, if you force a computer to shut down by holding the power button, you’ll risk file corruption and potential damage to the hard drive.” but you have provided no further information. Please expand on both your comments.

  5. This one is the best article that tell the difference between sleep mode or shut down. Usually people prefer to shut down & IT people prefer to go with sleep mode

    But this article is really best that explain both !

  6. One thing that I do, regardless of what OS I’m using, is to “lock” the system when I am not using it.

    On Windows, that’s pretty easy to do with the “Windows” L key sequence – L for lock.

    Similar methods are available for your favorite Linux system.

    I also set up an amount of time, after which the process (or processes) in memory are suspended, usually between 30-60 minutes. I do this on both Linux distributions and Windows systems. So if I don’t return to my work within an hour the information I have locked up gets suspended.

    I shut down my system when I do not plan to use it for a while (such as several hours or more or overnight).

  7. I’m simply not interested in speed. I’m a fledgeling programmer….and the amount of time my computer spends starting up after I hit the power button doesn’t matter to me. So many people are “hooked” on how fast something goes….how fast it runs…..how fast you can do this-or-that. I’m more interested in Quality…..not quantity. So I shut my PC down ALL the time! Its bad enough there are entire landfills overflowing with old tech….that most likely would still be running if only people cared enough to not jump and buy the latest and greatest just because a commercial says to. So hibernate? Sleep-mode?…..nah…..when I’m on my computer…..I’m “on” my computer…..when I’m not? I’m not. So this isn’t even an issue for me.

  8. I use a lot of USB peripheral equipment in a music system. I’ve given up on sleep/hibernate because I found the situation on wake up unpredictable. I have since come across articles stating that the system may get confused if it wakes up and finds the USB stuff in a different state from when it fell asleep. This seems to be true, in my experience, on both Windows (Up to XP Pro) and Linux. Can’t speak of later Windows as I’m now all Linux.

  9. Another issue not mentioned is the constant change in temperature. Modern electrical components are soldered VERY close to each other. When you change the temp constantly (shutting down OR sleeping) the components will shrink and expand as the temperature changes. Over time, this cycle will damage the hardware by causing the solder joints to eventually get too close and BAM, you blow out a board. This is especially true of laptops that have components packed even tighter together than a larger desktop unit. Given the minimal amount of electricity a modern PC uses overall, the best way to increase its lifespan is simply to lock the computer and use neither sleep or power-off. Unless you are not going to use your computer for several days, just locking it is the best way to avoid the constant changes in temperature and increase the computers life.

  10. I read this because I want to try hibernating my PC overnight instead of shutting down because it has started to boot straight to the BIOS when I switch it on the next morning. Now I’ve got Windows loaded again I don’t want it to ‘unload’ and disappear again. I’m not sure though that Hibernation mode will keep Windows loaded, so until I find an answer to the problem I think I’ll just leave it in sleep mode overnight. That way at least one of us will be getting some shut-eye and will (hopefully) start up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning :)

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