There are pretty much two types of people in the world: Those who shut their computers down every night, and those who close their laptops without turning them off. You’ve probably heard mixed messages about which one is better for saving energy and keeping your hardware up to snuff, so we’re here to set the record straight.
Most computers have three levels of low-power states when they’re not in use: sleeping, hibernating, and shut down.
In sleep mode, your computer shuts down portions of itself but saves a snapshot of what you were doing so you can get right back to where you were, says Geek Squad Agent Derek Meister. Hibernate mode is similar but shuts more things off for deeper sleep and less power. The main difference you’d notice is the time it takes to boot back up, says Brad Nichols, a technician with technology repair service company Staymobile. Sleep mode will boot your computer back up within a few seconds of moving the mouse, but it might take a few minutes to come out of hibernation. Shutting down your laptop fully means your computer is totally powered off and uses almost no power.
You might have heard shutting down a computer completely actually uses more power in the long run because the system is more stressed than usual during the shutdown and boot up. That might have been true in older models, but it’s not an issue with modern computers. You might remember the loud noises like whirring fans from your first PCs, but newer models have solid-state equipment instead of a bunch of moving parts, says Meister. The newer technology also makes shutdowns go more smoothly. “Modern computers don’t really draw much more power—if any—while starting up or shutting down than when normally being used,” he says.
While sleep mode does suck up a bit more power than a laptop that’s shut down, the difference is pretty negligible. “You’re talking maybe a dollar’s worth of savings on your electric bill,” says Meister. If you’re worried about cutting down your energy costs, you’re better off unplugging chargers that aren’t in use or turning off a printer until you need it, he says.
If you’re constantly back and forth at the computer, leaving it in sleep mode might save your sanity when you first open your laptop. If you use it less often or just want to power it down, though, no harm done, says Meister.
Even if you do keep your laptop in sleep mode most nights, it’s a good idea to fully shut down your computer at least once a week, agrees Nichols and Meister. The more you use your computer, the more applications will be running, from cached copies of attachments to ad blockers in the background. “Those things just have to be reset at some point so they’re not always running,” says Nichols. “It just builds up over time, and the more you use it, the slower it will get.”
Plus, a weekly shutdown can avoid buggy technology. You’ve probably had computer issues that a simple reset fixed, and making that reboot a habit can nip those problems in the bud, says Nichols. “It resets the computer and gives it a fresh start,” he says.