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HTG Explains: Why Screen Savers Are No Longer Necessary

screen-saver-on-monitor

Screen savers are a left-over solution from a previous technology. In spite of their name, screen savers no longer “save” anything – all they do is waste electricity. Screen savers are not necessary on modern, flat-panel LCD displays.

Having your computer automatically turn off its display is the new “screen saver” – it saves energy, reduces your electricity bill, and increases your battery life. Screen savers may look pretty, but they do it when no one is looking.

Why Screen Savers Were Invented

Old CRT monitors had a problem known as “burn in.” Any image displayed on the screen for a long time became “burnt into” the screen. Even if you turned off the monitor completely, you’d still see a ghost image.

This is particularly bad with images that don’t change, such as interface elements. For example, the Windows taskbar may become burnt into the screen, as it just sits at the bottom of the screen and rarely changes. An old television displaying a news channel with a ticker along the bottom may end up with the ticker burnt into the screen. An ATM that displays a single image most of the time may also end up with burn-in.

Essentially, the phosphors that emit light inside the CRT are unevenly worn down, leaving certain areas of the screen darker.

Screen savers solved this problem by automatically activating when the computer wasn’t in-use. Screen savers display an animation that consistently changes, largely eliminating the problem of screen burn-in by ensuring that a single image isn’t on-screen all the time.

crt-burn-in

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

CRT vs. LCD Displays

Modern computer monitors (and even televisions) aren’t CRTs – they’re LCDs. LCD monitors work differently than CRTs – there are no phosphors to burn in. An LCD monitor will never burn in in the same way as a CRT monitor.

While many computers are still set to use an animated screensaver after the computer has been idle for a period of time, this isn’t really necessary. The fact that our monitors stay on and play animations when we’re away from them doesn’t really make sense anymore – it’s just something that many people have continued using out of habit.

Image Credit: Johannes Freund on Flickr

Screen Savers vs. Power Saving

There’s a myth that screen savers save energy – an obvious result of people attempting to understand what screen savers actually “save.” However, screen savers do not save energy – they use more energy to keep the display on and play the animation on the screen. A graphics-intensive 3D screensaver that uses your graphics hardware to render complicated 3D scenes will use even more energy, putting your computer into gaming mode and burning electricity when you’re not even at your computer.

Modern displays have power-saving features. Instead of setting your computer to display a screen saver when you’re not using it, you can set the computer to automatically power off its display when it’s not being used. This will save electricity – and save battery power on a laptop. You’re not using your computer while the screensaver is active, anyway – you shouldn’t really notice a difference.

To change when your computer automatically turns off its display, press the Windows key, type Turn off display, and press Enter. (On Windows 8, you’ll need to click Settings before pressing Enter.) You can re-activate the computer’s display by pressing any key or moving the mouse, just like dismissing a blank screensaver.

image

You can also have your computer automatically lock your screen when it goes into power-saving mode, just like screensavers can automatically lock your computer when it’s not in-use. (Press the Windows key, type Screen saver, and press Enter to access this window.)

image


If you still want to use a screen saver, that’s your choice – but be aware that it’s wasting electricity. You can also compromise and use a screen saver for a little while before turning your display off. For example, you could set a screen saver to turn on after five minutes and then have the monitor automatically power off after ten minutes.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 11/12/12

Comments (60)

  1. Paul

    Some people like informative screensavers, that display useful info when the PC isn’t in use. They can glance at their monitor and see weather, stocks, and so on. Screensavers that do that are in fact very useful.

  2. LadyFitzgerald

    Screen savers also save you from the boredom of seeing the same old desktop or a blank screen when the computer is idle. While not necessary to prevent burn in anymore, the definition of necessary will vary from person to person. For some, the benefits may outweigh the disadvantage of using more power.

  3. Richard

    I’d be interested to know the damage (if any) in turning off your screen after 5 minutes idle. Especially if this would mean that the screen is constantly turning itself off and then back on again.

    Because of this unknown, I set the screen-saver to come on after 5 minutes and the screen to go off after 15 minutes.

  4. Bill

    So what are you talking about kwh wise here? Cost per year if screen saver runs 10 minutes and then goes to black (power monitor off)???

  5. Tom

    Bill – gross it up by how many millions of PCs in the world and you could probably power a large town with the amount of energy saved. Waste is waste. Saving energy starts with you, like turning off a light when you leave the room… (but I’m sure you do that..)

  6. Nick

    Sounds like a challenge for Mythbusters :)

  7. cyber

    Regardless, I too enjoy my screen savers & am very willing to pay the extra $$$ to enjoy them.

  8. Amwell

    I disagree with the idea behind the article. Sure, the history is correct. The screensavers were originally invented to prevent burn-in on CRT screens. They aren’t obsolete though.

    The glove-box in your car probably doesn’t store your and your passengers’ gloves when you reach your destination and no longer require your driving goggles and carriage gloves and scarf either, but your car still has a glove-box, and you probably wouldn’t say that it’s obsolete just because you don’t dress in a jalopy outfit these days.

    Telegraph poles were originally invented to support telegraph line. You wouldn’t say that they were obsolete though, just because telegraphy is.

    Screensavers, like the telegraph pole and the glove-box, grew to take on a new purpose. The screensaver has become a visual cue that the machine is in an idle state. It indicates that the user is away and the screensaver will enforce a security policy depending on the circumstances. In many cases, it serves as a door to the computer. If the user returns, they enter their password and get back to what they were doing. In other cases, the screensaver doesn’t require a password, but still provides some privacy, covering the work they were doing, even though the user may not be worried about others “breaking in” on them. In any case, the screensaver indicates to everyone that the computer is in use but the user has stepped away (as opposed to it being off or not in use or available for a new logon, etc).

    The screensaver is also very personal (or can be). It’s one of the most personal things on the computer. It reflects the user’s personality and many people value the screensaver for that and nothing else.

    Certainly the purpose of screensavers has changed, but they’re far from obsolete.

  9. Jus Sayin'

    I find the claim that, “An LCD monitor will never burn in in the same way as a CRT monitor” quite preposterous from my own experience, and I would welcome a visit from the author to my mother’s house. During the Casey Anthony “trial” she watched incessantly. The image was bordered on either end by a white frame. The LCD television was ruined, and the ghost of those borders is visible to this day. I would be happy to bet $100,000 (actually, you can place the decimal point anywhere you want) against $1000 that her television verifies what I’m writing. I could use the winnings to replace it for her. (This will probably cost me the bet, but any internet search for “stuck pixels” will show the problem is hardly rare. One site even said, “Stuck pixels are fairly common on high resolution LCD screens.”)

    If the author is playing a word game where it is not keeping the device from being damaged by the exact same thing (a constant image over a long period) but rather what is being observed (phosphers vs. LCD pixels) then I would say that is just being dishonest. If you want to “go green,” set the traffic signals in my city so I only have to stop once traveling down any main street if I obey the speed limit. Oh wait, my city claims to be green but they won’t do that to keep cars from idling nearly as much as they are moving because of the loss of revenue created by speeding tickets. Nevermind…

  10. Bender

    Absolutely plasma displays will burn in. We had one hooked to a TV camera watching an entrance gate. Everything looked great for months until one day, the camera shifted. Then, much to our chagrin, we saw the old screen showing the gate and the new screen showing the gate about two inches apart on the screen. We readjusted the camera so it didn’t look to bad but could never get the two scenes ‘right’ on. My question to the author of this article. Would you be willing to spend your money to buy a 60 inch LED/LCD monitor and camera and let it watch the same scene for six months to see if it would ‘burn in’ the scene? I’ll be willing to bet that you would not do it. I wouldn’t. We have cameras on a motor that always moves now so we never have the same scene displayed all the time. Never had a problem with burning in the display since.

  11. Ken Graybill

    I agree about the part about CRT’s. However, both my Samsung LCD HD TV’s (one is LED lit) owners manuals warn about leaving aspect ratios set at 16:9 while displaying 4:3 pictures (Black bars at sides) or otherwise leaving non moving images on screen too long?? They suggest putting screen in “stretch or fill” settings to continue to use full screen and not leave a part of the screen in a “non-moving” setting.

  12. Jus Sayin'

    Ken, where were you when my mom needed you??? ;)))

  13. David

    @Bender, There is a huge difference between plasma and LCD. The article was totally about lcd. And plasmas are totally known for their burn in. You have to be very careful with them. What I would do as a test is get a small screen lcd and camera and try it with that. I do not believe that the image would burn in in all honesty. Me, I will keep my screensaver on because it has a picture of my dog and changes colors. Have a good day!

  14. Indianatone

    Totally disagree with the notion the LCD screen are NOT subject to burn in. Have replaced plenty of them in TV sets under extended warranty which covered that (unlike manufacturers warranty) as the client watched 4:3 programs on a 16:9 TV or just watched one channel. The outside of the screen was lighter and there were lines burnt into the screen if you switched over to 16:9. Plasma are even worse. So in my book with years of factual experience in the real world, change the picture on your desktop regularly and use a screen saver when you are not using it and power it down after 15 mins of inactivity.
    LCD have a memory of where they have been bent at for long periods and that becomes their new position.

  15. Ian

    I run the seti@home screensaver/app which uses the GPU to perform calculations for (mostly) humanitarian research, so I dont feel too bad about wasting the electricity

  16. Thomas ONeil

    What about LED displays?

  17. Greg

    LCD’s will burn in, as a matter of fact dealt with the monitor at work for years. Granted it was not as bad when the CRT’s did it, but still kind of a pain. I guess the long and short of it is, agree or disagree based on your experiences it is still better to have the monitor shut off or run screen saver just to be safe.

  18. TB

    Five minutes and display logon ? That is a pain in the @$$. If I had to logon every time I left my pc for ten minutes because I couldn’t trust the people around me I would move on some place else.

  19. Cody

    I have personally done this test with a basic old 17 inch LCD on a bet for 1 full year using a test picture that displayed blocks of different colors in the same exact space. I left this monitor on for the full year from one thanksgiving to the next (the bet was made during thanksgiving dinner), and ended up a happy winner of $250 bucks because no matter what they tried they could not see even a hint of burn in. Although I bet that $250 probably just covered the power to run the computer and the monitor for the year haha.

  20. Me

    One thing I don’t see mentioned here at all are the lcd power inverter. If you leave your LCD on (laptop, monitor, tv, etc) it will still use the inverter. This is the little piece that converts the electricity that powers the LCD itself. This is the part that will most likely die before any other in an LCD… its a cheap fix if you know what you are doing but most people toss them at this point for not knowing better.

    If you want to extend the life of your LCD devices turn them OFF when you don’t need to use them.

  21. owen123

    At School we have plasma display boards which have burnt in and look awful. They amount of times they crash, you can see a burnt in windows logo.

  22. KijabeDude

    Whatever happened to the flying toasters screen saver? That was awesome! And i seem to remember an Opus & Bill the Cat one that I was partial to. Early 1990′s-good times!

  23. Professor Photon

    One other thing people should be aware of with LCD’s regards their health!!!

    PLEASE DON’T IGNORE THIS!

    It’s good to turn down the brightness on an LCD since it will save power and not require as much energy to keep the back light lit. That’s just common sense and may even save a buck too. But you should also turn down the brightness on your LCD for your EYES!

    You may not be radiating your head with an electron beam like you might with a CRT, but if the brightness on your LCD is always cranked up then you may be doing some real damage to the retinas in your eyes. After all, with LCD screens you’re essentially looking into a light bulb!

    So, just like those iPod volumes, turn down the light intensity too. Your eyes may thank you!

  24. ColJackboot

    I have an LCD flat at work for the security cams and the frame borders are clearly present when the monitor is off. If, as you say, there are no phosphors to burn, what is causing the ghost image to remain? It definitely LOOKS like a burned-in image. Keep in mind this monitor is on 24-7-365, the only reason I know there’s a ghost is because I shut it off after reading your article-lol.

  25. reply

    @TB – You obviously don’t work in any sort of corporate or secure environment to make such childish comments. Any IT dept worth its salt will push a policy to lock workstations after X minutes to ensure security. Its not a matter of trust of fellow employees but financial and security regulations that mandate this.There is PCI and HIPPA requirement for one and I’m sure others out there…if you dont know what these mean,

    I know people in the financial and govt contract areas of work that have seen people fired or suspended for leaving a workstation unlocked and walking away.

  26. Torben

    Screensavers should not be used.
    I have many users who would thoughtless run a screeen saver.
    But I have several times shown that a program that runs “behind” a screen saver is poorly performing.
    Especially screen savers using a lot of graphics and doing that rapidly.

    AND NEVER USE a screen saver upon a server – it could make the server perform like a 80286 machine.

    If using some kind of saver then let it be the black screen. Not using anything at all.
    I prefer the shut monitor off – usually at 15 minutes.

    And I allways restart a session by pressing one of the harmless keys like: Shift, Alt or Control. Never Enter og even Space.

  27. Anthony

    I know my LCD panel doesn’t need to be “saved.”

    But I like looking at the screen saver (weather or pictures of my kids). I bring out the slide show in about 5 minutes and power off after about 20.

    Maybe we should call it something else.

  28. rashad

    Dateline 2050:
    ———————
    (Conversation in the Office of the Museum of Computing Things)
    “Who’s that old guy I see going to the basement every day?”
    “Oh that’s rashad, he’s harmless…Calls himself the Keeper of the Screen-Savers..crazy old guy loves showing off those quaint things.They are strange! Flying toasters, Endless sheep jumping over fences, things that break-up the screen and reassemble it, even something from those crazies at SETI.. (before they actually found what they were looking for!)…. He’s even a got a naughty section there…of course, you see much worse on billboards now…”
    “Should we fire him?”
    “Naaaw, he’s okay. And you know, he gets this constant stream of vistors…funny, there must be something about those useless things that people love..all oldies like him of course, but you know, don’t they they seem really happy when they look those things? Odd bunch…”

  29. Mike

    Yup, I suppose most of this is true, however one thing that is true about people is the fact that they want to personalize their stuff. Just like adding chrome wheels to a kid’s first junk car people like screensavers. If you doubt that look at the huge push back Ubuntu got when they yanked out screen savers. I know a horde of people who switched to another Linux distro just because of this.

  30. Riddle

    It never happened to me, but I know stuck pixels can and do appear sometimes on LCD screens.

  31. mgo

    Don’t forget the tubes on your flat screen monitor. They can burn out/go dim if left on all the time. Screen savers stress those tubes. So…the REAL reason to turn off the screen saver is to save the little tubes that provide the backlight for your LCD monitor! Have the monitor power off after a set time after the machine is idle, using Power Management for example on a Windows machine.

    “Not the screen saver we used before but to power down the CCFL tubes and save their lifespan. These lamps dim in just a few years so you can extend this by using the power save feature and thus extend the screen’s (the CCFLs) life.

    CCFL life time is determined as the time at which brightness of lamp is 50%. But we’ll start to complain at a time well before this 50% happens at 30 to 50 thousand hours.

    http://www.wellypower.com.tw/english/qa_2.php?function_page=e has a nice graph showing this curve. And that’s for long life bulbs. We are already hearing complaints about this as people compare their 2 year old laptop to a new one.”
    - from: http://forums.cnet.com/7723-7586_102-247800/fool-s-question-do-lcd-monitors-need-screen-saver/

  32. b

    screen savers are welcome.they give screen aesthetic value!!! the cost of power is a little necessary evil.long live screen savers..

  33. PendragonUK

    I miss the flying toasters… When Gnome removed the screen saver so it was no longer easily available on Ubuntu I really missed my favorite, GLMatrix.

  34. Richard

    I’m intrigued that you say that LCD display don’t suffer from burn-in – because the manual supplied with my new Samsung 23″ LCD monitor that was delivered last month states quite clearly and specifically that burn-in IS a potential issue ….

  35. Matthew

    LED is the new tech, not LCD. When visiting my inlaws, they paused it on Fox News during dinner time. when we pushed play later, we saw a ghost image for several minutes. This was a first generation Samsung LED TV. I was surprised because I thought ghosting only happens on CRT screens. This comment was transcribed from my samsung galaxy S 3 parent the Seas with help from a server clothes parentheses.

  36. sirius

    I used a screensaver with my first LCD monitor and it burned in the non-moving parts of the image. That screensaver showed the internal working of a complex clock and the parts of the image that never moved, such as the outer rim on the clock face, the numbers, and some background elements, all remained visible for several months after I stopped using the screensaver. Now I just use “(blank)” as the screensaver for my current monitor and it’s set to start after 15 minutes of inactivity.

  37. clamo

    “Having your computer automatically turn off its display is the new “screen saver” – it saves energy”
    NO IT DOES NOT! just like them new energy saver bulbs they DO NOT SAVE ANY KIND of energy.

    @Amwell: CRT screens are to obsolete, NO manufacture makes them anymore. I read all of you post and all I can say is LOL.

    @Indianatone: that ONLY applies to CHEAP lcd’s I watch 4:3 movies all the time and NEVER have ANY problem like that.

    @Thomas ONeil: LED only means that the LCD is lit up that way instead of using 1 or 2 cathode lights or a special panel to reflect the cathode to the entire display. simply put LED is still an LCD

    @Cody: try turning the contrast up and the brightness and use bright colors. but also if the CRT monitor is an expensive model burn in is not gona happen easily. y do you think screen savers were made in the 1st place? because they found a cheap way to manufacture CRT’s so they wouldn’t coast more than the computer when people wanted to buy one.

    @KijabeDude: google much?
    https://www.google.com/search?q=flying+toasters+screen+saver&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&channel=rcs

  38. RickMed

    @ sirius – If your screen saver had parts that didn’t move, then it isn’t a true screensaver.

    You can definitely burn in an image on a LCD or LED (it’s an LCD that uses LED for light). It generally takes a long time and a higher contrasting image such as white on black or dark blue. Be assured that if you leave an image on for a long enough time, it’ll burn into the screen. I don’t think it’s a permanent burn, but it’ll be there long enough that you’ll want to throw the monitor away.
    Virtually every television manufacturer incorporates a screen save to prevent that from happening to your nice new pretty TV.

  39. LCD

    Turn them off, save the inverter and extend the life of your screen.

    Period.

    End of discussion.

  40. Vijay

    Very informative. It is unfortunate to see the hostile reception to the article. The choice of using or not using the screen saver is left to the individual. The article does not even claim that LCD is better.
    Screen saver is so personal and shows the individuality in a unique way. The article seems to have touched the raw nerve somewhere.

  41. Indianatone

    @ clamo You with respect have no idea what you are talking about. The screens that were ruined by “burn in” eg pixels twisted to show shadows on the screen were from 32″ TV’s up to large screen 60″ and the screens were almost the same price as a new TV. In some cases they cost more and the units were scrapped. I would hardly call a part costing $1000 or more cheap. If you run it too bright with the same image on it for to long you will mark the scree. Black to white not coloured squares.

  42. cgarduc

    I just want my ‘Flying Tosters’ and ‘Marbles’ back! If you have ‘em, PLEASE SEND! Thanks!
    Send to cgarduc@gmail.com

  43. Claus Schieber

    I’m working on the same monitor for more than three years – Fujitsu-Siemens Scaleoview W19-1 – an TFT LCD – and it have clear visible burn-in artifacts. They are looking like structures of the mostly used full-screen windows. If the author sends me his email-adress, I can provide a a photo.
    And I used a screen-saver (the Windows built-in Starfield).

  44. spike

    @clamo: Chill out. By the way, those new energy saver bulbs *absolutely* save energy! Try outfitting an entire house with them and watch the power bill come down.. far…
    Based on that, I didn’t read the rest of your post. Waste of time.

  45. BrianA

    I use mine to display favourite photos. After 15 minutes it switches off. That amount of power used isn´t going to change anyone´s life much.

  46. Elan

    The author of this article does not know what they are talking about. LCD stands for Liquid Crystal Display, a suspension of crystalline structures an a liquid substance. If a pixel is left at full white the crystals will start to adhere to each other/the screen/whatever in the position they are in because of capillary action, electrical charges etc… thus leading to …BURN IN… No display tech is immune to burn in, not even LED. LEDs have a lifetime, albeit a very long one 10′s of years, the only less vulnerable tech would be rear projection DLP because its just mirrors, and the color is from a spinning wheel, the mirrors are ALWAYS moving thus will not get stuck (except for old age and normal lifetime/wear and tear)

    In conclusion screen-savers WILL SAVE YOUR SCREEN no matter what tech is used except for DLP
    if you have DLP your screwed if ya do, screwed if ya dont and its better to turn emm off.


    Combined experience of two TV techs totaling 80+ years

  47. Keith

    HTG article = thesis
    comments = antithesis

    Somewhere in there, is the truth.

  48. deimos

    @cody
    I did the same experiment …in my spaceship …on the moon!!
    LCD does suffer a similar problem as screen burn.. FACT!
    Do a bit of research into it.. go on, I dare you!

  49. GD

    From my years of experience in healthcare IT I totally agree with this article save for the point regarding burn-in. Though very rare, I have witnessed an LCD monitor or two with a visible “burned-in” image when it was off. I looked at them, moved them around in the light, trying to understand how this was possible; it was very strange and surprising to come across this. As a rule I agree that burn-in is essentially something not to be concerned about with the power save modes, etc. available today..

  50. Z

    Misleading. I’ve seen plenty of LCDs with burn-in. Of course, those monitors stay on 24 hrs a day, displaying the same info, so there’s no helping them.

    It might take longer, but don’t think that you can leave an LCD on all day without getting some burn-in eventually.

  51. bob

    I’ve got two LCD monitors both with the windows taskbar burnt in…

  52. Correction

    Even a modicum of research will show that this article is misleading. While LCD’s do not suffer from burn-in, they can suffer from a phenomenon called “image persistence” which in some cases can become permanent.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image_persistence

    LCD’s are certainly more resistant to this problem than CRT’s are, but I would not attempt to leave any high-contrast static image stuck on an LCD screen for an extended length of time.

    And while I do agree that one should keep an automatic power-off setting for their monitor, I also think one should not make this setting too aggressive. From what I understand it is bad for the CCFL’s (the backlighting in most modern LCD monitors/TV’s) to switch them on and off frequently. So find a good balance where the monitor shuts itself off when you are unlikely to be back anytime soon. I have my cutoff set to 15 minutes.

  53. David Lindberg

    I really don’t care whether they are necessary or not. I happen to enjoy them. I just wish that Microsoft had as many great screen savers as Linux has.

  54. jeff j

    ok ok the bottom line is “how much juice is used ………………….to see whatever you want to see ……………..

  55. Verdigo

    I would like to point out the LCD monitors do in fact have screen burn-in. Although it is not permanent like CRT burn-in but its still there. I have that issue with my 2nd monitor that displays sensor info with an app that never moved. I also have the same issue on my much newer higher quality primary monitor. You get rid of it by opening a completely white full screen image and leave it there for many hours. Eventually the burn in will go away. While I agree screen savers waste energy (because even though pixel is black the backlight is usually still on). It is better to just have the screen power off than a graphical screen saver. In an LED backlit LCD you don’t have to worry about the screen turning on and off wearing anything out like a bulb might.

  56. Neil Wareing

    I feel the Information here is correct but the underlying tone here is that the Author is strongly pushing energy saving, and doing our bit for the Planet, I personley like screen savers, you can set up some amizing picture scenes and pictures of loved ones, often I am at my desk working but not using the computer, I prefere to look at something as opposed to nothing, I also had it set up as well to go to screen saver after a minute for privact reasons and to resume on password after. Have a great christmas every body.

  57. Michelle LeVeaux

    Oh, but they’re so fun and pretty!

  58. kilroy

    A Screensaver can be anything you like, your dog, pretty picture or landscape, much better to look at than a blank screen.

    A Screensaver in a large organisation (like the hospital near here) can broadcast management messages, like Seminars, Health messages and yes even the Xmas decorations competition.

    A Screensaver in a small organisation can be more personalised. eg ” Gone to see Bill Smith about the widgets” back at 3pm :

    so no, folks they are not useless just need to be thought of differently

  59. Dunkerella

    I used a 30″ Westinghouse LCD TV (from back when they cost $2000 for that size, without a HD tuner) for watching TV and the monitor for my computer. I was surprised when I noticed that the icons from my desktop burned into the screen. I am now using a 46″ Samsung LCD TV for the same purpose, it’s been 5 years now and there is no sign of burn in at all. I never use screen savers or power off the screen. So my conclusion is, only time will tell.

  60. BSK

    No I don’t use screen savers and I think nobody should.

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