• ARTICLES
SEARCH

How-To Geek

Ask HTG: Setting Up a VPN, Running a PC 24/7 or Shutting Down, Reading Comics on the Computer

Ask-How-To-Geek-Template

Once a week we dip into our reader mailbag and answer your pressing tech questions. This week we’re looking at how to create a VPN, whether you should run your PC 24/7 or not, and how to read comics on your computer.

Setting Up a VPN for Remote File Access

tomatoovpn_lead

Dear How-To Geek,

Your how-to guide on setting up an SSH server for secure remote web browsing got me thinking about setting up a VPN for remote access to all of my files. I know enough to know that I need a VPN but not enough to set it up. How can I get started?

Sincerely,

VPN Dreaming in Vermont

Dear VPN Dreaming,

SSH is great for creating a secure tunnel for a small number of apps but for broad secure access to your home network you’re right, VPN is where it’s at. To set up your router with Tomato firmware and OpenVPN, check out our full guide here. If you’re running DD-WRT firmware, this tutorial is a better fit. If you’re a Linux user this VPN tutorial for setting up a PPTP VPN server on Debian Linux will help get you started.

Running a PC 24/7 or Shutting it Down Every Night?

2011-07-18_155747

Dear How-To Geek,

Would it be better to shut the computer down after I’m done with it for the day or keep it on 24/7? Everyone seems to have a different opinion and I’m not sure who to believe!

Sincerely,

PConflicted in Pennsylvania

Dear PConflicted,

The argument over leaving a computer run or shutting it down when not in use is a long running one. One camp says that running a computer 24/7 minimizes the stress on the computer as the startup sequence (spinning up the drives, power up the boards) is the most stressful on the computer. The other camp says that it’s a waste of electricity to run a computer around the clock.

The reality is they’re both right but one camp is far more practical. Yes, shutting down a computer and starting it up places more stress on a hardware than leaving it running forever. The most likely component to fail prematurely is the hard drive. A perfectly good hard drive of a large capacity (750GB-1TB) runs about $50 at the time of this writing. Bear that in mind as we look at the cost of running a computer 24/7.

On the other side of the coin, shutting down a computer when it’s not in use saves you a boatload of cash. Let’s say you’ve got a pretty standard off the shelf computer that consumes 300-400w of energy when everything is on. Let’s say you use that computer 12 hours a day and turn it off for 12 hours. In turning it off for half the day (probably longer when you factor in days you aren’t using the computer heavily, holidays, etc.) you’re saving hundreds of dollars a year, easily. More than enough to replace quite a few components if they should wear out prematurely (which is highly unlikely as computers are engineered to be turned on and off all the time).

There are a few reasons to leave a PC on 24/7, however. If you’re participating in any sort of distributed computing project (where your computer is in use to say, fold proteins or sequence genes) you’ll want to leave your computer on to fully participate. Also if you use a remote backup service and have a lot of data to move the off hours are a great time to do so. Finally if we’re talking about your work computer you might want to check with your IT department and make sure that the night shift isn’t when they push major updates and backup files.

Reading Comics On Your Computer

sshot-418

Dear How-To Geek,

I downloaded some comic books but I can’t figure out what to do with them. They’re in the CBZ format. How do I read them?

Sincerely,

Comic Confused in Connecticut

Dear Comic Confused,

You can do one of two things. First, a CBZ file is simply a container file designed to make loading comic files in dedicated readers easier. It’s actually just a renamed zip file. Change the extension to ZIP and extract the images right out of it to access in image viewer.

Before you do that, however, you might want to consider using a dedicated comic book viewer as they usually have all sorts of features that make reading comic books more enjoyable. Check out our guide to reading web comics in a comic book reader here for more information on how CBZs are packaged and comic book readers.


Have a pressing tech question? Shoot us an email at ask@howtogeek.com and we’ll do our best to get you an answer.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 07/18/11

Comments (39)

  1. bob jelenik

    I took home vides from my camera how do i transfer them to a dvd video so i can look at the on any type of home dvd player

  2. vistual

    @bob jelenik …
    pick one:
    dvd flick (free)
    convertxtodvd (paid)
    winavi (paid)
    (above are not in any particular order of preference. although my fav is convertxtodvd)
    assuming youre on windows – have you given windows dvd maker a try?

  3. g725s

    I followed the OpenVPN / Tomato setup but am unable to view other computers on my home network when accessing the web via a public Wifi. What is the safest way to access your home network remotely over a public Wifi using a setup like the OpenVPN tutorial?

  4. Santo

    I strongly recommend that the computer should be shut down after it is used. I have been doing this for very long time and I had not come across any issue by doing so. It also protects the computer any unexpected power surge or from lightning.

  5. Amy Osborne

    How does ‘sleep’ or ‘hibernation’ factor in? Does that overshadow the argument that shutting down saves money? Very curious, because I very rarely shut our computers completely off.

  6. Erich Honecker

    > Let’s say you’ve got a pretty standard off the shelf computer that consumes 300-400w of energy when everything is on.

    did you guys do a research ? obviously not !
    no standard off the shelf computer consumes 300-400Watt you can easily check that by using a clamp-meter that shows you the ampere and multiply that with your voltage = Watt
    average computers (if those even exist) take about 80~120Watt, add more hardware especially big video-cards and it will increase drastically, but no >off the shelf computer< with on-board-graphics pulls that much Watts

    although i have seen power-supplies fail because of ppl turning their computer fully off every time they finish work (usually just the capacitors at the primary side which are cheap and easy to replace) i still agree with turning it off after use

    using a computer every now and then for some time, standby would be most sufficient, you don't need to turn it off if you take a leak but overnight, i personally use the standby that takes about 3-5watts but anything should be ok standby/hibernation or even full off
    besides… most hard drives have a kind of place on the disk were the head gets cleaned when the HD is shut off, leaving it on for 24/7 you should increase the interval of backups, since those el-cheapo HD`s are going to fail sooner, those are not made for 24/7 server use

    bottom-line
    poorly researched news/tips – and that from a site that calls itself HoToGeek

  7. Cambo

    Poorly, poorly researched article regarding turning the PC’s off.

    I agree with Erich. There was literally no research done here.

    Power supplies don’t CONSUME 300-750 watts, they OUTPUT 300-750 watts. Power Supplies are essentially step-up transformers with a bunch of pig tails on the end.

    Computers themselves don’t consume much. It would be barely noticeable against the consumption of your fridge, washer, dryer, dishwasher, A/C, stove or LCD screens. Everyone is getting wrapped up in the “Green” thing with Green drives, Green CPU’s. It’s the Marketing buzzword today- however it means nothing.

    Turning it off to “save power/money” won’t affect your bill at all.

  8. Jonathan

    That’s correct, the power consumption figure quoted in the article is way off. On the other hand, the article never mentions what I consider a major plus in turning your PC or multiple PC’s off at night. Specifically re-initializing the system(s) every morning. That, in itself is a plus, and that’s why just restarting from a cold boot fixes a lot of issues. As an example, one of my clients kept having to reboot some of his systems during the work day due to error messages. When I suggested shutting the systems off at night, he stopped having the error messages. When one worker refused to go along, the error messages, and rebooting scenario began again. She has since joined the club, and all is well.

  9. Ivan S Kirkpatrick

    I just measured the power on consumption of 3 of my machines at idle and when doing intensive graphics processing. As previously noted the power at idle is really pretty low. The intensive graphics processing increases the load significantly but considerably less than some would suspect.

    Various studies by the military on the reliability of radars in aircraft and similar electronics concluded that failures usually occurred at the wiring junctions where the bond was weakened over time by the continuous heating up and cooling down of the connections due to power cycles, i. e. turning it off and on.

    Other equipment I used to operate onboard Navy ships was quite similar, steady state operation was pretty benign. Shutting it down or starting it up was the most likely time to experience a failure.

    Same thing usually happens to an incandescent light bulb. The most common time to have one burn out is on flipping the switch to on. the sudden surge of amps into a cold filament overloads the filament and it melts.

    For your computer, just make sure the sleep mode works.

  10. Dennis

    Allow me to add another good reason. I have learned the hard way that having my computer off when the electricity goes off to my house is a real good idea. Even though I have an APC, the last time it happened it trashed my almost new power supply. The fans would come on but no boot. A lucky guess and a spare power supply proved what the issue was. A prior time this happened it trashed my operating system. I use to leave it on all the time. Both of these times I was away or in bed. I turn it off now at night time and when I leave for work.

  11. Kev

    “Let’s say you’ve got a pretty standard off the shelf computer that consumes 300-400w of energy ”

    Sounds a bit high to me – my sytem uses an average 146 watts running, including monitor etc etc.

  12. Lawrence Cole

    I agree with the “can’t cost that much” group. Even if the computer did use the full 400 watts for 24hr and your kW cost was 16 cents per the amount you would spend is $1.54. So saving “hundreds is out of the question. Check out the cost calculator here: http://www.handymath.com/cgi-bin/electric.cgi

  13. Ginny

    I put my system to sleep at night. Is this better than leaving it fully running or should I just shut it down at night.

  14. Allen

    Even though the figures aren’t correct, shutting off ANY power source ultimately saves money on your electric bill. Unplugging the power strips (and other things such as my laptop adapter, ice maker, etc) at night really has saved me about $100-150 each time. It only takes about 5 minutes to do so, and has come a part of my nightly ritual.

  15. Linda

    Re: “For your computer, just make sure the sleep mode works.” How, please?

  16. Tony

    For me, sleeping the computer is the answer. All the running processes, services and user software in RAM are left intact and maintained by a very low power state. The stress of a cold boot is essentially eliminated. In the event of a power out, my UPS can maintain the sleep power draw for a long time. If the battery does run low before power is back, it will wake up the computer and hibernate it which ends all power consumption. I’ll reboot every 3 or 4 days, or certain ops updates.

  17. BigMike

    My XP will not shut down. I continues to restart always. Got a solution?

  18. Wayne

    There are five people in my family. I live in the California Desert so there are days where air conditioning is necessary. I also have four computers in the house which are never turned off. They do hibernate and they do sleep however. Using our power strips, anything except the tower has it’s power cut completely when the PC goes to sleep. Power is restored on wake. I pay about $1200 a year for electricity. Without the air conditioner during summer months, my bill would be about $800 a year. My refrigerator and freezer use more electricity per year than my four computers. I am fairly big on energy efficiency as well. I don’t even buy CFL bulbs anymore because they use too much electricity. It is LED and other technologies all the way for light here.

  19. RC

    Another thing to consider, on top of the direct energy use (whether 50w, 150w or 300w), is the savings on cooling demand if you live a hot and humid climate.

    Also, are issues due to the stress of turning off/on going to become a problem within the time frame that people keep their computers before upgrading to a newer one, say 2-5 years? And, if you have an always on internet connection, is there a security benefit to turning your computer off?

  20. Cambo

    @RC

    Cooling, for most consumer grade stuff, isn’t really an issue. Cooling only really becomes an issue if you’re in a data center with 100′s of servers running full tilt 24/7.

  21. Ryan

    “Let’s say you use that computer 12 hours a day and turn it off for 12 hours. In turning it off for half the day (probably longer when you factor in days you aren’t using the computer heavily, holidays, etc.) you’re saving hundreds of dollars a year, easily.”

    The current average cost of electricity is $0.1109 per kilowatt hour (http://www.eia.gov/cneaf/electricity/epm/table5_6_b.html). If we go with Kev’s more realistic power consumption of 146 watts, we would pay $0.3885936 for running a computer for 24 hours straight. This would cost us $141.83664 to run the computer non-stop for a year. Running it half that time would save about $71. Saving hundreds of dollars per year? Not likely.

  22. RJ

    I think hibernating the machine is the best option at night. There is no power consumed when it hibernates , and yes it takes a few moments longer to resume ,but when it wakes everything is the same as if you used the sleep mode.

  23. Bri

    I host my own web server so the PC stays on 24/7, in fact thinking back even before setting this up I’ve always had it on all the time, be it taking part in SETI, downloads or updates etc.. and I’ve only ever had one PSU go fizzle pop clunk bye bye…

  24. Wayne

    In regards to heat generation by the devices, it is inconsequential in most cases. The only time I had a problem was when my wife’s LCD monitor was under the thermostat. It would heat the immediate area by an additional degree or two. Simply had to calibrate the thermostat to compensate.

    On the other hand, if I don’t close the west facing window blinds and curtains before 10:00 a.m. the air in the immediate vicinity can increase to 100+ degrees (Fahrenheit) quite quickly. We have thick curtains and blinds designed to help regulate temperatures though. With them, I can keep the interior of the house at between 70 and 80 degrees without AC even if it is 100 degrees outside. Depending on how cool it was the night before. Once it goes above 100 degrees outside , it gets substantially more difficult to keep the house in that temperature range. When the temperature gets over 110 degrees outside, we need the Air Conditioner. When it hits 120 degrees outside, it is time to go swimming because that is the only way to cool off.

    For losing equipment because it is on.. We’ve lost one power supply in the last ten years. It was some generic PSU in an HP computer. The failure was our fault because it was not rated for the component load. We took a gamble and lost. Now there is a 650 W PSU in that computer without issue.

  25. Juan

    Turn it off. And unplug it. A power supply is draining power even if the computer is “off”

  26. Angelo

    My quad-core AMD (“e” series) CPU with 8GB RAM, six “green” 1TB hard disks, and dual monitors only draws 85~90W. It functions as a web/email/time server as well as my desktop development machine. Since it is Linux there is no “fix” gained by rebooting as with Windows, it typically runs several months between reboots. A friend of mine just built an dual-core Atom system that draws 19~21 watts including the LCD monitor; he has it running off a PV solar panel with a small battery bank.

    One thing I was surprised was not mentioned in the article nor comments: The article says to weight the cost of a $50 hard disk against the cost of energy, but the $50 commodity cost of the hard disk is insignificant next to the cost of the data on it, right? Even a home user who simply keeps their accounting, chequebook, maybe some home business materials, etc. is going to lose a lot of time swapping hard disk drives, especially if they do not make regular back-ups (we all make daily back-ups with religious fervour, I know, but sometimes we forget and that’s the day the drive will crash).

  27. Brumm

    What about hibernate? does that differ from shut down???

  28. seantama

    i have a 500B HDD now any time i plug it into my machine am prompted to format. pls what wud the best way out cos i have ma life on that drive

  29. Richard

    I run 13 Forex trading terminals on my PC. Forex is open 24/5 so cannot switch off, hibernate or sleep my PC. I also have 5 browser windows open with anything from 1 to 34 active tabs, plus 2 other applications I run 24/7. If I shut down I wouldn’t be able to bring back all the browser windows and tabs.

    Sometimes I will reboot at the weekend when the Forex business has a break, but I never switch off. I have been using PCs since the only operating system was DOS and removable media was in the form of 5″ floppy disks (yes, I am that old) and have ALWAYS left mine on except when a system crash forced me to reboot.

    I have never had a hardware problem (except from other causes – like fluff), but I can’t say whether leaving it on has or has not been the cause of some of the system crashes I have experienced. All I can say is that I know people who switch off their PCs yet still get system crashes on occasions. The other thing is that to keep a system running efficiently you should check for disk errors and defrag on a regular basis. This is best done when the PC is idle – e.g when you are asleep.

  30. jigar1859

    Hey seantama!

    i totally understand , this shity error sucks , here are couple of thing you could try which helped me

    1} Do a error check on your HDD restart your PC press F8 or whatever , so that you get a command prompt type

    chkdsk X: /r

    X is the drive letter .

    /r = The /r switch tells chkdsk to attempt to recover any bad sectors of the hard drive if any are found. A bad sector is a spot on the hard drive that cannot hold saved data anymore.

    2}Do Not Format! get expert help they will restore it with your data almost intact!

    3} If you have already done a format , Still I recommend get expert help ,
    If you don’t wanna do that then try some data recovery software like (Digital Rescue 4 Premium) or any other good one to recover your data.

    bye Hope this helps!
    jigar1859

  31. Chris2048

    I’m not an EE, so I can’t be sure of this:

    I believe the specified power (wattage) is the *maximum* rating for the PSU. It means that the PSU can handle up to 300w, but this isn’t the nominal consumption, and usually the max isn’t the most efficient either. PSUs are switched mode, so can alter their consumption based on demand – it’s therefore no less efficient to buy a 400w PSU for a computer that consumes on average 150w, than it is to use a 300w PSU; The PSU used can make a difference though e.g. it might still be worth replacing old PSU as PSUs tend to get better designed over time, and certain brands/models may be better than others.

    I should also note that bad PSUs can put out alot of noise, that can cause hardware to fail quicker (wear on the capacitors, or something).

    Finally, I should note that individual testimonies are poor indicators of an entire brand’s worth; There are lots of common factors that can cause hardware to fail e.g. inappropriate/intended operating conditions, the shipping/handling care (esp. hard-drives, which don’t like physical shock), the age of the stock, etc.

  32. cactusdr

    The answer they provided (“Yes, shutting down a computer and starting it up places more stress on a hardware than leaving it running forever. The most likely component to fail prematurely is the hard drive.) is the only answer that How-to Geeks should be providing. While I appreciate their opinion on money savings, what the asker of the question is wanting to know is computer-based, not financial-based. I, too, have wondered about this topic and appreciate the hard-drive explanation.

  33. Daniel2011

    I have built and modified computers since 1987. After much research and practical application it is my experience that leaving a computer on 24/7 is the best overall way. Yes, you will spend a little extra cash. But with the sleep mode computers now can live in the over all electricity comsumption is very minimal at most.

    If you have a 1,000 to 1,200 watt PSU that does not mean you will use that kind of energy at night in a sleep mode. I have 5 computers on a home network and shut down the other 4 (another desktop, a netbook, and two laptops.)

    The modem and router are hooked to the desktop that stays on and I schedule all my utility work while I’m asleep. I do a cold boot on the primary desktop that stays on 24/7 twice a week just to keep things spiffy and I can count on one hand the number of problems I’ve had in the last 5 years.

    HOW TO GEEK, I am dissapointed in you. This is the third article I’ve read in about 5 months that wasn’t dead on for accuracy. There are a lot of non-geek home users who take what is written here for gospel. I like your column, and I’ve picked up some cool things I use myself, but you need to have someone research these topics or else it is merely someone else’s opinion, and, if picked apart and proven inaccurate, weakens the strength of the information yo impart.

  34. Sam

    I think somebody on your staff has had too many cups of some kind of beverage. Unless you live in California maybe, where the politicians and voters appear to be utterly inept, or some other state with a rapacious and clueless government that restricts energy production, the electric savings from shutting down your computer is nowhere near “hundreds of dollars a year.”

    Your basic newer computer today, especially with an LCD monitor, is probably going to draw 150W or less of power. Electricity costs should be figured at the marginal rate per kwh, i.e., the cost of the last 1000 watts. In Iowa, that comes to .1386/kwh (including energy surcharge & a regional transmission surcharge). Adding our 1% local sales tax, the total is .14/kwh. Therefore,
    .14 * 150/1000 * 24 = .504/day * 365 = 183.96 per year.
    Shutting off the computer 12 hours a day saves $91.98 per year. That comes to less than $8/month, or about .25/day. Having the computer ready to go at any time day or night is worth the 25 cents.

    My system, an older P4, with LCD monitor & modem & router, draws 90-115 watts. If I turn off the monitor, it drops to 72-82 watts.

    Replacing the hard drive if it fails will take more than the $50 cash. Unless you have a cloned image that will work on a new bare drive, you will have considerable investment in time & frustration & lost productivity replacing your OS and data.

  35. cactusdr

    Good explanation, Sam.
    Realistically, John Q. Computeruser is not going to have his or her HD backed up, let alone individual files and folders containing data, images or whatever else personal that they can ill-afford to lose. $50 for a new HD is a sunk cost compared to the agony and expense of trying to have Geek Squad or a specialized data recovery company get the the data off of the drive. To recover data on a lost physical drive is what….$500-$3,000 depending on what you want recovered?
    Interesting reading the opinions here….and each one valid. I can’t think of a time (except when I have moved) that I have ever shut down my computers and have never lost an OS or data in the past 13 years. Some here have good reasons, validated by a bad experience, to shut it down. Regardless of choice, backing up anything you can’t afford to lose is paramount. Thanks, Sam, for raising that issue.

  36. Sparky

    I believe the good people @ How to Geek knew perfectly well that we would all click on this discussion. There may not be a more heated debate than whether or not to power on & off, (pardon the pun).
    1st, keep your home PC tower clean. Check where the fan is in the back of your computer & notice if there is dust in the cover where the fan spins. There always is. Some of you will comment that cleaning that area can be dangerous so be careful not to clean this area if you don’t know how. 2nd, keep the area where you have your tower cool. 3rd, check to make sure your power usage settings are where you need them to be. We use sleep mode when we are not using our computer. For our laptop, we use power saver to lengthen the life of the battery. Businesses should have a professional person caring for their equipment. Battery backups, power surge protectors & regular maintenance are all personal choices. I have our computers automatically run Microsoft Security Essentials daily @ 2am when we should be sleeping. I run ESET Free Scan once a week along with Ccleaner & Spybot. Our home Sony Vaio PC is 10 years old and running smoothly. Our Dell Studio 15 is 2 years old & runs smoothly as well. Finally, if I leave them running full time, they lock up & ultimately need re-booting anyway so I’m used to re-booting when that happens. I subscribe to Carbonite & enjoy peace of mind. You people who are mad @ the How to Geek people should “sleep, hibernate or re-boot yourselves.

  37. g725s

    turn on power.
    turn off power.
    can we discuss this more?

  38. Sriram

    Maybe, the savings on switching off computers may not be big, when we look at one, two or even ten computers. But, the savings could be big when corporates are concerned. So, a corporate that decides to switch off computers could save big money and lots of energy. I may be wrong, but just my guess.

  39. Duncan

    Although the economic benefits as discussed here for not switching off the computer overnight might be small, consider the energy sum total for ALL the computers in the world being left on when not required is HUGE ! With all the extra energy load of household products such as satelite decoders, cable boxes, modems, routers and other systems which have crept into people’s homes over the past thirty or so years, the total energy use for the whole planet is immense.

    I suspect for some people that they are just too lazy to bother switching off for the night or too impatient to wait for the computer to boot-up the next day. Personally I disconnect every electrical appliance in my house every evening which is not needed and suspect I have saved myself many £ sterling over the years. In the UK we have more expensive electricity than the USA from the figures given in the comments and a privatised energy market has not helped the consumer at all but has put billions into the coffers of energy giants. So I say switch off and don’t feed the parasites !

Get Free Articles in Your Inbox!

Join 134,000 newsletter readers

Email:

Go check your email!