Is There Any Reason to Actually Shut Down Your Computer?

By Jason Fitzpatrick on January 3rd, 2013

With low-power standby modes and stable operating systems, it’s easier than ever to go days (if not weeks or months) without rebooting your computer. Is it still necessary to perform a full shut down?

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

The Question

SuperUser reader JFW wants to know if he’s missing out on something important by not shutting down his computer completely:

Nowadays with our modern operating systems, is it necessary to fully shutdown computers instead of choosing to stand-by or hibernate computers (desktops and laptops)?

Would there be any side-effects of keeping a computer running continuously without a shutdown (putting it to sleep or hibernating it when it is not used)? For example, hard drive life decrease, system internals (Processors, RAM etc.) aging faster than usual, etc?

What benefits, if any, do you gain from completely shutting down your computer?

The Answer

SuperUser contributor David Zaslavsky responds:

From a software perspective, an operating system and the programs you run on it tend to accumulate all sorts of cruft over extended periods of use – temporary files, disk caches, page files, open file descriptors, pipes, sockets, zombie processes, memory leaks, etc. etc. etc. All that stuff can slow down the computer, but it all goes away when you shut down or restart the system. So shutting down your computer every once in a while – and I do mean actually shutting down, not just hibernating or putting it to sleep – can give it a “fresh start” of sorts and make it seem nice and zippy again.

However, different computers and OS’s are not all equally affected by this phenomenon. Generally, a computer with a lot of RAM can go for much longer than a computer with only a little RAM. A server, on which you just start up a few programs and then let them work, will be fine for much longer than a desktop computer, where you’re constantly opening and closing different programs and doing different things with them. Plus, server operating systems are optimized for long-term use. It’s also been said that Linux and Mac OS tend to run for longer than Windows systems, although in my experience that mostly depends on what programs you use on them, and not so much on any differences between the kernels of the operating systems themselves.

If you’d like to do further reading more focused on your specific setup, make sure to check out additional How-To Geek articles on the topic like:

HTG Explains: Should You Shut Down, Sleep, or Hibernate Your Laptop?

Make Your PC Shut Down at Night (But Only When You’re Not Using It)

Should I Leave My Laptop Plugged In All The Time?

How to Make Your PC Wake From Sleep Automatically


Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion thread here.

 

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 01/3/13
More Articles You Might Like

Enter Your Email Here to Get Access for Free:

Go check your email!