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


Instead of shutting down your PC, is it better to put it to sleep? The answer depends on three main things: user preferences, impact on PC hardware, and power consumption. If you’re a laptop user, making the battery last longer is an extra factor to keep in mind. This guide weighs the benefits of sleep vs. PC shutdown to help you pick the best power option for your needs.

Sleep or Shutdown PC: A Quick Guide

Shutting down your PC versus putting it to sleep has been a long-debated subject. Let’s go over which is actually better for your computer.

Why Shut Down?

  • Many users like to wake to a fresh desktop screen. An orderly shutdown, followed by a reboot, works best for them.
  • If you have no unfinished work to go back to, a shutdown is the best way to go.
  • When a computer turns off fully, it doesn’t waste any energy.
  • It’s safer to travel with a fully switched off laptop. You don’t have to worry about random sparks and power outages.

Why Leave Sleep Mode On?

  • When you’re busy and in the middle of important work, you can quickly access your apps and documents with a single click.
  • The sleep option is also very convenient for laptop users, as it allows them to safely turn off the lid, and even carry the device in a backpack.
  • You can attend meetings, enjoy breaks, and return exactly to where you were before.
  • If you’re running a server from your computer, or have a multi-monitor setup, sleep mode is recommended.
Power options for Sleep in Windows 11 with minutes timer visible.

Tip: a PC shutdown and restart gives your computer the breathing space to finish pending or installed updates and autocorrect any errors.

What Happens During a Shutdown

A shutdown is like an “off” switch for software and hardware components. Once the device shuts down properly, it’s completely without power. The screen goes blank, and the operating system totally switches off. You don’t have to worry about battery drain in shutdown mode.

If you do a “graceful shutdown” through software commands, all opened programs receive a timed notification from the operating system (OS) to stop reading and writing files. Shutdown signals are sent to the remaining devices and drivers, slowly cutting power little by little. If you do a “forced shutdown,” however, you may risk corrupting a few files, as your system doesn’t have time to save everything. However, it won’t negatively impact your PC hardware.

Warning: if your PC keeps running after a shutdown, it should be a cause for concern. It’s a problem that can be only fixed using advanced troubleshooting methods.

What Happens During Sleep Mode

Think of sleep mode as a way for your computer to take a nap. Your PC will remain unusable during sleep, with a black screen. By clicking the mouse or pressing Space or the power button, you can wake your computer up from its sleep state. Most other software and hardware components, such as the display, also stop working, but you can quickly wake them by tapping on the mouse or keyboard.

Energy recommendations fully applied to a Windows PC to optimize hardware usage during Sleep conditions.

The sleep mode is also known as Standby or Suspend mode. The PC or laptop isn’t quite turned off but is not turned on either. Its open files, browsers, games, and documents remain in RAM, which runs in a low-power state. The battery is continuously draining in sleep, so you must apply your Windows/Mac device’s energy recommendations to optimize power efficiency.

Tip: apart from sleep mode, there are other reasons your laptop may drain its battery. On a MacBook? Learn how to monitor battery health.

Advantages of Shutting Down the PC

No Stress on Hardware Components

The shutdown mode is better for your PC, allowing it to handle any stress on hardware components. Back in the day, computer components, most notably the hard drive and fans, were a little more susceptible to damage from repeatedly powering the computer on and off. To avoid these problems, PC manufacturers would discourage frequent shutdowns and restarts.

Internal components of my Dell laptop visible.

In more modern machines, the parts have a more robust design, so they are able to bear any shutdown stresses without difficulty. On the other hand, if you put your PC to sleep for several hours, with many applications and browser windows open, you may have to wait a while before you can launch them again when it’s time to restore. Your PC hardware – including RAM, motherboard, and battery – doesn’t get much rest during sleep.

Zero Power Consumption

This is an obvious one in shutdown’s favor, vis-à-vis the sleep mode. Sleep mode, no matter how efficient it is, always draws power from RAM to store the various open files and programs. Many consider it a wasted resource, as 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 much better energy-saving option.

3. Protection From Power Surges

Although it’s extremely 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.

4. Clean Reboots

Completely shutting down a PC followed by a restart ensures a clean reboot. This is something that is not possible in sleep or hibernate modes. Think of this as a way for the OS to clean itself out. 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.

Tip: Just make sure your laptop isn’t in sleep mode on battery power for an insanely long time. It’s better to hibernate in such a situation, as it doesn’t consume much RAM, which can drain the battery.

Advantages of Putting Your PC to Sleep

Convenience

If your computer is in sleep mode, you can quickly wake it up with a tap of the mouse or keyboard. 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 speed up with an SSD card). This is an inconvenience and waste of time to those who frequently use a computer throughout the day.

Easily Run Background Maintenance Programs

Your computer runs important maintenance programs in the background, like virus scans, disk cleanup, and system backups. If it’s in sleep mode, it’s easier to check on the background maintenance programs.

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

Running automatic maintenance in Windows.

3. Specific User Applications

Are you running your PC as a server? If so, you can’t afford to have it shut down, so it’s better to put it to sleep, especially if the device is constantly plugged in. The need for sleep also depends on whether you’re reinstalling your operating system or running a multi-monitor setup or virtual machine. In each of these cases, you’ll have to delay the shutdown until the task is over.

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), or when you have any specific applications running that make a shutdown an interruption.

To get the advantages of both sleeping and shutting down your PC, consider scheduling a startup and shutdown. You will get the daily benefits of a clean reboot with less power consumption. The risk of a power surge is also lowered, and background maintenance programs can still run normally.

Image credit: Unsplash. Screenshots and images by Sayak Boral.

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Sayak Boral

Sayak Boral is a technology writer with over eleven years of experience working in different industries including semiconductors, IoT, enterprise IT, telecommunications OSS/BSS, and network security. He has been writing for MakeTechEasier on a wide range of technical topics including Windows, Android, Internet, Hardware Guides, Browsers, Software Tools, and Product Reviews.

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