Pros and cons of turning off computers, and how to solve Wi-Fi issues

Q: I recently bought a new computer, with a solid-state drive (SSD). I regularly have it on from 7 a.m. to about 10 p.m. I leave it plugged in 24/7. Is it OK to leave it on all those hours, or should I turn it off? I enjoy the constantly playing screen saver program.

Ward Folsom 

A: About 15 years ago PCs began to offer a “sleep mode” that would kick in after a specified period of nonuse. Among other things, the computer’s display would turn off, and the hard drive would shut down. Sleep modes changed the math on when it is more efficient to shut the computer down or simply let it go to sleep.

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Sleep and hibernation features have gotten a lot better over the past 15 years. In the old, old days, I used to shut down my computers if I wasn’t going to use them for a few hours, while being aware that booting up and shutting down also impose wear and tear on computer equipment. Better sleep modes helped me extend that window. Now I only bother to shut down if I’m not going to use the device for a day or more.

That said, one of the greatest threats to your computer is power surges and power outages. And, of course, if you leave your device on all the time, the risks are higher.

A UPS — or power supply — mitigates that risk. If the power goes out it will provide power to your connected device. A decent one also protects against surges when the power comes back on. The snag? The price tag is at least $200, and it’s yet another device to clutter your living or working space.

The introduction of SSDs has changed the debate, too. My biggest worry about power outages was data loss as a result of my hard drive crashing. But because SSDs have no moving parts, that’s not an issue. And all my computers use SSDs rather than hard drives.

In short, while the pro and cons of turning computers off and on have changed over the past decades, it’s still a guessing game. For my part, I’ll leave my desktop computer on unless I’m not going to use it for at least several days. But I do have it plugged into a good surge protector.

Q: We live in a two-story brick house with basement, and we occasionally have trouble with streaming on both floors and in the basement. The router is on the second floor. We have an extender in the living room on the main floor right next to the TV. 

I am curious about Wi-Fi mesh. Would adding routers help us get better coverage throughout the whole house? Would it solve issues that might be caused by blockages in floors and walls between the current router and the extender?

— Miriam Mkuhlig, Seattle

A: Every house is unique, so installing a Wi-Fi mesh system is no guarantee that you’ll get the desired streaming performance. But your situation is exactly what Wi-Fi mesh systems are designed to address. They extend the range of your Wi-Fi router and allow signals to get around sources of interference.

Mesh devices need to work together, however. So setting up a network is not a matter of simply adding more routers. You’ll want to shop specifically for a mesh system, which typically has two or three devices. Plus, mesh systems carry a wide range of capabilities and price tags — from around $60 to $1,500. Those who have a small single-story house will likely be able to get by with a low-cost system.

I recommend sticking with equipment offered by the manufacturer of your Wi-Fi router, unless the requirements of your house dictate otherwise.

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