Q: My desktop computer just died, so I invested in a new laptop. I want to get my money’s worth this time around. Does putting my computer to sleep help the battery life? What else can I do to save energy and make this computer last?


A: During most of my childhood, my mom relied on Cousin Phil to keep her powder blue Ford Mustang in top condition. Even back then, I knew the value of having a gearhead in the family. That’s why I was so excited to make friends with Fred Peters, a computer expert who also makes a mean baked ziti.

In addition to teaching computing courses in Orange County, Calif., Peters happily makes house calls to revive frazzled computers and the people who rely on them. Here are his expert tips on how to keep your new laptop running as smoothly as my mom’s Mustang.


Sleep mode vs. shutting down

Peters notes that your work process will determine whether it’s more efficient to use “Sleep” mode or simply shut down the computer. “It is never fun to have to consistently wait any amount of time if the shut downs are too frequent,” he says. "'Sleep' requires more power, but it boots up faster, while ‘Hibernate’ uses less power, but takes longer to come online.” That same logic applies to shutting off your computer completely.

“Your computer will become obsolete before you wear out your computer by turning it on and off a lot,” he adds. “It also doesn't take more energy to start a computer than to keep it running.”

Sleep mode requires a constant, though reduced use of power (0-6 watts). Peters also notes that colorful screensavers do nothing to conserve energy. Accessing your computer remotely with the Wake on LAN feature also can drain the power. To get the most for your money, Peters advises adjusting power settings so that it automatically goes into Sleep/Standby mode after about 15 minutes of inactivity, and then shut it down at the end of your day.

Bionic battery life
My car ran for nearly a decade on the original factory-issued battery. (These days, a 10-year-old computer is about as rare as a classic muscle car.) To get the most out of your computer battery, Peters says to you have to give it a workout. Don’t keep your machine plugged in to an outlet. Instead, discharge the battery daily.

Size does matter

By purchasing a laptop, Peters says that you are already ahead in the energy-saving game. Laptops use about 15-60 watts, while desktops use 65-250 watts — plus another 15-80 watts for a monitor. He also adds that you can further conserve energy by using an LCD monitor and ditching the high-end video card unless it’s absolutely necessary. Also, turn off printers and other peripherals when they are not in use. To kill “vampire power,” Treehugger.com suggests purchasing a power strip. With all peripherals connected to one source, it’s easy to simply flip the switch on power hogs any time.    

Establish a backup process

In addition to Peters’ great advice about conserving energy, I discovered the hard way that it also pays to save backup versions of your work. Invest in an external hard drive to hold your digital music library, special photos and other key documents. Frequent backups ensure that your data doesn’t die with your laptop.

While you are in the process of backing things up, create an emergency file (on good old-fashioned paper) that contains your computer’s serial number along with other key data such as your credit card numbers and phone numbers to reach each company, along with contact info to your insurance company. Access to that information is vital, particularly in the event of an accident, fire, computer theft or other catastrophe.

Peters warns that those key pieces of information are not safe on your computer. If you are like me and absolutely need a digital holding space for those nuggets of information, he suggests sites like LastPass as your online vault.

Happy computing!

— Morieka

Got a question? Submit a question to Mother Nature and one of our many experts will track down the answer. Plus: Visit our advice archives to see if your question has already been tackled.

Photo: MNN  

What's best for my computer: Hibernate, sleep or shut down?
How to manage your computer depends a lot on your work habits.