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[ The PC Guide | System Care Guide | System Care: Protecting Your PC | Care of Specific Components ]

Monitors

Monitors are different from most other PC system components because they are outside the main system box. They are in many ways more similar to your television set than they are to your PC, because in both cases the key component, the CRT, is the same. The CRT makes up most of the cost of the monitor, and as it goes, so goes the monitor itself.

The monitor is certainly not the same as a TV in terms of operation, but it is similar enough that the care of the two devices is basically the same. I recommend the following be done on a regular basis to keep the monitor serving you well:

  • Screen Cleaning: It's surprising how many people forget to clean their screens regularly! Dust in fact accumulates more quickly on the surface of a monitor than elsewhere because of the static charge generated by many CRTs; paying hundreds of dollars for a high-quality CRT does little good if it is coated in dirt! In most cases the best way to clean the screen is just to wipe it with a soft cloth; companies will try to sell you fancy wipes but they are not generally necessary (and some can leave annoying smudges). I recommend that screen cleaning be done weekly (less often in clean environments).

Warning: Be very careful about what you use to clean the screen of your CRT. Using the wrong cleaner can damage the special and delicate coatings used on many newer screens to reduce glare and improve image quality. In particular, never use any sort of abrasive cleaner on the screen. A slightly damp, soft cloth is safest.

  • Exterior Cleaning: Once a year, it is a good idea to clean the dust off the outside of the case. Doing this helps keep the monitor looking good and improves cooling. Make sure that the monitor's cooling vents are never blocked off.

There really isn't too much to do for the monitor, much as you don't do very much preventive maintenance on your television. Note that the use of a screen saver is conspicuously absent from the list; these really are not necessary with modern PCs. There is one more matter to be considered: the age-old question of when to turn off the monitor, as opposed to leaving it on. There are several tradeoffs and considerations in making the decision of when to turn off equipment as opposed to leaving it running.

Due to the factors of convenience and reduction of thermal stress, I often leave my PC running 24 hours a day; however I never do this with my monitor. The reason is simple: the PC and the monitor are very different pieces of equipment. In terms of the various factors used in making the "on vs. off" decision:

  • Convenience: Most PCs take several minutes to boot up when turned off, and applications must be opened, etc. Monitors take just a few seconds to turn on when they are off, so there isn't much to be gained by keeping them on all the time.)
  • Power Consumption: Monitors consume a lot of power. In fact, they can consume as much as the PC box itself, or even more in some circumstances.
  • Thermal Stress: The monitor is subject to thermal stress, like the PC box is.
  • Wearout: The monitor is much more subject to failure from wearout than most other PC components, because the CRT has a limited lifespan that is related to the number of hours it is left on. Furthermore, since the monitor is the component that can best be considered an "investment" in terms of its ability to hold its value (while processor and hard disks depreciate at 50% per year or more), it is doubly important to pay attention to this lifespan issue.
  • Cooling: Monitors have cooling issues much the way the PC itself does.

There is one further issue: safety. When PCs fail, they generally lock up or shut down, and that is bad, but there is no safety concern. The reason is that there are generally low DC voltages inside the PC box. Monitors have high voltages and can, in rare circumstances, fail catastrophically. It's unusual, but a CRT can end up in flames, and you don't want this to happen when nobody is in the building (or worse--when you and your family are at home asleep).

For all these reasons (lifespan, power consumption, safety), I recommend strongly that monitors not be left on for extended periods of time, and certainly not overnight. There really isn't much of a convenience issue, so the only reason to leave it on is concern over thermal stress, but this is traded off against the wearout issue. In fact, the real reason monitors are usually left on is just laziness. While I only turn off my PC if I expect it to be unused for more than 24 hours, I turn off the monitor if I expect it to be unused for more than about one or two hours.

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