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[ The PC Guide | System Care Guide | System Care: Protecting Your PC | General System Care Factors | Power Care Factors ]

Power Management: Pros and Cons

The idea behind power management is a good one: to reduce the power use of systems when someone walks away from their PC or stops using it after a period of time, by sending the hardware into a "sleep mode" of sorts. Several components include support for power management features, including motherboards (via BIOS settings), processors, hard disks and monitors. Power management can save you a reasonable amount of money if your system is left on a lot.

Unfortunately, power management also causes a lot of problems, many of them significant enough that I often recommend that people disable the feature, especially when putting together a new system. If you post to USEnet looking for assistance with a PC that is crashing or hanging, often one of the first things people will recommend that you do is disable power management.

The reason is that too many hardware and software components are not fully compatible with power management, and they do not deal gracefully with the hardware suddenly "disappearing" when the system decides to put the system into reduced-power mode, or with having to wait for a hardware device to get back up to speed. Power management is getting better in this respect, but it is still, in my opinion, "not ready for prime time".

Another problem with power management is that it sometimes is "penny wise, pound foolish". Hard disks are subject to reduced life due to the effects of thermal stress, when they are allowed to spin up and spin down repeatedly. This is one reason that I leave my PC on all the time; my hard disks probably spin up and down only a couple dozen times per year. Some systems have power management settings that spin down the hard disk after 5 minutes of inactivity. These systems are putting their disks through thousands of thermal expansions and contractions per year! When you consider how incredibly little power a hard disk uses in steady state, and the fact that a lot of power is drawn when the disk is spinning up, I believe that in the long run you are better off not letting your disk spin down to save power this way.

Where does power management make sense? It can make sense with your monitor, but again, set a reasonable idle time-out: having your monitor turn itself off after 2 minutes of inactivity is probably increasing your chances of problems. You need to experiment with your system and see what works for you. If you are having strange problems with your system though, you should try turning off all the power management first, to see if it goes away. Often, it will.

Next: Electrostatic Discharge (ESD)

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