Modern tech vs. old rules

One of the rules for complex electronic equipment was never turn it off. Failure of the equipment came from mechanical stresses brought about by thermal cycling. That is, when the equipment was turned on it heated up and the internal circuits expanded. Turning off the equipment caused it to cool. This continual cycling between heating and cooling caused mechanical failure of the connections that allowed the electronic components to work.

If you look inside of almost any piece of electronic equipment today, a computer, a television set, a dvd player or a cellular telephone, you see that the electronic components are mounted on printed circuit boards. These boards contain the connections between components. If these connections fail, the piece of equipment will stop working.

Fortunately the technology and materials used in printed circuit boards have advanced considerably in the last few years. In the case of the home computer, we no longer have to be as concerned with internal heating and cooling and now can turn our equipment on and off without too much concern.

What does this mean in a practical sense? In the last couple of years, particularly in California, we have been concerned with the cost of electricity. It has risen considerably. Computers run on household electricity. A single home computer and monitor can consume about as much electricity as three, one hundred watt light bulbs. If the computer is left on all day, it can cost roughly two dollars a day to operate. Even modern computers that "go to sleep" still can cost a dollar a day to operate.

What should we do? Personally, I have begun to turn off our computers each night before going to bed. I go to each and go through the Windows shut down procedure. I click on Start, then Shutdown and let the computers shut off. I do not worry about turning off the monitors, printers, scanners or other peripheral equipment because they use minimal electricity when not in use. Our computer room still looks like the cockpit of a 747 with all the little green and orange lights, but the main users of electricity have been turned off.

When leaving the house for short periods of time, like going to lunch or shopping, we leave everything on. This is because rapid cycling between on and off still can cause undue stress on components.

I think we have noticed a decrease in our monthly electric bill since turning off the computers at night. To be entirely frugal, I suppose we could turn off all of our various equipment that stays partially on even when not in full operation: tv sets, dvd players, etc. Most of these devices use electricity to keep internally warm even when not in full operation. Incidentally, when we leave the house for any extended length of time, like on vacation, we have surge protector strips for the televisions and associated equipment as well as all the computer equipment that we do turn off until we return. This is as much for fire safety as for electricity use.

So the old rules are changing a little in light of modern technology. Now we can turn things on and off within reason without worrying too much about failures. And hopefully we can see our electric bills decrease.

If you would like to hear more about saving electricity or other computer topics, visit "Coffee and Computers" at the Tustin Area Senior Center, 200 S. 'C' Street, any Friday morning starting at 9 a.m. Bring your questions or just come in and visit.

In the mean time, keep the neurons happy, synapses snapping and enjoy computing.


Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

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