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Should Your Computer Network Be Powered Off When Not in Use?

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Question: Should Your Computer Network Be Powered Off When Not in Use?
Most broadband Internet connections stay "always-on," keeping you online at all times. For convenience, residential network owners often leave their router, broadband modem and other network equipment powered up and operating, even when not utilizing it for long periods of time.

But should home network gear really stay always connected? What are the pros and cons of switching it off?
Answer: Home network gear need not be powered on and connected to the Internet at all times. Several clear advantages apply if you turn off your equipment when not using it, although some disadvantages exist also. Consider these pros and cons:
  • Security - Powering off your gear when not using it improves your network security. When network devices are offline, hackers and Wi-Fi wardrivers cannot target them. Other security measures like firewalls help and are necessary but not bulletproof.

  • Electricity cost savings - Powering down computers, routers and broadband modems saves money. In some countries, the savings is low, but in other parts of the world, costs are significant.

  • Surge protection - Unplugging network devices prevents potential damage from power surges. As with other types of consumer electronics, surge protectors may also prevent this damage. However, surge units, particularly the inexpensive ones, generally cannot protect against severe power spikes like those from lightning strikes.

  • Noise reduction - Networking gear has grown quieter in recent years, as noisy built-in fans get replaced with solid state cooling systems. Your senses might be adjusted to the relatively low levels of home network noise, but you might also be pleasantly surprised at the added tranquility of a residence without it.

  • Hardware reliability - Frequently power cycling a computer network device can shorten its working life due to the extra stress involved. Disk drives are particularly susceptible to damage. On the other hand, high temperature also greatly reduces the lifetime of network equipment. Leaving equipment always-on very possibly causes more damage from heat than will powering it down occasionally.

  • Communication reliability - After power cycling, network communiations may fail to reestablish. You must take care to follow proper start-up procedure. For example, broadband modems generally should be powered on first, then other devices only later, after the modem is ready. You may also experience start-up failures due to "flaky" or unstable installations. Troubleshoot these problems when they arise, or you'll be faced with bigger networking problems down the road.

  • Convenience - Network devices like routers and modems may be installed on ceilings, in basemenets or other hard-to-reach places. You should shut down these devices gracefully, using the manufacturer-recommend procedure, rather than merely "pulling the plug." Powering down a network takes time to do properly and may seem an inconvenience at first.
In summary, most of these considerations suggest turning off your network during extended periods of non-use is a good idea. The security benefit alone makes this a worthwhile endeavor. Because computer networks can be difficult to set up initially, some people naturally fear disrupting it once working. In the long run, though, this practice will increase your confidence and peace of mind as a home network administrator.

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