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Do You Switch Off? 15 August 2002 Edition
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Yes I'm back -- but facing an armful of "technical difficulties" this morning which is why Aardvark is rather late and brief today.

As I feared, my computer equipment did not take kindly to being turned off for the few days I was away and I've spent the past three hours trying to coerce broken hardware and lost configuration settings back into life.

My much prized US Robotics Courier V-everything modem died just a few minutes after I logged onto the Net early this morning. Although I had a spare cheap modem here, its installation was somewhat problematic -- requiring a massive search for the accompanying wall-wart power supply.

Even once the required hardware was rounded up, I found that it didn't like being called a USR by the dialer -- so I had to install it properly.

I won't bore you with the details of what a fiasco that was -- but suffice to say that after discovering that the CDROM drive on this box had also suffered an untimely death, my normally pleasant demeanour was long gone and a few rude words were uttered.

I knew that I'd have some kind of problem when I turned on this gear again -- simply because most of it has been running for over three years non-stop.

As anyone with a background in electronic equipment will tell you, it's much kinder on most equipment if you leave it running continuously rather than turn it off and on every day.

In fact, have you ever noticed that when a TV, VCR, radio, or other piece of electronic gear fails, it's usually a case of "it was working fine last time I used it but I just turned it on and it's broken"?

Electronic gear seldom fails while in use -- it's almost always when you're turning it on that the damage is done.

Readers Say
(updated hourly)
  • PC Power... - Mark
  • Advice on Hardware... - julian
  • To switch off or not... - Charlie
  • Have Your Say

    The main reason for this the effect of the repeated thermal cycling (heating and cooling) that accompanies the repeated off/on/off operation that most gear is subjected to.

    Each time you turn it on, all the components gradually heat up -- and in doing so they expand ever so slightly. This expansion puts a small amount of stress on the microsocopic conductors inside the silicon chips that fill our PCs and consumer electronics.

    Likewise, when you turn things off, they slowly cool -- and contract. Once again the components are exposed to physical stress that can eventually cause damage to the conductors or the silicon substrate itself.

    There's also the fact that at turn-on, very high currents flow in some parts of the circuitry as the powersupply works extra hard to fill up all the capacitors and deliver power to hard-drives, etc.

    By comparison, once the circuitry in your PC is warmed up and running, the semiconductors are exposed to very little in the way of damaging stress -- so long as they're adequately cooled.

    Even modern hard-disk drives are likely to last longer if they're kept spinning constantly rather than put through repeated stop/start cycles.

    Computer fans however, are a different story. Most PC power supplies use rather cheap and nasty fans which, if run continuously, will lose much of the oil from their bearings. This means that once powered down and allowed to cool, the fans may not start again next time the PC is started -- which can cause major problems if it goes unnoticed.

    I'd be interested to hear from readers as to what they do with their PC gear. Do you leave your CPU turned on all the time and just turn off the screen at night? Or do you shut everything down and turn it back on the next day?

    Modem Wanted
    As mentioned above, my US Robotics Courier V-Everything modem is dead (RIP).

    The modem I'm using at present simply doesn't cope at all well with the lousy line quality here. It either hangs up or locks up about 5 minutes after connecting. This is making the retrieval of the 400 or so emails that have built up while I was away rather problematic!

    As you can imagine, that is making life here very difficult and frustrating.

    I'd like to hear from readers as to what modems they're finding capable of handling Telecom's lousy lines.

    If there are any modem distributors who think they've got a unit that is equal to my trusty old US Robotics box then I'd be glad to review it and, if it's as good as you say, I'll certainly let Aardvark's readers know about it.

    I'm aware that there are many other rural Aardvark readers in the same situation as me and I'm sure they'd like to know which modems can cope.

    ... is Good News?
    Sorry, no news headlines today -- staying online long enough to round up the latest from the various news-sites is currently a major problem. I'll start extra-early tomorrow morning so normal service will be resumed then.

    Have your say.

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