Should I Put My PC To Sleep Or Leave It On & Save The World?

distributedcomputing   Should I Put My PC To Sleep Or Leave It On & Save The World?Most people put their PCs to sleep, hibernate them, or turn them off when they’re not in-use. However, you can also choose to run your PC 24/7, contributing your PC’s processing power to distributed computing projects. With these projects, your PC can help fight cancer, test climate change models, or even search for alien life.

However, computers use power when they’re on, and they use more power when their CPUs (or GPUs) are going full-throttle. Participating in these projects will increase your electricity bill.

How Your PC Can Help

Many important projects need a large amount of processing power. Rather than rent expensive supercomputers – which may not even provide enough processing power if they were running 24/7 – these projects ask for volunteers to contribute their PCs’ processing power over the Internet.

You can download and run a program that makes your PC part of the distributed computing project. The project will use your computer’s resources when you aren’t using them – when they’d just be sitting idle – to help calculate many small tasks. Your computer will receive units of work to do from a central server, perform the work, and then return the results to the server over the Internet.

One of the more popular projects is Stanford’s Folding@home, which simulates protein folding. Protein folding data is important to medical research, and has implications for everything from cancer to Alzheimer’s disease. Since the Folding@home project started in 2000, 109 scientific research papers have been produced from the Folding@home data.

foldinghome visualization   Should I Put My PC To Sleep Or Leave It On & Save The World?

Energy Use & Your Electricity Bill

Make no mistake – participating in these distributed computing projects will increase your electricity bill. Computers use almost no power when they’re asleep, more power when they’re on, and even more power when they’re being run full-throttle. Running your computer’s CPU or GPU full-throttle all of the time will increase your electricity bill.

How much will it increase your electricity bill? Well, that depends. Different computers use different amounts of electricity, and different areas have different electricity prices. Matt looked at how much it costs to run a computer in different scenarios. He estimated running your computer at full-throttle while you sleep would cost you an extra $50 (for a Core i7) or $70 (for a Phenom X6) per year. That’s just while you sleep – running it at full-throttle 24/7 would likely cost you significantly more. You’re probably looking at at least another $100 a year.

Older computers with worse power efficiency will cost more money to run. Sadly, as they’re slower, they’ll also produce less results for the project.

Running your computer’s CPU or GPU full-throttle will also produce additional heat. If you’re in a hot area, you may have to fight that by paying more for air conditioning. (Even if you’re in a cold area, a computer isn’t the most efficient source of heating.)

lightbulb on electricity bill   Should I Put My PC To Sleep Or Leave It On & Save The World?

Wear & Tear

Wear and tear is a worry when running distributed computing projects. Your CPU will be generating a large amount of heat inside your computer’s case, and this heat can damage components. Theoretically, a CPU should be able to handle running at 100% for a long time. However, in the real world, some CPUs may be shipped with inferior heat sinks that aren’t good enough to disperse such a large amount of heat.

Some computers may not have proper cooling. For example, many laptops won’t be able to handle being run at 100% 24/7. They’re just not designed to disperse the heat properly and will overheat.

With a solid desktop computer that has proper cooling, you shouldn’t have to worry about wear and tear. If you have a sleek ultrabook with poor cooling, you’ll probably want to stay away from distributed computing projects.

Warning: If you’re overclocking your CPU, running it at full load 24/7 can produce more heat than it’s designed for, damaging it. If you’re using distributed computing projects, you shouldn’t be overclocking your CPU. You may even want to underclock your CPU to avoid producing so much heat.

LaptopCooling03   Should I Put My PC To Sleep Or Leave It On & Save The World?

A Note About Bitcoin Mining

Some of the less-philanthropic of you will be thinking about mining bitcoins for yourself instead of using your PC for the greater good. However, you shouldn’t bother. A CPU mines bitcoins so slowly that you’ll spend more money for electricity than you’ll gain in bitcoins. A computer’s GPU is much faster, but GPU mining appears no longer profitable for most people, either. ASIC mining has replaced both GPU and CPU mining.

If you have a fast GPU and cheap electricity prices where you live, GPU mining may still be profitable for a few months at most, but don’t count on it. The Bitcoin mining rush is over, at least for people with standard computer hardware.

To learn more about Bitcoin, download our free Bitcoin guide.

guiminer miners   Should I Put My PC To Sleep Or Leave It On & Save The World?

Getting Started

You can get started with distributed computing by installing Berkeley’s BOINC, which allows you to easily download and install distributed computing projects. We’ve covered getting started with BOINC and looked at some of the most interesting distributed computing projects.

modeling1   Should I Put My PC To Sleep Or Leave It On & Save The World?

So What Should You Do?

Whether you want to participate in distributed computing projects is a personal decision. Joining a distributed computing project will do some amount of good, but it will cost you additional money in electricity. A newer, faster computer will do more good for the same amount of electricity than an older, slower computer.

One thing’s for sure: You shouldn’t be mining bitcoins with your PC. The payout is so low that you’ll spend more on electricity than you’ll gain in Bitcoin. You’ll effectively be transferring money from your electric bill to your bank account, losing some in the process.

If you’re going to use your computer’s idle power, do it for the greater good.

Image Credits: Laptops Sharing Via Shutterstock, Lightbulb on Electricity Bill via Shutterstock, Laptop in Open Fire via Shutterstock

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11 Comments -

0 votes

Garris Rago

Thanks for the tip about bitcoin mining, I knew there would be something.

Definitely going to contribute to the Folding@home
Great article

0 votes

Garris Rago

Forgot to mention – I’m happy leaving my computer on 24/7 as I have solar panels :)

0 votes

Mike Merritt

Wow !! Where do you live ? It’s sunny 24/7 ?? I want to move there.

0 votes

Garris Rago

Quite the opposite, I live in England. You’d be surprised how efficient they are, work with very low sunlight, definitely enough for me to contribute to this

1 votes

Nevzat Akkaya

Let’s wear some Superman t-shirt and share our computer resources :)

0 votes

macwitty

I have my computer in the office on Stanford’s Folding@home at night time. Often forgot to plug in my laptop at home but I’ll try to do it more often. Yes, it cost you a bit and you use a natural resource why you have to think about where your electricity comes from – more coal or oil use is not good for the nature.

0 votes

Efi Dreyshner

Thanks for the tips :)

0 votes

Igor Rizvic

I usually put it to sleep

0 votes

Jeremy Garnett

I’ve been meddling with such projects on and off over the years. Protein folding and climate mapping were my mainstays for a couple of years, however, I do tend to stray back to the project I started processing as a kid – SETI

0 votes

Keith Swartz

If you ever wondered or just didn’t know, this article is for you. Nicely written. Thank you Chris & MUO.com!

0 votes

Chris Marcoe

Is there a MUO guide more up to date for Bit Coins than the one linked?