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

Pulling a yellow plug out of the socket
Jupiterimages/Getty Images

Most broadband Internet connections stay "always on" - keeping you online at all times. Home network owners often leave their router, broadband modems and other gear powered up and operating constantly, even when not using them for long periods of time, for the sake of convenience.

But is it really a good idea to keep home network equipment always connected? Consider the pros and cons.

Advantages of Powering Down Home Networks

  • 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.
  • Savings on utility bills: Powering down computers, routers and modems saves money. In some countries, the savings is low, but in other parts of the world, utility costs are significant.
  • Surge protection: Unplugging network devices prevents them from being damaged by electric power surges. Surge protectors can also prevent this kind of damage; however, surge units (particularly the inexpensive ones) cannot always protect against major power spikes like those from lightning strikes.

Disadvantages of Powering Down Home Networks

  • Noise reduction: Networking gear is much quieter than it was years ago before loud built-in fans were 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 or other networked 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 connections may sometimes fail to reestablish. Special care must be taken to follow proper start-up procedures. For example, broadband modems generally should be powered on first, then other devices only later, after the modem is ready.
  • Convenience: Network devices like routers and modems may be installed on ceilings, in basements 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.

    The Bottom Line

    Home network gear need not be powered on and connected to the Internet at all times. All things considered, 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.