There has been a long-standing debate in the computer world about whether you should leave your computer on all the time or not. Personally, I don’t think it matters all that much. It is a matter of personal preference. But, a lot of people do choose to leave their computer running 24/7. For quite some time, I have been one of those people. Now days, since I am using my notebook computer quite a bit, sometimes I do shut the desktop down. But, very often, it is running all night.

But, what do you do with your PC in the wee hours? It can just sit there and hum, doing nothing. But, that is a waste of electricity. If you’re going to leave it on, you might as well have it doing something useful, right?

So, let’s look at some ways of putting your computer’s time to use when you are counting sheep and studying the backs of your eyelids. Your computer doesn’t need any sleep, so let’s see what we can do to keep it busy.

Data Backup

Data backup is one of the more useful things you can have your PC do automatically overnight. It needs to be done (most definitely), however you don’t want it slowing down your computer when you’re trying to use it. And the best kind of backup is the kind that just happens without bothering you.

Using optical media isn’t an option here, because somebody needs to physically put the disc into the drive. And you’ll be sleeping. Another way to go about it is to use a second hard drive. By having two hard drives in your system, you can use one for data and the other for backups of that data. A program like Norton Ghost or Acronis TrueImage can create full disk images of your computer’s hard drive at scheduled times and store the images anywhere you please (such as your second hard drive).

If you have broadband access, you might want to use an online backup service such as Carbonite or Mozy. These services work well because the data is backed up automatically at scheduled times. The data is also stored off site, which is more secure and redundant.

Virus/Spyware Scans

Scanning your hard drive for spyware or viruses can be a resource hog while it is happening. Why not schedule your PC to perform these scans at night when you’re sleeping? Most notable virus scanning utilities can do this. Most scans will result in nothing found, but you have the peace of mind of knowing it is being done. If something is found, then you might awake to your computer waiting for you to tell it what to do with it (ignore, delete or quarantine). But, the point is that it was found – and that’s because you had the scan being performed for you.


One of my personal favorite features of Windows is how, over time, it throws data willy-nilly all over your hard drive and slows your computer down. I mean, you really gotta love that. If you want to speed your computer back up again, you need to perform routine defragging of your hard drive. Windows comes with a built-in defrag utility which will get the job done. Unfortunately, it does not have an obvious interface for scheduling it to run at certain times. Instead, use the Windows Scheduled Tasks feature to manually run “Windows/System32/defrag.exe c:” (with “c” being the drive letter you want to defrag) at the times you choose. A better defrag option would be Diskeeper, which makes scheduling automatic defrags a breeze.

Downloading Big Files

Sometimes we need to download really big files. This could include anything from a large Linux distribution, something off of BitTorrent, or even backups from your web server. These things can be done overnight. If you want to download something big, just remember to set it up to start downloading before you go to bed. For routine automated downloads, you might want to look into the macro interface for your FTP client. Many FTP clients offer a way to control the FTP engine using scripting. Using this in combination with Windows Scheduled Tasks can allow you to perform automated downloads while you snooze.

Video Rendering

If you do any video work with your PC, you know how long rendering a video can take. Why not set it up so that it renders while you sleep?


Donate some CPU power to the search for alien beings. From the [email protected] website:

[email protected] is a scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). You can participate by running a free program that downloads and analyzes radio telescope data.

Not everything your PC does has to be maintenance related. Throw a bone to science.