Save your computer–lose the screen saver

Last Updated on December 16, 2020 by Dave Farquhar

A mailing list I subscribe to reminded me of some good advice I haven’t repeated in a very long time. Someone recommended a favorite screen saver, and then someone else chimed in, warning that nothing stops a screen saver, or any other free program, from being infested with spyware and other undesirable things.

The only screen saver I’ve been using for the past 12 years has been Blank Screen (or its equivalent–12 years ago I wasn’t running Windows). Why? Because every other screen saver does more harm than good, that’s why.

The idea behind screen savers is to keep an image that’s been displayed a long time from becoming permanently etched into your monitor’s phosphors. English, please? We have a monitor at work that permanently says “It is now safe to shut down your computer” because the person who used to use that monitor wouldn’t turn it off at the end of the day when she left. This was the result of displaying that screen repeatedly for 16 hours a day during the week and for 60+ hours every weekend.

Modern monitors make screen burn much more rare than it used to be, but they are still vulnerable to extreme abuse like I just mentioned. Monitors used to burn much more quickly, but these days I’ve inadvertently left a monitor on overnight displaying the same thing with no ill effects.

The idea behind a screensaver is to display some moving object to keep your e-mail screen from getting burned in. Nice idea, but unnecessary in an age when you can leave the same image on the screen unchanged for 8 hours without harm. The other problem is that many screensavers are poorly written, either intentionally or inadvertently causing harm to the system. I can’t tell you how many times I solved an intermittent computer problem just by changing the screen saver to blank screen. Some screensavers do crash the system.

Plus, what your monitor really needs to be doing during its idle periods is resting. Some screensavers can cause your monitor’s phosphors to age prematurely, causing odd (and annoying) visual effects if they wear it unevenly, or, if they wear it evenly, they cause you to have to crank the brightness on your monitor up all the way in order to see the picture.

Displaying bright, fast-moving graphics is harder on the monitor than just displaying a static screen.

Set your screen saver to blank screen, with a timeout interval of 30 minutes, and you’ll actually do your monitor some good. And who doesn’t want increased monitor life expectancy? A good monitor can outlive three computers. As an added bonus, displaying just a blank screen cuts the monitor’s power consumption as well.

Some might say a computer set up this way lacks personality. Maybe it does. So spend the money you didn’t have to spend on a new monitor on some pretty pictures and other doodads to spice up the space around your monitor. A cool toy always gets more attention than even the best screen saver.

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