Blog Post

InsomniMac: What’s Keeping Your Mac Up at Night

I’ve found that while this past year has been great for Apple (s aapl) and Apple users, it hasn’t been so great for my Apple computer.  My Mac Pro has been up late almost every night this year.  Backing up my data, keeping a watchful eye on my iTunes library, and more recently, providing 24/7 printing services for my iOS devices. It requires I leave my local user account logged on and running certain applications, which is bound to increase the wear on my Mac and potentially shorten its life. And the list keeps growing.

iTunes Home Sharing for Apple TV

I have three Apple TVs up and running in my home.  Each is associated with my iTunes Library.  All require that I remain logged on to my Mac Pro with iTunes up and running. If I quit iTunes, log off my Mac Pro or allow it to go to sleep, I will no long be able to access my iTunes Library and thus, my TV content.  If other family members in my household want to access their iTunes Library as well, then we must each remain constantly logged on, using separate instance of iTunes and separate iOS devices to control the media we want to play.  That’s a lot of Apple kit enduring wear and tear.

iOS AirPrint Solution Printopia

I wasn’t too happy to discover I had to purchase a new printer in order to take advantage of AirPrint in the latest iOS update from Apple.  Luckily, Printopia software provides a much cheaper alternative.  Printopia couldn’t be easier to install and use.  It installs as a preference pane in System Preferences, and it just works.  The only drawback I’ve noticed is that it’s a user-specific feature, meaning as soon as I log off of my Mac, Printopia will stop running. It provides a great service to an oversight by Apple, but once again, it requires my machine to be constantly running.

WebDAV File Share for iOS Devices

This was a fun service to enable on my internal network in order to share files between all of my Macs as well as all of my iOS devices.  WebDAV stands for “Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning protocol”, and it works over HTTP. WebDAV was designed for read/write access on web servers, which is great, because every Mac ships with a web server built-in.  Like iTunes Home Sharing and Printopia, WebDAV requires my Mac to always be on.  Unlike iTunes and Home Sharing or Printopia, this service can run in the background without a user being logged onto the system, which makes it a little less taxing on hardware and power demands.

DLNA Servers

Before getting Apple TVs up and running everywhere, I was using the DLNA capabilities of my home theatre equipment to share music, videos and photos to the various media outlets and iOS devices on my home network.  I do still have my Twonky Media Server up and running, though it points to the same collection of folders that my iTunes library points to. Twonky can be run as either a user application, or as a background system service. It’s a great way to accomplish everything that AirPlay now offers, and has been available on both Mac and iOS for quite some time now. At least it can run without a user logged on, but the Mac still has to be running.

Other Complications of Always Being Logged On

When you have one shared Mac in a family of avid media lovers, each with varying tastes, hence different iTunes music libraries, you’ll start to find multiple accounts are remaining logged on for days or even weeks at a time.  This creates problems when performing maintenance on the same Mac, and the update requires a restart.  Getting everyone to stop using the media sharing capabilities and log off of their accounts for routine maintenance will become a household burden.  There’s also the chance that you’ll burn out your Time Capsule at a faster rate given the that you could be performing backups every hour around the clock as well.  I now use a utility called TimeMachineEditor to control the frequency of my backups, and my Time Capsule is running much cooler and happier now. At least it can get some rest.

But unless there are some great new features coming out in the next major release of OS X Lion, it appears my Mac will be up and running for quite some time. Cutting the cord may provide cable bill relief, but what does providing on-demand media across the house end up costing in terms of computer and device strain? I fear I’ll soon find out.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

18 Responses to “InsomniMac: What’s Keeping Your Mac Up at Night”

  1. pgattocpa

    I guess I just don’t understand. No explanation whatsoever why a household has to keep their computer on 24/7. Don’t people sleep in the household? Do people in the household want their files backed up every single night? That’s just nuts. No explanation as to why the author does not want the iTunes accounts logged into at all times. Kids / parents too lazy to log in when they want access and log off when they are done? 24/7 printing for iOS devices with no explanation as to the need?

    Sorry Geoff, without further explanation as to why the family, albeit a family of “avid media lovers”, has to be online 24/7, it seems to me there are bigger problems than an overused Mac. Such as the apparent inability to enjoy “real life”, enjoy each other as a family, go outside and breathe fresh air, etc.

    To reiterate, you did not give one concrete reason as to *why* the Mac *must* be on 24/7.

    Sorry, but I just hear a bunch of whining. Do you stand in front of the microwave and yell, “Hurry up, you’re taking too long to heat up my tater tots!”?

    • pgattocpa

      Edit to above (since no edit function on the site that I can find):

      “No explanation as to why the author does not want the iTunes accounts logged into at all times,” should read as follows:

      “No explanation as to why the author *needs* the iTunes accounts logged into *at all times*. See query regarding need for 24/7 access.”

    • The reason that an active user must remain logged on to a Mac 24/7 is because of the way that Home Sharing works in iTunes. In order for the Apple TVs to work when you want them to, and be able to access your home media library, iTunes must be running on a Mac somewhere on the network and authenticated to an iTunes account. One could log on to their Mac each and every time they wanted to watch a show, listen to music, or view a photo, and log off once they have finished. However, the Macs are not always in the same rooms as the Apple TVs.

  2. I have also found another thing that keeps my Macs from sleeping…

    Screen Sharing…if I access my MacBook Pro from my iMac in the living room and then forget to cancel that connection then the MacBook Pro doesn’t allow even sleeping the display on the MacBook Pro…

    so I have to sever the connection or the screen won’t even sleep…it’s very annoying…and took me awhile to figure out…I was at least stressed because the MacBook Pro is next to my bed with 2 7″ MIMO monitors connected so it would all stay on…I had to reduce the screen brightness every night until I figured out what the culprit was…

    now all is well…I just have to be sure I am not connected using screen sharing thru Finder

  3. I have a minimac running server-to-me, eyetv, air-video and few other services, including itunes, running 24/7 (it also does late night processing).

    I have two NAS drives equating to approximatly 12tb of storage, including video, music, version control, archives, photos (in RAW format) and general centralized storage.

    I’m sorry, but iTunes simply isn’t up to the task of been a “media” manager within any kind of network, but that’s an argument for another day.

    On windows, you can setup many of these services to run on machine startup, meaning you don’t need to have the machine logged into an account directly (the process run under a separate account). I’d love to know if the server version of OSX can do the same?!

    • I also have a Twonky DLNA server running that is sharing the same media files from the same shared location. I like the interface of the Home Sharing through iTunes on thew Apple TV much better. I also like being able to browse my library via my iPad and other iOS devices.

      I do have access from each HDTV to the Twonky DLNA server, as they are all DLNA certified clients. And Twonky does not need to have a logged on user in order to operate. Each solution has its strengths, and for now, I am willing to leave my Mac running to get the better, faster interface to my library via the Home Sharing feature on iTunes.

  4. i reckon apple should add more home hub and energy management services in the next os (not to mention a dlna streaming solution like twonky)

    I have 2 machines running as servers – one for me the other for the family – both are quite high energy consumers (mine’s an imac 27″ the other’s a g5 power mac) i make sure that the nergy settings keep the machines in sleep when not in use – as i don’t need them available 24/7

    i had a nas drive that broke (and its replacement broke too) so ive been put off that route. I’m thinking of building a cheap pc as a media server – one with an atom chip and lots of hd storage. I’d love to be able to install an apple os on it tho (maybe apple might release an embedded oem iOS to licensing partners to allow for such devices to have a bette and simpler os to code for.. yeah right.)

  5. I find it to be unacceptable to leave a pc running 24/7 in a normal household. A house is not a company. If you want to watch a movie on your appletv, just wake your mac. It’s not that far to your desk and you are not that lazy! And if you are, use something like Remote HD on your iPhone.

    Does nobody realize how much energy and natural resources are wasted for this, not to mention the CO2.

    • Andrew MacDonald

      Your fighting a loosing battle there my friend. I find it ridiculous how the government urge us all to turn the standby off on our TVs etc, when there are places like Vegas and Times Square sucking more power in a day than an entire neighbourhoods ‘total’ household power for an entire year.

      So to be honest, Im not going to make any effort whatsoever to save power or resources to slow global warming until huge cities like vegas, huge polluters like airlines, space agencies, coal power plants etc make big steps to reduce their use of resources.

      Controversial? Yes, but my small computer turned on 24/7 is small fry!

  6. I only have one Apple TV (2010) and am the only one in my house so it’s relatively easy for me but I still have a new Mac Mini being used to run iTunes, Plex, Serve To Me, SqueezeCenter and iOS print sharing (using the CUPS files Apple removed from the 10.6.5 update. So one computer (server) and nas are doing the trick for me.

    Don’t suppose everybody could combine their music, etc. onto a shared system like this (maybe on a NAS) *and* have it on their own systems? Redundant and not so pretty but it may be beneficial.

    just a thought. good luck!

    • Working on the combined music library, the only issue is for individually purchased music off of iTunes. Coming up with an automated way to move newly purchased media from an iTunes library to a central repository then add it back to all iTunes libraries may not be possible.

      Even if the media is on a NAS server, you will still need a Mac somewhere, with a logged on user running iTunes, for each unique iTunes library/account in the house.

  7. chrisdpratt

    I’m not seeing the problem. Computers don’t really have an inherent life-span that you prematurely impose on your poor machine by keeping it running constantly. The only parts with some kind of life-span is the hard-drive and the display. The display is easily fixed by auto-blackout after a defined period of time, like 20-minutes or so, of no direct use. All your streaming and such still works just fine. The hard-drive might be a concern, but hard drives are pretty durable and will last many years even with hard usage. As far as the rest of the computer goes – CPU, graphics card, etc. – you’ll be long due for an upgrade before you have any problems there.

    Moral of the story, leave your computer on, back up your hard drive just-in-case, and don’t worry about it. If you do manage to use the hard drive so much that it eventually fails, buy another (they’re cheap), restore your backup and keep going.

    And if you’re all that worried about wearing out your good machine, go buy the cheapest Mac Mini. It’ll be more than sufficient for serving media in your home and won’t hurt as much if something catastrophic does happen. (And, it won’t).

  8. Andrew MacDonald

    This is something that has been bothering me for a long time now. We have four Apple TV units in our household, all running off of my iTunes Library via my iMac. The total library size is 4tb, so we have multiple hard drives and NAS drives providing the storage.

    The thing that annoys me with all these network drives is they say they are iTunes compliant, but they cannot run an instance of iTunes to run my Apple TVs. And Apple isn’t providing any sort of functionality to help with the Apple TV library management. So my 27″ iMac stays on 24/7, and like you, is on for weeks at a time.

    It bothers me because I don’t have loads of money, therefore my investment in my iMac was a very big purchase for me, and I really don’t want to wear it out anymore than it needs to be.

    I notice that the top of my iMac is so hot sometimes that you can’t touch it. Im thankful for SMCFanControl which I run constantly with my fans running at 45% to try and keep it cool, but Im hoping that one day, there will be a better solution.

    I know i could just buy an old computer, stick it in the corner of the room and use that as a server, but I want something more ‘Apple-Like’, more simple and elegant.

  9. I’ve been in the same boat since I got an Apple TV a few years ago as well. My iMac G5 was on constantly until it died in April (I had put it through it’s paces over the years… including a total of 3 logic boards…) and I have a new iMac that seems to be better equipped to handle its new duties.

    Maybe in a follow up article, you can suggest settings to help ease the burden on the Mac and the power requirements? For example, I have my screen set to sleep after 5 minutes and no screen saver, etc.

    I’m going to check out Time Machine Editor this weekend, thanks