Sleep, Hibernate, or Shut Down?

No, I’m not referring to what you do for the winter, but rather the best option to conserve power on your computer.

Everyone is familiar with the plethora of options that you can chose from when you go to the Windows shut-down menu. It can certainly be confusing to decide on which option to pick. Most people don’t even know what the difference is (I once had a client that never even turned her computer off!), and the benefits of each.

So lets dive right in. If you go to your shut down menu, you will see the following: Restart, Sleep, Hibernate, and Shut Down.

We won’t deal with restart in this article, as all it does is put you back in the same position you were before (from a power consumption standpoint).

First lets look at sleep. Sleep puts your current state (open applications, files, windows, etc.) into RAM and powers down your computer, providing only enough power to keep the RAM running. Therefore, if your computer runs out of power, you will lose everything you were working on. The real perk of this is that it takes a very limited amount of time to come out of sleep (about 2-4 seconds on my machine).

Hibernate puts the information onto your Hard drive into a hyberfile, which is then put back into RAM when you come out of hibernation. The nice thing about this is that if you run your computer out of power, you won’t lose your info, which is on your hard drive, instead of your RAM. The con to this is that it takes a long time to come out of hibernation, about 75% as long as a boot up on my machine.

We all know what shut down does. It closes everything, and turns off your computer completely. This really important to do at least daily (depending on how much you use your computer, you may be able to get away with 2-3 days). The power consumption drops to zero, etc. The big con to this is that it takes awhile to boot up.

So which option should you chose? It depends on the situation. Believe it or not, the power consumption used by sleep and hibernate is virtually identical, so don’t let that be much of a factor in your decision. Also, with the amount of RAM becoming so huge on machines these days, you won’t have that much of a problem with sleep. Add that to the fact that hard drive space is a limited recourse, as well, while RAM is renewable easily(so is hard drive, but not everyone wants to clear files off it).

I would argue that if you are not going to be away from your computer for more than a few hours, sleep is a great option. In fact, here is what I recommend. The power button should put it into sleep, then if I don’t come back to it within a few hours, it pops into hibernate (in case it runs down, you don’t want to lose the stuff you were working on). Then shut down when you go to bed at night.

I hope this article helps to solve the mystery surrounding power options. Feel free to comment with questions.

3 Responses to Sleep, Hibernate, or Shut Down?

  1. Interesting Jeff.. That’s great to know!

  2. Ray says:

    I discovered recently that macs have hibernate as well.
    I was inspecting my hard drive and saw a 2GB undistributed file.

    It turns out, on Macs, after you turn on your computer for a while, the RAM syncs with a same sized file on the computer. Thus, if you lose power while sleeping, operating, or you take out the battery during operation, your former state will return because the computer will read back from the saved RAM info.

    Thought that was interesting.

  3. Tito says:

    I love Mac.


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