Computers can sleep, hibernate, or shut down. Sleep allows you to quickly resume using your laptop at the cost of some electricity. Hibernate is like shutting down your computer, but you can still resume working where you left off.
There’s no right answer in all situations. Some people leave their computers running 24/7, while others shut down computers the moment they step away. Each of these options has its advantages and disadvantages.
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Shut Down vs. Sleep vs. Hibernate
Each of the three power-down states appears to shut off your computer, but they all work differently.
- Shut Down: This is the power-off state most of us are familiar with. When you shut down your computer, all your open programs close and the computer shuts down your operating system. A computer that’s shut down uses almost no power. However, when you want to use your computer again, you’ll have to turn it on and go through the typical boot-up process, waiting for your hardware to initialize and startup programs to load.
- Sleep: Also known as Sleep or Standby. In sleep mode, the computer enters a low-power state. Power is used to keep the computer’s state in memory, but other parts of the computer are shut down and won’t use any power. When you turn on the computer, it will snap back to life within just a few seconds. You won’t have to wait for it to boot up – everything will be right where you left off. However, this uses more power than shutting down or hibernating your computer.
- Hibernate: Your computer saves its current state to your hard drive, essentially dumping the contents of its RAM into a file on its hard drive. When you boot up the computer, it will load the previous state from your hard drive into its RAM. This allows you to save your computer’s state, including all your open programs and data, and come back to it later. It takes longer to resume from hibernate than sleep, but hibernate uses much less power than sleep. A computer that’s hibernating uses about the same amount of power as a computer that’s shut down.
If you put your computer to sleep and its battery becomes critically low, the computer will automatically go into hibernate mode to save your state.
When To Shut Down, Sleep, and Hibernate
Different people treat their computers differently. Some people always shut down their computers and never take advantage of the convenience of the sleep and hibernate states, while some people run their computers 24/7.
- When To Sleep: Sleep is particularly useful if you’re stepping away from your computer for a small amount of time. You can put your computer to sleep to save electricity and battery power. When you need to use your computer again, you can resume from where you left off in just a few seconds. Your computer will always be ready to use when you need it.
- When To Hibernate: Hibernate saves more power than sleep. If you won’t be using your computer for a while – say, if you’re going to sleep for the night – you may want to hibernate your computer to save electricity and battery power. However, hibernate is slower to resume from. If you’re hibernating or shutting down your computer every time you step away from it throughout the day, you may be wasting a lot of time waiting for it.
- When To Shut Down: Most computers will resume from hibernate faster than they will boot up from shut down, so most people will probably want to hibernate their laptops instead of shutting them down. However, some computers or software may not work properly when resuming from hibernate, in which case you’ll want to shut down your computer instead. It’s also a good idea to shut down (or at least restart) your computer occasionally – most Windows users have noticed that Windows needs an occasional reboot.
The exact amount of power used by sleep and hibernate will depend on the computer, although sleep mode generally uses just a few more watts than hibernate. Some people may opt to use sleep instead of hibernate so their computers will resume faster – while it does use marginally more electricity, it’s surely more power efficient than leaving a computer running 24/7.
Hibernate is particularly useful to save battery power on laptops that aren’t plugged in. if you want to take your laptop somewhere and you don’t want to waste valuable battery power, you’ll want to hibernate it instead of putting it to sleep.
Making Your Choice
Once you’ve made your choice, you can control what happens when you press the power button on your computer or close the lid on your laptop. To do so, press the Windows key, type Power buttons, and press Enter. You’ll see the power button options in the Windows Control Panel. (On Windows 8, you’ll need to click the Settings option on the search screen after typing Power buttons.)
You can modify your computer’s power-saving options to control what it does automatically when you’ve left it idle. Consult our article on sleep vs. hibernate for more information.
Do you put your computer to sleep, hibernate it, shut it down, or just leave it running 24/7? Leave a comment and let us know!
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 11/10/12