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HTG Explains: Should You Shut Down, Sleep, or Hibernate Your Laptop?

macbook-sleep-led

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.

Image Credit: DeclanTM on Flickr

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.

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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.

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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.)

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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

Comments (29)

  1. ColdEmbrace

    I leave my computer running a lot but not 24/7. It’s left on whilst I am at home and is shut down when I am not. There is no particular reason for me to leave it on or turn it off, this is just a habit I have formed. It is even left on when I am asleep. I don’t see the issue with it.

  2. gifi4

    I run an SSD as my main drive, allowing for quick and easy boot up. Due to my SSD, I shut my computer down if I plan on being away from it for more than 30 mins.

  3. Xantes

    Since I can get into my router and wake each and every PC connected to my LAN I oftenly hibernate all my computers so that can quickly be awaken whenever I need any of them.

  4. TheFu

    There are security concerns with each of these choices too.
    If you use whole drive encryption – and you should for all portable computing devices – then you should know that security researchers have shown effective attacks against both standby and hibernated systems. Only completely shut-off systems provided a reasonable level of protection.

    With this knowledge, I power down my netbook and laptop when transporting between locations, especially over national boundaries, but only use standby when at home. I’m lazy.

  5. ColdEmbrace

    @gifi4 does shutting down make a difference when you are using a SSD?
    I was under the opinion that TRIM works while the Hard Drive is idle meaning that if you are always shutting down TRIM would never function. I may be wrong with that idea.

  6. ebmayes

    Which of these choices maximizes the LIFE of the laptop? Does powering down every time you are finished with it put more stress on the computer to power back up?
    Or does hibernate/sleep mode reduce the longevity of the motherboard & hard drive due to heat?

    Thanks!

  7. Catmandue

    Captain Obvious strikes again… “Sleep: Also known as Sleep or Standby”

  8. Bgarner

    You answered a question I have been meaning to ask! Thanks

    @ ebmayes….I am interested in knowing that as well.

    Thankful to all of you ‘Geeks’! LOL :)

  9. Iszi

    Why no mention of hybrid sleep? I love that feature!

  10. Chad

    If I choose to upgrade, will my current settings (as long as they are Windows 8 compatible) and programs be kept? My university has very specific settings to access their internet and I cannot find my MS Office key, so I would have to buy it again if that were the case.

  11. Bugger

    Turn if off when you’re not using it, it’ll last a lot longer then just setting there slowly cooking until it’s done (won’t work anymore). Constant heat cooks anything, even your notebook or desktop. I’ve never had one to burn up the motherboard or power supply but my son who leaves his desktop on all the time is on his 3nd desktop in the last 4 years. He always calls me and says, hey my computer quit working and won’t come on when I turn it on. What can I say?

  12. ChrispyCritter

    @Bugger Your son must be doing something wrong because my current desktop has been on almost 24/7 since June 2009 with zero issues so far..I put it in power save mode (I pinned Power Options) when away or sleeping..I reboot it maybe once or twice a month and the only time I shut it down is when I’m going to be away overnight or longer.

    I believe it’s probably better for the life of a computer to leave it running if you use it a lot. If you constantly shut it down and boot it up that’s a lot of heating up/cooling down (heat cycles) that stress the electronics.

  13. WhaleMan

    OS X can remember the state of programs and open windows when shutting the whole computer down – I don’t use it too much myself, but it has been handy in the odd instances where I have used it.

  14. Dic

    CrispyCritter, your scheme mirrors my own almost exactly, for my connected PC, and the point you make about the effect on components of frequent heating/cooling cycling would seem to be, from what I’ve read on the subject from those who seemed to know what they were talking about, a valid one.

    Over the four years I’ve had the PC, an IBM (it was a ‘refurbished’ ex-business computer when I bought it), I have probably shut it down no more than a dozen times, and those only to ‘give it a rest’, to paraphrase a previous poster’s suggestion. It has never let me down.

    Conversely, always at the end of every day, I have shut down my six-year-old unconnected home-made ‘work’ m/c. It has never let me down, either.

    My two-year-old Toshiba laptop, almost always mains powered, I sometimes put to sleep, sometimes shut down. It has never let me down , either.

    My wife always shuts down her PC and two mains-powered laptops, even after using one or other of them for only a few minutes at a time. She has never had problems, with either one.

    So, you play it the way you see it.

  15. Sudo Bash

    As far as life span goes, hibernation will probably reduce the life of your hard drive, because it requires it to write the ram to disk.

  16. Greg

    If you have a Chromebook, it doesn’t matter if you turn it off or sleep. It turns on really fast regardless which one you choose. If you use a Linux distro like Tinycore or Semplice Linux, they turn on less than 10 seconds

  17. SAI

    With Windows 8 + SSD, insane startup times (cold boot). Never have to sleep the computer, turns on in seconds literally.

  18. iggi

    “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.”

    Actually, hibernate writes your RAM to the disk, so it uses zero power. You can unplug a laptop and take out its battery and it’ll still resume from hibernate.

  19. udi perets

    For some odd reason my win 7 desktop wont hibernate or sleep.. It only shuts down or turns offthe monitor. When i send it to sleep, it wakes up by itself after a few seconds without me touching the mouse or the keyboard.. Anybody have a clue why??

  20. rino19ny

    as per my experience, leaving the PC on 24×7 tend to make it lasts longer, and more stable, than shuttting down always or sleeping/hibernate. only time i shut it down is when moving from one place to another like another house/building/state/country.

  21. Rick S

    I have one running 24/7 for many years. The only time it gets shut down is if the power goes out. No problems so far. All the others I turn on and off also no problems. So who the hell knows? Hahaha.

  22. Steve F.

    I have several laptops & desktops at home. They stay on, for the most part 24/7. Three of them do go into hibernate though, but that is OK as they are part of a Network Lab.

  23. your humble narrator

    If I use my laptop in the morning before work, I usually Hibernate. Sometimes I just use Sleep (laptop power scheme puts it to sleep after 2 hours anyway). Most of the time I Shut Down overnight.

  24. Sirmentio

    Strangely, i usualy just use Shutdown…. occasionally restart but never sleep/hibernate.

  25. nedly

    On my XP computer I have noted that some programs do not resume properly after hibernate, as the article states. Also after a certain number of hibernations without rebooting I get a message telling me that there is insufficient memory. It seems that there is a finite amount of disk space allocated to hibernation and that the information is stored between successive hibernations is saved until rebooting?

  26. Ahmed

    I Hibernate my Lappy at night and during the day when am stepping away I put him to sleep mode… and I shut down like couple of times a week and sometimes I just shit it down… yu kno WINDOWS ;-)

    love this article thanks for the effort of putting all these comparison together… I’ve always wonder which one was the best, but I see all depends from occasion to other

    :D

    H

  27. Sheila

    This has been something I have been thinking about for some time. I was thinking turning off and then everything gets cold and had to start up again it was hard on the driver’s starting them back up and down all time.
    Thanks you wonderful guy’s and gal’s! ~Have a very blessed day~

  28. krokkenoster

    I normally turn my laptop off if I am done with the Net as I turn mine to “sleep” or “Hybernate” I have to reboot for my unit to be able to “see” my modem I also discovered that the hard drive do not reall come to a standstill while in any of those “rest” modes I run Windows 7 “ultimate ” So to me it is better to turn my laptop “off” if I want to go onto the Net again

  29. thusitha

    normally…im hibernating my lap in night…because when it comes to shut down,it is little bit slow in startup with my programms….

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