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How Connected Standby Works (or Why Your Windows 8 PC’s Battery Drains So Fast)

thinkpad-tablet-2-connected-standby

“Connected Standby” is a new feature in Windows 8. At first, only ARM devices with Windows RT supported Connected Standby. Some Intel Atom PCs with full Windows 8 now support it, too — and it will only become more common.

This is Microsoft’s attempt to give Windows 8 and 8.1 the “always-on” state people get from iPads, Android tablets, and smartphones. A PC with Connected Standby can’t use other power-management states like Sleep and Hibernate.

What is Connected Standby?

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If you have a typical PC or Mac with an Intel or AMD chip, your computer has several different power states. Your computer is either on, off, or in a power-saving state. Laptops normally go into sleep mode if they’re not used for a while or if the lid is closed. In sleep mode, your PC maintains power to its memory so it can start up very quickly. PCs can also hibernate, and may automatically hibernate if you leave them in sleep for a while. In hibernation mode, your PC saves the contents of its memory to its hard drive and shuts down. When you boot it, it loads the system state back from the hard drive and restores everything you had open. Both sleep and hibernate allow your computer to save its state and get back to it more quickly, but the computer is basically off and can’t do anything while sleeping or hibernating.

In contrast, the smartphones and tablets most people use work differently. When you put an iPad, Android tablet, or a smartphone down and leave it for several hours, its screen turns off. The device goes into a very low-power mode. However, it’s not in a PC-style “sleep” or “hibernate” mode. Your tablet or phone will check for new emails, receive notifications, and perform other tasks. It does this by frequently waking up. The tablet or phone feels like it’s always on — you never have to wait for your phone to boot up from hibernate.

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PCs are slower. Even a PC that’s asleep will take a second to start back up. After the PC starts up, it has to check for new content. If you’re chatting on an instant messaging program, you’ll disconnect and not receive any messages when your computer is asleep.

Connected Standby is a low-power state that allows Windows 8 and 8.1 to function more like a tablet or smartphone than a typical PC. It’s supported on Windows RT devices like the Surface RT and Surface 2, but Intel is also working on adding support for Connected Standby to its own CPUs so Intel-powered tablets can catch up to ARM devices. Your PC will work more like your phone.

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How Does Connected Standby Actually Work?

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You can’t just get Connected Standby on any computer. It requires special support for Connected Standby in the CPU and the rest of the computer system. You buy a Windows device and it either supports Connected Standby or it doesn’t.

Connected Standby replaces the standard Sleep and Hibernate power states found on most PCs. This means that you can’t actually use Sleep or Hibernate instead of Connected Standby. You can still control how long the display stays on — when the display powers off, Connected Standby begins instead of Sleep. You can also shut down your PC normally.

When in Connected Standby mode, your PC will listen for notifications and wake up regularly to fetch new emails, update live tiles, and perform other similar tasks. When you get a chat message, your PC can wake up and notify you. Its screen will stay off the whole time while it does this, just as your smartphone can keep doing work while its screen is off. Note that these fetching features only work with Windows 8’s “Store apps”, so the full-screen Mail app will fetch new email but your desktop email client won’t.

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Which Devices Use Connected Standby?

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All Windows RT devices use Connected Standby. They have ARM chips, so they support this sort of always-on, low-power state. At the moment, this only includes the Surface RT, Surface 2, and Nokia Lumia 2520 — all devices produced by Microsoft themselves. Windows RT is not popular.

Intel is bringing Connected Standby to more and more chips. Intel’s “Clover Trail” series of Atom chips support connected standby. Buy a tablet like the Thinkpad Tablet 2 and it will use Connected Standby rather than standard Sleep and Hibernate features. Connected Standby is a feature ideal for mobile devices with low power consumption, but Intel has become obsessed with catching up to ARM in this space. We wouldn’t be surprised to see Connected Standby make its way into higher-power Intel CPUs eventually. This feature will only become more common, even among laptops.

For now, higher-power CPUs like Intel’s own Haswell line of Core processors don’t support Connected Standby. This does mean that you can’t have that sort of always-on, tablet-style experience on Haswell-powered tablets like Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2. The device can sleep or hibernate, but not stay on all the time with Connected Standby.

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How Can I Disable Connected Standby?

Connected Standby can’t be disabled, which may be inconvenient if you just want to save power. For example, you can set aside a typical laptop down for several weeks and it should go to sleep and then hibernate, saving most of its battery power.

On the other hand, if you’re putting a PC with Connected Standby down for several weeks, it will continue running, regularly waking up to download new content. After several weeks, the device will definitely have an empty battery.

The Intel website states that “A system in Connected Standby stays updated, is reachable through real-time communication apps, and can remain in state a week or more on a single battery charge.”

This is great if you want this always-on experience. On the other hand, this means that your laptop’s battery will drain when you’re not using it and be empty after a week — or less, if you’re using it. You may pick up a device a few days later to find a surprising amount of battery power drained.

While you can’t disable Connected Standby, you can get around this limitation by powering the tablet or laptop off if you’re not going to use it for a while. The device won’t wake up if it’s powered off completely. This means going through a normal Shut Down process, not just tapping its power button.

You could also enable Airplane Mode before putting your PC to sleep. Your device won’t be able to fetch new content or communicate with the Internet at all. It should stay asleep instead of waking up regularly to check on your emails and tweets.

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Overall, Connected Standby is a good feature that allows Windows 8.1 tablets and PCs — even those with Intel chips — to function more like the mobile devices they are. Microsoft should still provide a way to let people disable this feature without enabling Airplane Mode every time they put their device to sleep. Many people will get Atom-powered tablets and laptops they’ll want to use like PCs without unnecessary battery drain when idle.

Image Credit: TAKA@P.P.R.S on Flickr, Phil Roeder on Flickr`

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 05/16/14