Windows sets all PCs to a “Balanced” power plan by default. But there are also “Power saver” and “High performance” plans. Your PC manufacturer may have even created their own power plans. What’s the difference between them all, and should you bother switching?

How to View and Switch Power Plans

First, let’s take a look at what you have. To see your power plans on Windows 10, right-click the battery icon in your system tray and choose “Power Options.”

This screen can also be accessed from the Control Panel. Click the “Hardware and Sound” category and then select “Power Options.”

From here, you can select your preferred power plan. “Balanced” and “Power saver” are the default ones, while “High performance” is hidden under the “Show additional plans” heading at the bottom. Your PC manufacturer may have included their own power plans as well, and you can create your own custom ones if you like.

What’s the Difference?

Each of these power plans is actually just a different group of settings. Rather than tweak settings one-by-one, though, these “plans” are designed to provide an easy way to switch between common groups of settings. For example:

  • Balanced: Balanced automatically increases your CPU’s speed when your computer needs it, and reduces it when it isn’t necessary. This is the default setting, and it should be fine most of the time.
  • Power Saver: Power Saver attempts to save power by reducing the CPU’s speed all the time and lowering screen brightness, among other similar settings.
  • High Performance: High Performance mode doesn’t lower your CPU’s speed when it isn’t being used, running it at higher speeds most of the time. It also increases screen brightness. Other components, such as your Wi-Fi or disk drive, may also not go into power-saving modes.

But you don’t need to rely on any summaries of how the power plans work. You can see exactly what they do here. In the Power Options window, click “Change plan settings” next to a plan–like the Balanced plan, for example–and then select “Change advanced power settings.” The drop-down box at the top of this window lets you switch between power plans, so you can see exactly which settings are different between plans.

But Should You Bother Changing Power Plans?

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You don’t really need to change these settings. Balanced will be a fine setting for almost everyone, almost all of the time. Even when you want to squeeze some more battery life out of your laptop, you can always just lower the screen brightness level manually. As long as you aren’t using demanding software on your laptop, most modern CPUs will go in a low speed power saving mode, anyway. And, when you use demanding software, Windows will automatically increase your CPU speed. So, even if you’re planning on playing a demanding PC game, you can leave the power plan on “Balanced” and just launch the game. It will use your CPU’s full power.

If you have a laptop, each plan uses different settings on battery than it does when plugged into an outlet, too. The Balanced power plan might use more aggressive settings when your computer is connected to an outlet–for example, running the fans at full-throttle to cool the CPU. If you’d like to use the most aggressive and high-performance options when on battery power, switching to High Performance mode might help a little. But even this usually won’t be noticeable.

On Windows 7 and 8, left-clicking the battery icon brings up a menu that allows you to choose between the “Balanced” and “Power Saver” modes. On Windows 10, clicking the battery icon will just show you options for brightness and enabling “Battery Saver” mode. “Battery Saver” mode is a fine replacement for the “Power Saver” power plan, as it decreases your screen brightness–a big tweak that’ll save a good chunk of power even on modern PCs. It will also prevent Windows 10 Store apps from running in the background, something which will only help if you’re using a lot of those apps instead of traditional desktop apps.

Better yet, Battery Saver is automatically enabled when you reach 20% battery life by default, and you can adjust this threshold. This means Battery Saver mode can turn on automatically when you need it–you won’t need to switch power plans manually.

Windows 10 buries power plans in the Control Panel, as you shouldn’t need to change them. In fact, modern PCs that use “InstantGo“–a technology that lets PCs sleep like a smartphone or tablet, downloading data in the background and waking instantly–only have the “Balanced” plan by default. There’s no “Power Saver” or “High performance” plan, although you could modify the plan settings or create your own plan. Microsoft doesn’t want you to worry about power plans on PCs with modern hardware.

Instead of Changing Plans, Configure One to Your Liking

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Although there’s no reason to worry about manually switching between power plans as you go about your day, power plans are still useful. Settings like your screen brightness, when your screen turns off, and when your PC goes to sleep are tied to power plans.

To adjust a power plan’s settings, you’ll need to go into the Power Options screen in the Control Panel and click “Change Plan settings.” You’ll then be able to adjust the different screen brightness, display, and sleep settings to your liking. There are different options for when you’re connected to an outlet and when you’re on battery power.

The advanced power settings you can configure here are also tied to a power plan. You’ll find basic options like what happens when you press your computer’s power button, and other more advanced options like whether wake timers can wake up your PC when it’s asleep. You can also control how aggressive Windows is about suspending disk drives, USB devices, and your Wi-Fi hardware. This makes these components use much less power when Windows isn’t actively using them.

Some of the settings here may be helpful for troubleshooting, too. If your Wi-Fi connection is dropping a connection frequently, you can change the “Power Saving Mode” option under “Wireless Adapter Settings” and prevent it from going to sleep to save power. You could potentially fix a flaky USB device by disabling USB power-saving settings here, too.

So, while may want to adjust the Balanced power plan’s settings, you shouldn’t really need to switch between power plans.

Even on a gaming PC, you don’t really need to enable the “High performance” power plan. It won’t make your CPU any faster. Your CPU will automatically ramp up to top speed when you’re running a demanding game. High Performance may just run your CPU at a higher clock speed for longer, which would generate more heat and noise.

For almost everyone, the best advice is just to forget that power plans exist. Stick with the Balanced plan and don’t worry about it.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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