Computer on a desk in front of a chalkboard
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Wake-on-LAN (WoL) is an old-school technique that network administrators have used for years to remotely turn on PCs on the same network without sidling up to them. You can use it at home, too. Here’s how.

Why Use WoL and How It Works

First, let’s discuss why you might want to use this feature, and really there’s only one: convenience. Let’s say you’re making coffee in the kitchen, and you want the PC on by the time you get to your home office. Just fire up an app from your phone, tap a button, and your PC will be ready and waiting by the time you get there.

It doesn’t have to be just a phone that wakes your PC either. You can use this trick from another PC, a Mac, or even a smart speaker if you don’t mind a slightly complicated setup.

Wake-on-LAN’s basic premise is pretty simple. Computers send and receive information in small parts called packets. When WoL is enabled, your PC is waiting for a so-called “magic packet” that tells it to wake up by including the PC’s MAC address.

Remember that without some tweaking that is beyond the scope of this article, WoL is not a remote feature. Your waking device (the phone) has to be on the same network that the PC to be waked is using.

WoL Prerequisites

Before anything else, your PC needs to be on an Ethernet connection. For that reason, this trick works best with desktops or laptops that are always plugged into Ethernet. You may also have to turn Wi-Fi off on the target device for WoL to work properly.

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Next, you need to have WoL enabled in your computer’s BIOS. We’ve got a tutorial on how to get into your PC’s BIOS as it’s slightly different depending on the brand. Usually, however, it’s a matter of hitting a dedicated key or a regular keyboard key such as Del.

A gigabyte BIOS screen with red arrows pointing to the Wake On Lan option.

Looking inside the BIOS the Wake-on-LAN option may be organized differently and the feature can be packaged as part of a larger set of features. On this example PC, the WoL feature was found under Power as its own entry. If you can’t find the feature, search for it on Google using your motherboard’s brand name and model number.

Often WoL is enabled automatically in the BIOS, but it’s always a good idea to double-check.

Next, you have to enable WoL inside Windows 10 or 11.

Open the context menu for the start button and select the Device Manager option in Windows 11.

First, you need to open the Device Manager by right-clicking the start button and selecting “Device Manager.” Another alternative is to search for it by hitting the Start button and typing in “device manager.”

The device manager in Windows 11 with a red arrow pointing to the properties option for a network controller.

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Once the utility opens click on Network adapters and select your Ethernet controller. You may have a ton of options, but you’re looking for something with a name that includes “controller,” “adapter,” or something similar. Anything that says TAP, VPN, or host-only is not what you’re looking for.

Once you’ve found your Ethernet controller right-click it and select Properties.

Enable these Wake-on-Lan settings in Device Manager.

A properties window will open. Click the “Power Management” tab and make sure all three boxes there are checked including:

  • Allow The Computer To Turn Off This Device To Save Power
  • Allow This Device To Wake The Computer
  • Only Allow A Magic Packet To Wake The Computer

The magic packet settings in Ethernet controller properties window.

Before we close this window let’s go to the “Advanced” tab. In the list scroll down to “Wake On Magic Packet,” select it, and ensure under “Value” that the drop-down box says “Enabled.”

If that’s the case, click “OK,” and you’re done with this part.

One last thing: open the Settings app by hitting Windows+i on your keyboard. Then in Windows 11 go to Network & Internet > Ethernet, and scroll down to the bottom of the window.

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In Windows 10 go to Network & Internet > Ethernet, and then at the top click on the name of your Ethernet connection. Next, scroll all the way down under “Properties.”

Here you’ll find something labeled “Physical address (MAC)” and then a combination of letters and numbers. It’s usually about 12 characters separated by dashes. Copy this down in case you need it.

Setting Up Your Wake Device

With the PC set up, it’s time to get our device ready that’s going to do the waking.

For this example, we’re going to make it nice and simple and use a phone. Download the Wake On Lan app from developer Mike Webb.

Wake on Lan for Android with a PC ready to go.

Once it’s installed, make sure you’re connected via Wi-Fi to the same network your target PC is on. Now tap the plus (+) button on the main screen, and then when you get to the next screen, pull down and wait. The pull-down will trigger a network search to find devices on your network.

Once you find your device, you can select it, and you’re done. If you don’t see it tap “Enter Manually,” give your device a nickname and enter its MAC Address. Then tap “Add Device.”

Choose the Sleep option.

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Now it’s time to test our setup. Go to your wakeable PC, click the Start menu, and then the power button. Instead of choosing, “Shut Down” choose “Sleep,” and wait for your PC to go into the low-power mode.

Now, open up the Wake-on-LAN app on your phone, tap your device, and it should turn on within a few seconds.

RELATED: PSA: Don't Shut Down Your Computer, Just Use Sleep (or Hibernation)

Troubleshooting

If the WoL feature doesn’t work do some basic troubleshooting such as making sure your PC is actually sleeping. Are all the RGB lights off (assuming you didn’t set them to remain on)? Is the power button glowing as if the PC is on? Try waking it the standard way to see what happens.

If the PC was truly asleep then check that your phone is connected to the right Wi-Fi network, put your PC back to sleep and try again. It may also be worth checking your Ethernet cable for faults.

Wake-on-LAN is a fun, easy feature to enable that can be very helpful for those times you want your PC to be ready to go the moment you are.

RELATED: How to Make Any Computer Boot Up or Shut Down on a Schedule

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Ian Paul is a freelance writer with over a decade of experiencing writing about tech. In addition to writing for How-To Geek, he regularly contributes to PCWorld as a critic, feature writer, reporter, deal hunter, and columnist. His work has also appeared online at The Washington Post, ABC News, MSNBC, Reuters, Macworld, Yahoo Tech, Tech.co, TechHive, The Huffington Post, and Lifewire. His articles are regularly syndicated across numerous IDG sites including CIO, Computerworld, GameStar, Macworld UK, Tech Advisor, and TechConnect.
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