ExpressBasics: Shut Down, Sleep or Hibernate? What mode to use on laptops, desktops

Most Windows desktops and laptops give you three ways to put your computer to rest when not in immediate use. These are Standby, Hibernate, and Shutdown. However, what do the three options mean and why might you be using the wrong option? These are some of the questions we will be answering today.

Keep in mind that we are looking at the Windows ecosystem in this article. On Apple’s macOS, users have the option to shut down, sleep, and restart their Mac.

Shut Down vs. Sleep vs. Hibernate: What Do They Mean?

Close: The “close” option is the one we all know. It closes all active programs and shuts down your operating system and computer, in a state that consumes almost negligible power. Shutting down your machine also clears your running tasks, whether you’ve saved them or not, although you may see prompts asking you to save your work if you have.

However, while a shutdown is the best option if you want to save power, it’s least effective if you turn your computer back on in a short period of time. This is because the whole computer is shut down along with the operating system, your whole system has to restart from scratch when you turn it back on.

It can be fast or slow depending on your machine specs, and you may or may not be bothered by your boot times. Either way, getting out of a shutdown will always be slower than the other two options we’ll be discussing today. Additionally, the shutdown is insensitive to a sudden loss of power such as a power outage.

Sleep: When you put your desktop or laptop computer to sleep, the machine enters a low-power state where every running task and open program is saved to system RAM, but other hardware components are shut down to save power. Energy. Any ongoing tasks such as a document in Word that you are still typing do not need to be saved before putting the machine to sleep.

The machine will also come back to life very quickly after sleep. Waking up from sleep mode is much faster than booting from a shutdown and may even seem instantaneous on faster machines.

Sleep, however, requires more power on all desktops and laptops. While sleeping, the machines will only retain everything in memory as long as the power supply is constant. For example, if your desktop is sleeping and you suddenly lose power, you will boot from a shutdown instead of bringing the machine out of sleep mode. Therefore, the sleep option also means that your machine is vulnerable to power outages, as continuous power is needed to keep things in memory.

Hibernate: Hibernating your system is essentially putting it to sleep, but without the continuous use of power that sleep requires. When in hibernation, your computer saves its current state to the hard disk instead of its memory or RAM. For this reason, it takes longer to come out of a state of hibernation compared to sleep. However, this mode also uses less power than sleep mode.

Hibernation is halfway between shutting down your machine and putting it to sleep. I would call it shutdown, but while saving the data of whatever is going on. Because hibernation uses a negligible amount of power, it is also immune to power outages as data is saved to the hard drive.

When should you use each mode?

Close: A shutdown is the best thing to do when you are going to shut down your machine for more than a day. It can range from a weekend to a long vacation. Although shutting down does not provide any benefits like saving your running tasks to memory or faster resume, it helps to shut down your computers from time to time.

However, if your computer needs to be idle for shorter periods of time, you can consider the other two options.

Hibernate: Try hibernating your computer if you plan to shut it down overnight and restart it in the morning. This will save you time on start-up and hardly consume more energy. However, hibernate is known to have issues with some programs, so be sure to try it on a weekend first if you haven’t done so before.

Sleep: You can put your desktop or laptop to sleep for short breaks or for longer breaks when you know you may need to get back to work quickly at short notice. Sleeping machines resume quickly, making it the ideal rest mode during lunch break at the office.

However, you can hibernate or shut down instead if you want to save power on your laptop or, for desktop computers, especially if you suffer from sudden power outages.

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