Q. I'd like to stop my computer from draining so much power during the night. My friend told me I'm not supposed to shut it down, but when it's on it makes noise and keeps me up! In the shut down menu I see options for Sleep and Hibernate. Should I use one of those? How are they different?
-Kurt, from Northampton, MA, listens to my national radio show on WHMP 1240 AM/1400 AM/96.9 FM.
A. To shut down or not to shut down? That is the question computer users ask themselves whenever they're done with their computer.
I've explained the pros and cons of shutting down your computer at night in this tip. I would give it a read, Kurt, before you just go with what your friend says.
For those who decide not to shut down, there's Sleep and Hibernate. These are both useful for saving power when you're away from your computer.
The two features do behave a little differently, though.
More people are familiar with Sleep because it's been around longer. When you put your computer into Sleep mode, it's like pausing a DVD or video game. The computer halts exactly how you left it and is quickly ready to continue when you come back.
To do this, it keeps what you're currently working with on RAM, but shuts down other non-essential systems. It does require a small amount of power to keep the RAM active, however.
It also means that a sudden loss of power could cause you to lose everything. If you didn't save your work, you're out of luck.
Sleep is fine for desktops, which are always plugged in, but laptops need an option that saves even more power. Enter Hibernation.
Instead of using the computer's RAM - which requires power - Hibernation saves what you're doing to your hard drive and then shuts down everything. It doesn't use any power, but your computer can still come back right where you left off.
While it does take longer to resume than Sleep, it's still faster than a full startup. It also turns off the system fans that bother you at night, Kurt.
Interestingly enough, there's a third option that many people don't know about. It's called Hybrid Sleep in Windows Vista and 7, and Safe Sleep in OS X. True to its name, it combines both Sleep and Hibernate.
If nothing happens to disrupt your computer overnight, your computer starts up from RAM. If power is lost for some reason, your computer starts using the information on the hard drive. It's the best of both worlds!
To manage these settings in Windows, go to Control Panel>>Hardware and Sound>>Power Options. Click "Change plan settings" under your currently selected plan and then "Change Advanced power settings".
You'll find all three options in the "Sleep" drop down menu. If you enable Hybrid Sleep, it will turn on automatically any time your computer Sleeps. Note that not all desktops will offer Hybrid Sleep or Hibernate.
Safe Sleep - Mac's version of Hybrid Sleep - is turned on by default. To activate it, click the Apple logo at the top of the screen and select "Sleep."
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