Windows XP will not go into standby or hibernation in many cases. As I learned a few weeks ago after installing my Smart Strip and measuring the result with my Kill-A-Watt, when the computer is on, it uses a lot of electricity. But my Windows XP PC would not go into standby mode or hibernate. I believe I have finally solved my stand by issues.
(Update, 10/2008: See comments and responses below for troubleshooting and a updated windows hibernate and standby problem post I am maintaining as further information becomes available)
(Update, 2/2009: I am going to try to highlight notable comments in the comments thread below, as there are some good ones)
When the computer is on, it uses around 68 Watts. With the Smart Strip, when the monitor is off, other devices are also turned off, but it still draws 28 to 30 Watts. Standby gets me down to almost nothing, Hibernate gets me to nothing. Now my computer goes into “suspend” (sleep, stand by) all by itself, just as it’s supposed to. While I have tried to be good about turning the computer off (actually, hibernating manually), nothing beats automatic.
What are Suspend / Sleep / Standby / Hibernate Modes?
If you don’t know, Windows Standby is a very cool feature (even if you don’t care about saving electricity). Suspend, Standby, and Sleep all mean pretty much the same thing. When your computer is in Standby, it remembers everything you are doing. You don’t have to close your browser, or game, or iTunes or email program or anything. The monitor turns off, and the computer uses much less energy — just enough to remember.
Touching the keyboard or mouse wakes the computer from standby: the screen turns on, the disks spin up and connections reconnect — all automatically, and all in a matter of a second or two. It is brilliant! Of course Macintosh also has this feature (and I am sure it always works on a Mac :-).
Hibernation is pretty much the same, except it uses the computer’s hard disk to store everything that was in memory. Because it is on the disk, the computer can turn off completely, and use no power at all. Hibernation takes about 10 or 15 seconds to complete on my computer, and about 20 to resume, so it’s not as snappy as Standby mode.
I almost never shut down my computer. It takes a great deal longer for everything to start from a clean start, and then you have to open up all the programs you want to use. For me, this can take 2 minutes just to get to the point where I can start opening web browsers, and all the other programs I use, which usually takes another couple of minutes. Resuming from hibernation takes only 20 seconds to end up in the same place.
Using the Power Options in Windows (XP or other versions)
- Turn off the monitor (screen) (20 – 40 watts when on, maybe more)
- Turn off the hard disks (1 or 2 watts when on, maybe)
- Suspend, or Standby (about 5 watts when in this mode)
- Hibernate (computer is off: no watts!)
Open the Power Options window by clicking Start, then Control Panel, then Power Options. If you don’t see an option to Hibernate, there’s a tab near the top of the window that will let you “Enable Hibernation”, after which the option should be available.
You can set how long you want before each mode kicks in. Notice that on my power settings, since I have a laptop, there are different settings you can use for when plugged in versus when on batteries.
Bottom line: when it works, it’s awesome.
But standby and hibernate don’t work all the time
If you make the settings above, but your computer doesn’t turn off at the appointed time, as was my case, I hope your patience and perseverance didn’t have to be as extreme as mine :-). I have been working on this problem on and off for about a year — I thought I had solved the issue, but then it started not working again … or maybe it never was working.
It is simply unbelievable to me how little help Windows gives you in diagnosing these problems. In my real job, I am a computer systems and software engineer: I know how they work, and how to do what could be dangerous things without messing things up too badly.
So the first resource I used was this link from Kelly’s Korner which is a well-maintained list of various issues people have reported over time. I tried a lot of things, but none of them worked for me.
One tip: set the monitor timeout to 3 minutes, standby to 1 minute and hibernate to 2 minutes so you can see if things work in the least amount of time. I set my watch timer so I would know when to give up.
Another tip: write down what you do. I wish I did, since I am not exactly sure which of the things I did that actually resolved the problem.
Tip #3: Work on not starting programs automatically first. There’s a nice tool (free) called nCleaner that does several things. One of them is to allow you to see and change some of the programs are getting run when the system starts. Two good things happen here: 1) you can usually find a number of unnecessary programs that take time to load and use up memory unnecessarily, and 2) you’re going to be rebooting a lot, so the faster things start, the better.
Tip #4: You would be amazed at how much crap gets loaded by default. Then computer manufacturers cut deals with various companies to install their programs, or trials, many of which also load some annoying things when they start.
Why Standby and Hibernate Fail
The main thought about why standby fails is that there are bad “drivers” (the software that makes things like mice, keyboards, screens and other parts of the computer work). They need to cooperate in the whole game of turning off when told to. The first thing to do is use Windows Update to make sure everything is up to date (just recently the latest “service pack”, #3 was released). (
Start » Programs @raquo; Windows Update … or possibly
I also went to Dell and looked for updated drivers for my system. None of these things helped me. I was amazed at how … lame Dell’s site was
I tried disabling devices that I knew I wouldn’t need at the moment (DVD drive, wireless network connection, various other things). I unplugged all the USB devices. Go to
Start » Run » and type in devmgmt.msc. Expand groups of “devices” and right click on the ones you think you won’t need, clicking Disable. For me nothing here helped.
Then I got rid of everything out of the
Start » Programs » Startup folder. Mostly these were programs that kind of “warm up” programs so they seem to take less time to start when you want them to load. Grrr.
Then I uninstalled as many programs as I could that I was sure I didn’t need. This is a little tricky, but if you aren’t sure what a program does, Google it. Go to
Start » Control Panel » Add or Remove Programs. Keep in mind that most programs can be easily reinstalled (except for ones you have to pay for, and actually use). Go wild. Use the nCleaner program afterward to finish up all the uninstalling that the actual uninstallers don’t do.
So in my case, the main culprit seems to have been some software called Wild Tangent whose purpose is to make 3D Games played on Yahoo work. Which is great for all the people who play 3D Games on Yahoo. Me, I play my 3D games in places that actually have three dimensions, like my living room, or on the field with a Frisbee. Yahoo, not so much.
And after this (I think) my problems were solved. I could reliably see my computer go into standby mode, then a minute later hibernate. Hallelujah!
All Systems Go (because All Systems Stopped) … but not so fast
I watched in admiration and glee, several times as my computer, all of its own accord turned itself into a non-energy sucker. And just as I was getting complacent, I was slapped in the face with the reality of things.
I like music, and we are an iPods and iPhone kind of family. So I use iTunes. But I am also a geek, and think that things we all use should be in a central place, so have a computer in our broom closet that does things like keep our photos, music, TiVo’d programs we like to keep, Virtual CDs (so all those games we buy on CDs can be used without having the CD on hand), and a few other geeky kinds of things like that.
So it turns out that when iTunes is open, or perhaps any program that is using a file located on a remote computer (like the one in my broom closet), Windows decides that’s reason enough not to shut down. No warnings, no errors, no messages, no indication whatsoever that this state has prevented standby, just … nada.
Quick note for people looking to diagnose standby/hibernate issues: files open on remote computer seem to prevent standby.
And iTunes starts every time I plug in my iPhone or an iPod to charge, so that it can sync up and back up whatever it needs to. And I listen to music during the day when I am working at home on DoAGreenThing.com. And by default, iTunes nicely stays in view in the alert area. So, it’s pretty much usually on. So now I have to shut it down in order to make my computer shut down automatically. Foiled again … sort of.
Naturally, I am highly inclined to blame this on Microsoft. Except it seems like there may be similar issues with Macs, as we’re conscious of this at work, too, and are using Mac’s there. Harumph.
Ok, so anyway, I am now pretty expert in diagnosing standby and hibernate issues. Post a comment if you have one. But remember: my goal is to solve these problems so your computer can save energy.