Back in the days when computers were still running on 2 GB hard disks, the general way you would turn off a computer and save its current state without shutting it down completely was called “standby.” Now, computers have newer, more creative little nicknames for this mode, each with their own functions that differ from the original “standby” mode (and sometimes don’t). Among these is hibernation. What does it do? How does it help you? And, most importantly, how does it affect your computer’s performance? Hibernation is a concept understood poorly understood by most day-to-day computer users, and when presented with more options, they do not know what exactly to choose.
What Exactly Does Hibernation Do?
When you shut down the computer (in other words, you click “Shut down,” not “Sleep” or “Hibernate”), it closes all your programs, stops system services, stops the operating system, and then cuts off power to the computer. When you boot up again, your computer starts up a clean slate and only runs programs that were supposed to run on startup. Hibernate, an option that exists on battery-reliant Windows systems, is an alternative to “sleep.” So, we must first find out what “sleep” is.
If you put your computer in “Sleep” mode, the computer just cuts power to all hardware except RAM, much like “standby” did in all versions of Windows from 98 to Server 2003 (this includes XP, for consumers). Why does it refuse to cut power to RAM? That’s because your RAM contains all the program data from applications you were running before you put the computer to sleep. Obviously, this means you have to maintain a constant supply of power to your computer, which is why this is preferable for desktop systems that supply power from wall outlets.
Hibernation is an alternative that allows you to store all the content from RAM on your hard drive. Instead of continuously supplying power to RAM, Windows flushes everything you have in RAM onto your hard drive and then shuts off the computer. Since your hard disk writes data magnetically, it doesn’t need a continuous power supply (yippee!) – something that makes hibernation a valid alternative for battery-operated devices. When you turn on your computer again, it will restore all that data it just wrote back into RAM and remove it from the hard drive. You’ll see all your open programs again just like you did with sleep mode.
So, How Does Hibernation Impact Computer Performance?
Overall, your computer will be just as fast (or slow) as it was when you put it to hibernate. The difference is in the booting process. Hard drives (and even solid state drives) are much slower than RAM. Since “Sleep” mode preserves the RAM “as-is,” it often starts up much faster than hibernation. Hibernating computers must take the effort to read magnetic data from their hard drives and then write these values into RAM, making the whole process very tedious.
When Is Hibernation Most Beneficial?
Even though hibernation is a slowpoke, it’s significantly useful in cases in which you do not plan to supply your laptop with power from your outlet. Putting the computer to sleep will eventually drain the battery much faster than hibernation does. The reasons should be obvious by now. So, if you’re leaving the laptop on battery power, put it to hibernate!
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