Shut Down vs Sleep vs Hibernate vs Fast Startup: Windows Power Settings Explained

Windows Power Feature

Some folks shut down their PC the moment they step away from it. Others prefer to put their PC to sleep so that they can jump straight back into the action after a break. Some don’t bother shutting their PC off at all. But which method is best?

If you have a laptop, you might be concerned about battery life. Perhaps you are environmentally conscious and want to be as energy efficient as possible. Whatever your reasons, you’ve come to the right place. In this article we’ll break down the differences between the power settings found in Windows and explaining their advantages and disadvantages.

1. Shut Down

Let’s start with the one that everyone is pretty familiar with. Shutting down your Windows PC does exactly what you think it does. The shut down process exits out of any open programs, kills any ongoing processes running in the background and finally shuts down the operating system. When you shut down your computer, you’re turning it off completely.

Windows Power Button
Image source: FreeImages

The downside to shutting down your PC is that the next time you want to use it, the computer will have to initiate the boot process all over again. Your PC’s hardware will undergo a check to make sure everything’s working properly, and all of your start up programs will be launched.

Depending on your PC’s hardware and how it is configured, this boot up process can be relatively quick, painfully slow, or somewhere in-between. That being said, in a world where virtually everything is instantaneous, waiting for your PC to turn on after a complete shut down can feel like watching paint dry.

Advantages of Shutting Down

Completely shutting down your PC is the most energy efficient option on this list. So if you’re a utility bill hawk or if you just want to do all you can to conserve energy, shutting down is your best bet.

Windows Power On Off
Image source: Pexels

In addition to saving energy, shutting down can also fix some of the operating system’s issues. Turning your PC off completely flushes all of the minor bugs and glitches that arise after extended use. By not shutting down your PC, you run the risk of those minor bugs becoming more of a nuisance.

Windows Power Unplug
Image source: Unsplash

Finally, shutting down your PC protects it from power surges and power failures. When your PC is off, you don’t have to worry about data loss when there is a power failures.

How to Shut Down

Windows Shut Down
  1. Click or tap on the Start button.
  2. When the Start menu opens, select the Power icon on the left. This will open a sub menu with various options.
  3. Select “Shut Down” and your PC will begin the shut down process.

2. Sleep

Putting your PC to sleep puts it into a low power state. Essentially, the current “state” of your computer – all of your open documents and running programs – are transferred to your system’s memory.

Windows Power Sleep
Image source: Pexels

Meanwhile, the rest of your computer is effectively shut off. By saving the state of your PC to the system memory, you won’t have to wait for your PC to boot up. Instead, your PC restores the saved state so you can resume whatever you where doing immediately.

Advantages to Putting Your PC to Sleep

Putting your PC to sleep allows you to “wake” your PC to pick up right where you left off. Your PC will restore any programs you were using and files you had open. This makes putting your PC to sleep much more convenient than shutting down.

Windows Power Battery
Image source: Unsplash

In addition, only a small amount of power is required to put your PC to sleep. This is due to the fact that the state of your PC is saved to the system memory while everything else is shut off. The being said, the Sleep function is designed for jumping back in after stepping away for a bit.

While Sleep mode ensures that your machine sips at power, it can still run down a battery if left “sleeping” for long periods of time. That being said, you don’t need to worry about losing your work because your battery is drained while in Sleep mode. If it gets too low, Windows will save your work and shut down the PC automatically.

Windows Power Backup
Image source: Unsplash

If you know you won’t be revisiting your PC for a longer stretch of time, you may want to consider shutting down completely or putting your computer in hibernation mode – which we’ll discuss in a later section.

How to Put Your PC to Sleep

You can put your computer to sleep in a few different ways.

  1. In the first method, click on the Start button and then the power icon.
  2. In the menu that opens, click on the option labelled “Sleep”.
Windows Power Settings Sleep

Most laptop PCs are configured so that they go to sleep when the power button is pressed or the lid is closed.

  1. To check if your PC does this, you’ll need to go through Control Panel in Windows 11.
  2. Click on the Windows search button in the Taskbar and look for “Control Panel”.
Windows Power Settings Search
  1. Select “Hardware & Sound” in Control Panel.
Windows Power Settings Hardware Sound
  1. Under “Power Options” you’ll notice “Choose what the power buttons do”. Click on it.
Windows Power Settings Change What Power Buttons Do
  1. From here you can decide what happens when you close the lid or you press the power/sleep button.
Windows Power Settings Options
  1. In Windows 10, you can access these options by going to “System-> Power & sleep-> Additional power settings”.

3. Hibernate

Hibernation mode in Windows 10 is fairly similar to Sleep mode – with one major difference. As we mentioned above, when your PC goes to sleep, your PC’s state (open files, applications) is saved to the RAM. In hibernation mode, your PC’s state is stored on the hard drive.

Windows Power Hibernate
Image source: Unsplash

Waking your PC from hibernation will restore your PC’s state – allowing you to resume where you left off. That being said, it will take your PC longer to restore your state since it is retrieving the data from the hard drive instead of the RAM.

Advantages to PC Hibernation

If hibernation is basically the same as sleep mode only slower, what’s the point? As we mentioned, your PC’s state is stored to the hard drive in a file named “hiberfil.sys”. All the files and applications you have opened when entering hibernation will be stored as that file.

When your PC wakes from hibernation, it will load the info on that file. Since your PC’s state is saved on the hard drive as opposed to the RAM, your computer can essentially shut down. Because of this, hibernation mode doesn’t consume power.

Windows Power Away
Image source: Pexels

Compared to sleep mode, hibernation conserves more power than sleep. Therefore, hibernation is most beneficial when you are going to be away from your PC for long periods of time.

How to Hibernate Your PC

Hibernation mode was designed for portable devices such as laptops as a way to conserve battery. Therefore, hibernation mode may not be available for all computers. That being said, even if you are on a laptop, you may not see the hibernate option when you click on the Start button and select the power icon. To remedy this, we’ll have to jump back into the Power Options of Windows.

  1. Retrace steps #1 to #4 from the previous section to open the “Change what the power buttons do” page on your Windows 11 machine.
  2. Now, check the lower part of the display. You’ll notice some of the options are greyed out, including the hibernate option.
Windows Power Settings Gray Out Options
  1. To access these settings, click on “Change settings that are currently unavailable” (at the top). Be aware that you will have to have administrator privileges in order to enable this option.
Windows Power Settings Change Settings
  1. You should now see the “Hibernate” option under shutdown settings is now available. Put a check in that box and click “Save changes”. Now, when you click the Start button and select the power icon, you will see the option to put your PC into hibernation.
Windows Power Settings Hibernate
  1. In Windows 10, you will find these options by going to “System -> Power & sleep -> Additional power settings”.

Note: remember that hibernation is not available on every PC.

Below you can find a few additional settings connected with the Windows power options we talked about above. They can provide some enhancements, as you will see below.

Fast Startup

If your computer is capable of hibernating, there is a good chance that “Fast Startup” is enabled. “Fast Startup” is a feature that enables your PC to boot up faster after shutting down. It achieves this by putting your PC into a hibernated state, as opposed to a complete shut down. Long story short, if your PC has the ability to hibernate, “Fast Startup” is enabled by default.

Windows Power Mad
Image source: Pexels

While it may seem as though Fast Startup is a great idea, you may want to disable it. Some software, drivers, etc don’t play well with hibernation. This could cause them to behave oddly or fail to update. If you want to avoid potential headaches, consider disabling Fast Startup on your Windows PC.

InstantGo

Microsoft’s InstantGo (also known as Modern Standby) is a feature that appeared back in the Windows 8 days. InstantGo seeks to solve a major issue with hibernating or putting your PC to sleep. And that is the fact that nothing happens in these modes. No updates, no new email, no Skype calls. This is because when you put your PC to sleep or in hibernation you’re essentially freezing it in place.

Compare this to smartphones, which maintain network connectivity when the device is in standby mode. This allows updates to continue, for you to receive calls, sync your email and more, all while providing the instant resumption of activity when waking the device. Seems pretty good, right? InstantGo aims to provide the same low power consumption network connectivity on your PC.

Unfortunately, not every Windows PC is compatible with the InstantGo feature.

  1. To see if your PC has InstantGo, right click the Start button and select “Windows Power Shell” from the menu.
  2. Once Windows Power Shell has launched, type the following: powercfg /a and hit the Enter key.
Windows Power Instantgo
Image source: blogs.windows.com
  1. Power Shell will now list all of the sleep states available on your PC. If you see “Standby (Connected)” listed, then your PC supports InstantGo.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What’s the point of shutting down at all?

Shutting down can flush any minor bugs or glitches that crop up during the normal operation of a PC. This translates to a more stable user experience. Furthermore, some drivers and software don’t play nice with sleep and hibernation modes. Shutting down can rectify any potential issues you may face.

2. What about Restart?

The Restart function is basically just shutting down your PC. However with Restart you don’t have to press the power button on your device to turn it back on. Instead, it turns back on automatically.

3. What happens if my device’s battery dies while in Sleep mode?

Sleep mode does require a small amount of power, as it needs to supply a steady voltage to your system’s RAM. This means that it is possible for your battery to run down while your device is asleep. Fortunately, Windows is still able to tell when the battery is critical while asleep. If it does, Windows will save your PC’s state to the hard drive, effectively transitioning from sleep mode to hibernation automatically. It does this to ensure that there is no data loss due to an interruption in power.

4. Is InstantGo only available on ARM devices?

While InstantGo is modeled after the functionality of System-on-Chip (SoC), you do not have to have a device running the ARM architecture. InstantGo is an integration of both hardware and software that is found on x64, x86 as well as ARM architectures.

Image credit: Unsplash

Subscribe to our newsletter!

Our latest tutorials delivered straight to your inbox