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75. Leaving computers on:
new models offer shutdown options

By Mark Alberstat

Under more than a few trees this Christmas, lucky people will find new computers and some people may receive their very first one. They will no doubt have a myriad of questions. One that is often asked is not how to turn off a Window's-based machine but which of the shut down options is best suited for their particular case.

Recent versions of Windows have three shut down options: Hibernate, Stand By and Shut Down. The third one is obvious, it powers off the computer, the drives, fans and everything else stops.

The differences between hibernate and stand by, however, are more subtle and which one you should use will depend on your situation.

If you are going to be away from your computer for a short time, such as going to a meeting, watching a tv show or anything less than a few hours, Stand By is the best choice. In standby mode the system goes into a low-power state but leaves all of your documents and files open where you left them. This is really convenient if you have multiple documents open, a spreadsheet and maybe a few Internet sites as well. When you come back to your computer, simply shake the mouse or hit one of the keyboard buttons and your computer springs back to life.

If you are going to be away from your computer for a long time, overnight for example, Hibernate is the better option. Hibernate mode is just shy of a complete system shutdown. When your computer enters Hibernate mode, the operating systems saves all of your desktop settings to a file that is then read when the computer "wakes up" and restores all of your files and settings. One of the main differences is that in Hibernate you can only bring your computer back by pressing the power button and logging in again.

To check if your computer goes into hibernate mode, or to set it to that, you have to go to the Windows Control Panel and double click the Power Options icon.

It is under this set of options that you find the settings for your computer's power cycling. If you are interested in the Hibernate mode, click that tab and see if there is a check in the box next to Enable hibernation. In the Power Schemes tab you can adjust the idle time for your computer before it goes into hibernate mode.

As with all computer issues, a caveat should be stated. Not all users will have success with either of these modes. Not being able to "wake up" a machine is a common complaint regarding these settings and often has to do with a driver mismatch. Another common problem is that attached USB devices are not seen after hibernation ends and the only way to reactivate them is to restart the computer. If you are experiencing any of these problems with the Hibernate or Stand By mode it is best to simply shut off the machine when you will be away from it for long periods of time. If you are on a new machine and these modes work well, they can be a useful and convenient way to temporarily shut down your system.

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


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Originally published 8 January 2006


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