What's best for my computer: Hibernate, sleep, or shut down?

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Please note that we are here talking, primarily, about the Laptop, Notebook and Netbook kind of computer though, as far as general energy savings are concerned they also apply to Desktop PCs.

The question always is: Does putting my computer to sleep help extend the battery life? What else can I do to save energy and make my new computer last?

We have, no doubt, all heard stories about what's best for a computer’s battery and there are many conflicting views and even the experts don't always agree. Some will say that you should take the battery out when running a Laptop via the power pack on the mains, other say that you should run it with the battery in while doping so, while others suggest to run the computer without being plugged in and to discharge the battery daily.

So, who is right? Difficult to say, I would say, and that is why I still prefer a Desktop PC as my general workhorse.

Here are some expert's tips that I have found on how to keep your new laptop running smoothly. I must say that I just repeat them and give no guarantees.

Sleep mode vs. shutting down

Your work process very much will determine whether it is more efficient for your to use “Sleep” mode or simply shut down the computer.

It is never fun to have to all the time wait any amount of time for the system to come “back on line”, to to speak, if the shut downs are too frequent. ‘Sleep’ mode requires more power, but it boots up faster, while ‘Hibernate’ uses less power, but takes longer to come back on line and that same logic, obviously, as already indicated, also applies to shutting off your computer completely.

People worry that shutting down and turning back on all the time will wear out the computer but chances are that your computer will become obsolete – oh, how I hate that word – before you will manage to wear out your computer by turning it on and off a lot. It also doesn't take more energy to start a computer than to keep it running. The opposite, actually, may be true.

Sleep mode requires a constant, though reduced use of power (0-6 watts) and colorful screensavers do nothing to conserve energy. They, in fact, use a lot of energy. Get rid of screensavers and even certain desktop colors if you really want to save energy during operation. Accessing your computer remotely with the Wake on LAN feature also can drain the power.

To get the most for your money it is advisable to adjust the power settings so that it automatically goes into Sleep/Standby mode after about 15 minutes of inactivity, and then shut it down at the end of your day.

Bionic battery life

As I said, some experts suggest that to get the most out of your computer battery, you have to give it a workout. Therefore they say not to keep your machine plugged in to an outlet but instead to discharge the battery daily. I am not sure whether that is the way I would go, simply because it have yet to find a Laptop, etc., whose battery lasts for more than two hours working time.

Size does matter

By purchasing a Laptop, you are, theoretically, ahead in the energy-saving game. Laptops use about 15-60 watts, while Desktops use 65-250 watts – plus another 15-80 watts for a monitor if you still use a CRT one. The fact is that the wattage give by some experts for CRT monitors is very much on the low side. I know that many could be using more power than the Desktop PC itself. Desktops could be made much more power efficient if they would not be running the huge power supplies that they do. But that is a different story.

You can further conserve energy by using an LCD monitor and by ditching the high-end video card unless it’s absolutely necessary. Also, turn off printers and other peripherals when they are not in use.

To kill “vampire power,” I suggest you buy a power strip. With all peripherals connected to one source, it is easy to simply flip the switch on power hogs any time. If you are using a Desktop then get a so-called intelligent panel which has a master socket and, depending on the type, either five or seven slave sockets. The master socket is where the PC is plugged into the slaves where the peripherals go. When you turn the PC off the panel will turn off the peripherals and only a small amount of energy is being consumed with the panel remaining in standby.

Establish a backup process

Invest in an external hard drive to hold your digital music library, special photos, and other key documents. Frequent backups ensure that your data doesn’t die with your laptop. External hard drives no longer cost an arm and a leg and you do not need x-amount of terrabite unless you have 100s of videos stored.

In fact always store your important files on an external drive as that will also keep the hard drive of your computer lean and clean. Some Laptops nowadays have two hard drives (some physically some just partitioned) and I would advise that, if you keep files on the PC that they are on that second drive. However, better still they are on an external drive and also, my special advice, keep other stuff on optical drives.

While you are in the process of backing things up, create an emergency file (on good old-fashioned paper) that contains your computer’s serial number along with other key data such as your credit card numbers and phone numbers to reach each company, along with contact info to your insurance company. Access to that information is vital, particularly in the event of an accident, fire, computer theft, or other catastrophe.

Those key pieces of information are not safe on your computer. If you absolutely need a digital holding space for those nuggets of information, use sites like LastPass as your online vault. You can't, however, beat pen and paper to record all the important stuff and keep it somewhere very safe. But also somewhere that you can remember where and – and I have done this – make sure you also write down what this or that username and password is for.

Desktops, while, maybe, not as energy efficient as are Laptops, Notebooks, and Netbooks, they are much more reliable workhorses and can be repaired and doctored and upgraded should you so desire.

As far as I am concerned the death of the Desktop is not imminent and the story of its demise was greatly exaggerated. When it is going to become a problem making those small Laptop things and keeping them going because they are not easy to repair the good old Desktop may be making a rather swift comeback.

I must say that I DO NOT HAVE TO carry a computer around with me and that even though I do have a Notebook and a Netbook computer. I find them cumbersome and something that needs protecting, and therefore I rather still use pen and paper. My notes can be run over by a main battle tank and they will still be retrievable; something that will not work when that has happened to Notebook PC or Netbook.

© 2011