Understanding Differences Between Hibernate and Stand By

Do you know the differences between Windows Stand By and Hibernate? These two Windows XP shutdown options often confuse people. These power saving options offer advantages, but it’s important to know the differences when creating a power scheme for your notebook or desktop.

When you click Turn Off Computer, Windows XP shows 4 options to shut down your computer.

  • Stand By
  • Turn Off
  • Restart
  • Hibernate

Most people understand Turn Off and Restart as they’re frequently used. Where people get confused is between Stand By and Hibernate. The main differences lie in power consumption and data storage.

Windows Stand By Maintains a Fast State of Readiness

When you hear the term “stand by” you think of a resource that is ready to go once called. The concept is similar in Windows. Your computer returns to a state of readiness when you press a key or the power button. The time it takes your PC to resume or shut down is seconds.

Your machine recovers quickly as your data is stored in RAM. The slower part is waking up the peripherals. Although your machine is in “stand by” the power has been cut to items such as your hard drive and monitor. You’re running your machine in a very low power mode, but it is still on. This mode can be useful if you’re on a notebook and need to conserve your battery while you step away.

If you have a notebook, you wouldn’t want to keep your computer in this state for more than several hours. The first issue is that even though you’re in a low power consumption state, you’re still using power. The bigger reason is once your power goes, so does your data.

The big drawback to Stand By is you run the risk of losing whatever data you were working on if the power goes out. As a precaution, you might want to save the data before putting your computer in this mode or use Hibernate.

Windows Hibernate Takes a Longer Term Approach

An option with a longer perspective is hibernate. Like Stand By, you can recover your place. The big difference is that your PC has shut down and is not pulling power. Another difference is that your data is saved to your hard disk and not RAM. This makes it a safer, but slower option for shut down and resume.

Hibernate will save your desktop and open files to a special Windows file called hiberfil.sys. This large file usually resides in your root folder (c:hiberfil.sys). The file size closely matches how much RAM your PC has installed. If you have 2 gigs of RAM on your notebook, you’re going to have to give up 2 gigs of hard disk space. Note: You can delete the hiberfil.sys file only if you disable hibernate.

When you press your power button, Windows will start and open the files you were using. The process is not instantaneous as with Stand By, but gets you to the same place. You may find this option is faster than rebooting, as Windows doesn’t have to do things such as detecting your hardware.

Where is the Hibernate Option?

Hibernate doesn’t show by default. Your manufacturer has to have included the functionality and it needs to be enabled. Even then, there is a trick to seeing this option. Usually, when you turn off your computer you see the following dialog.

Standy Option on Turn Off Computer

If you hold down your Shift key, you’ll see the Stand By option changes to Hibernate.

Hibernate option on Turn Off Computer

If you still can’t see the option, you should check your Power Options Properties in your Control Panel.

Creating a Windows XP Power Scheme

Most Windows XP systems allow you to set various power options. This is ideal for notebook users who wish to conserve power after a certain period of inactivity. It’s also useful for desktop owners who wish to conserve power. As example, you might want to create a profile that first puts your computer into Stand By mode and then goes into Hibernate after another time.

To create a Power Profile in Windows XP,

  1. From the Start menu, select Control Panel
  2. Select Performance and Maintenance
  3. Select Power Options.
  4. Your system should display the Power Options Properties dialog with various tabs. The number of tabs will vary based on your manufacturer and if you have a UPS. Notebook systems have extra settings so you can set a scheme for when you’re using direct power or batteries.

    Power Options Properties dialog

  5. Click the Hibernate tab. Check the box if you wish to enable this feature.
  6. Click the Power Schemes tab.
  7. Power schemes tab

  8. Set your options to suit your needs. If you’re on a notebook, make sure that your hibernate time is less than your battery time. Otherwise, your battery will drain before the option can kick in.
  9. Click OK.

We may be use to cheap and abundant energy, but there is little need to keeping your computer fully powered. Microsoft and various hardware vendors have improved the power management systems. The bigger question is whether you should use Stand By, Hibernate or both. If you run into problems, Microsoft troubleshooting article on hibernating.