Thursday, July 10, 2008

To sleep, perchance to lose my thoughts ...

What do you do when you walk away from your computer?

What happens when you choose “Turn Off Computer” from the Start button is pretty well explained in this article from 2004: A recent reader asked for elaboration, specifically about background tasks.

But first … In Windows Vista, everything is the same – only different. There is no Start button, but when you click the Windows logo; there are “power” and “lock” icons. Except, by default, the “power” icon puts you in a fast hibernate where the screen goes blank immediately, but Windows is still doing something for a while.

To really shut down, you have to click the arrow at the right of the menus for another sub-menu of options. It is a good idea to fully shut down Windows occasionally to force it to finish all its tasks.

Now, for the body of our story …

Dear Bill Barnes,

I just came across an excellent article of your from 2004 (!) but there is still one unanswered issue for me.

When using a laptop (XP) and want to allow nighttime updates, on what power mode should the computer be set at?

For any unattended action to occur, the computer cannot be in sleep or hibernate. This includes automatic updates (Windows or antivirus; most other programs such as browsers, Adobe products – ie Flash and Reader – or applications check for updates when you use them and delay you then), scans, networked file or printer access, remote access, or idle-time programs such as SetiAtHome. As a rule of thumb, if you have to do more than wiggle the mouse to wake up the computer, background activities are not available either.

Most computers are able to wake themselves up – even from a full power-off – at a pre-scheduled time. This setting is deep in the BIOS settings and not part of Windows. I have never had occasion to even experiment with how it works.

What I generally do with my laptop is set it to never sleep or hibernate when plugged in. Then when I’m at home and was using it before bedtime, it will get updates and everything else. Otherwise I generally use low power settings. When I’m on battery, I set it for aggressive power management. I always set monitor off at the minimum I can stand and use a blank with password required (“Show Welcome screen”) screensaver setting (these times can be different and mon off can actually be less than screensaver).

Powering down the hard drive will not inhibit background activities; although they may inhibit it going into idle. Whether to power off the hard drive is an open discussion. On the one hand, it is most likely to fail at and because of startups, not while running. However, on laptops there are other considerations:
• Heat is the greatest killer of all electronics after electrical surges. A running hard drive puts out most of the heat in an idle computer and most laptops have inadequate cooling capability anyway.
• Vibration while running is another threat to hard drives (they are very rugged when not running). If you even carry your computer from desk-to-desk, you risk damage.
• The hard drive is the greatest drain on the battery in an idle laptop.
Of course, I violate all of these considerations, especially the second one, and have only lost 3 laptop drives (out of over 10 years of running use in a couple dozen laptops); 2 of them to heat in the same computer. If you have a failing hard drive, I strongly recommend using SpinRite for maintenance and, hopefully, recovery.

Disclaimer - Home Page - Blogs Home