An Investigation into My New Laptop’s Stubborn Refusal to Sleep

Why “Modern Standby” mode has been keeping me (and many others) awake at night

Image by Amberrose Nelson from Pixabay

The Problem

After many years of abuse, my pre-2014 Windows laptop and 2013 Macbook have been struggling to keep up with my workload* so I finally bit the bullet and invested in a new Windows laptop. A co-worker who’s particularly passionate about hardware was happy to jump in and make some recommendations, I was convinced, and the new machine has been simply fantastic. It’s a real workhorse, it beautifully does All The Things.

“By Design”

After regularly trawling forums for my device and finding hacky solutions that just don’t make any difference, I recently came across a series of posts on the topic and learned, to my dismay, that the manufacturer has intentionally disabled sleep mode (“S3” to those who care) in favour of what’s called “Modern Standby”. Not only have they disabled it, but with each update they’ve been actively thwarting any attempts to override this and return to S3.

Solution Part 1: Hibernation

The first part of a solution definitely falls under the category of “workarounds”, but it’s considerably better than “Modern Standby”: configure your machine to hibernate rather than sleep. The advantage of this is that your machine will be powered down completely, and while it’s a more time expensive operation than sleeping, these days the speed of hibernating and restoring is at least tolerable for most people. The disadvantage, however, is that hibernating a machine with lots of memory means writing all of the RAM’s contents to disk, and frequently writing up to 16/32/64GB to disk increases wear-and-tear and introduces a higher risk of failure. Only slightly, depending on how much RAM you have and the size of your disk, so according to some it’s totally fine to hibernate a handful of times a day.

Solution Part 2: Network Disconnected mode

Modern Standby has two modes, connected standby (“Network Connected”) and disconnected standby (“Network Disconnected”). Connected standby mode is the one in which — as stated above in Microsoft’s documentation — VoIP calls are allowed even when “sleeping”. While Bluetooth device syncing, reminders and so on will still occur, disconnected standby mode is still a far sight better, but I must admit it’s a total mystery to me as to why Microsoft wouldn’t make these modes explicitly available through their standard options.

  1. Select Computer Configuration -> Administrative Templates -> System ->Power Management ->Sleep Settings (obvious, right?)
  2. Right-click and edit “Allow network connectivity during connected-standby” for both “plugged in” and “on battery”, setting them both to “Disabled”.
  3. Run powercfg /a again to verify that the mode has been updated correctly.
Every user knows about these settings, right? (Don’t forget to change the plugged in state as well)
“Network Disconnected” indicates that disconnected standby mode is configured

Putting it all together

It’s clearly a good idea to configure one’s power settings with a combination of sleeping and hibernating. But just how should one configure these settings?

Analyzing your Windows machine’s sleep state

It’s all very well to make all these recommendations, but how do we verify that changing these settings has had any meaningful impact? Well, aside from the obvious benefits of not being surprised by noises and bright screens at obscure hours, or firing up your machine at a coffee shop with no available power points to find its battery unexpectedly drained, Microsoft has provided a tool for generating System Power Reports.

A nice little review of my Sunday morning state changes

In summary

Connected Standby, the “sleep” mode which has already become the industry standard, does not behave the way many of us expect. Disconnected standby is an improvement, but still not viable for long-term downtime or safe for travelling. Solving the issues many of us have faced requires employing a combination of disconnected standby and hibernation.

An experienced analyst, architect and polyglot developer who loves solving problems across paradigms. Also writes words, and sometimes even performs them.

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