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Why Won’t My Computer Return from Standby?

Leo, I’ve got a constant frustration that when I wake my computer after a sleep period, sometimes it comes up fine, other times it cannot reestablish internet connections or just doesn’t come back up and I end up having to reboot. I’ve learned to shut down the internet before I sleep. That relieves some of the problems but I can’t figure out why at times it just doesn’t come up – a dark screen and no blinking light activity

You would think after all this time that standby would be a lot more reliable. Sadly, in many cases, it just isn’t. I’ll explain why that is, what I do, and what steps you might take.

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Standby is … special

Standby is actually kind of special. When you put your computer into standby mode, it’s turned off – but not really. Certain parts of the system actually remain powered or partially powered. RAM is the obvious example, because it’s given enough power so that it doesn’t lose whatever is kept in it.

Similarly, some hardware devices on your computer also need to handle standby a little differently than a complete shutdown. They need to, perhaps, put themselves into a low power state that can be recovered from and turned on again quickly. The result is that almost every device needs to at least know about standby. And almost every device on your system needs to do something different when it’s told that the system is about to standby, or when it recovers.

Now, PCs and Windows are awesome in that you can get machines and hardware from hundreds of different manufacturers. The problem is that we end up with machines with hundreds of thousands of different combinations of hardware in them.

Power Button And each and every one of the drivers for each possible piece of hardware needs to:

  • play well with all of the others, and
  • handle standby appropriately as it does so.

The fundamental problem with standby, in my opinion, is that the drivers for some of the hardware still aren’t handling the special nature of standby properly 100% of the time.

My approach to standby

So, what do I do? Well, I gave up. I never use standby on a PC. Never.

I realize part of that is conditioning by my history. Things used to be much worse than they are now, and I learned early on it hurts when I do this, so I just don’t.

Things have certainly gotten a lot better, so perhaps my fear of standby is unwarranted, or at least the magnitude might be; but I still regularly hear stories like yours that make me wonder.

I’ll either use hibernate, or I simply shut the machine down completely.

If you want to try and get standby to work reliably, I suggest two things:

  1. Check for BIOS updates from your system’s manufacturer. Much of the power management in a PC is actually performed at the BIOS level and as a result, it’s heavily involved in standby.
  2. Look for updated drivers for relevant hardware components.

In your case, I’d start with a network interface. Check with the manufacturer for updated network drivers. Other hardware that can quickly come into play includes video drivers, so updating those is also a good place to start.

Where I do use standby

Now, for the record, I do use standby pretty constantly on my Mac laptop.

But when you think about it, it kind of makes sense that it would be more stable in this regard. On a Mac, you don’t have the option of installing all sorts of different hardware that has to learn to deal with everything. Instead you have a single vendor with a very small set of hardware options.

As a result, the software doesn’t have to deal with nearly as many variations, and can be more stable.

Posted: June 1, 2014 in: Windows Performance
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I'm Leo Notenboom and I've been playing with computers since I took a required programming class in 1976. I spent over 18 years as a software engineer at Microsoft, and after "retiring" in 2001 I started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place to help you find answers and become more confident using this amazing technology at our fingertips. More about Leo.

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