SolutionBase: Understanding and troubleshooting hibernation mode

In order to save power, laptops can go into hibernation mode, preserving both battery life and your work. That is, it's supposed to when it works. Here's how hibernation mode works and what to do when it doesn't.

As you may know, the power saving features in Windows XP that are geared to laptop users are more sophisticated and far superior to those found in earlier version of the operating system. One of the most beneficial of these power saving features for laptop users is the hibernation mode.

As opposed to the more familiar standby mode, in which your entire computer switches to a low-power state where devices, such as the monitor and hard disks, turn off and your computer uses less power, hibernation mode actually shuts down the system. However, before it does so, it saves everything currently in memory to a special file on the hard disk. Then, when you turn the system back on, Windows XP simply loads everything from the special file on the hard disk back into memory. When it does, everything is just as you left it and you can get right back to work.

In this article, I'll explain some of the other advantages of using hibernation mode on a laptop and show you how to configure it. I'll then explain some of the problems you may encounter when using hibernation mode and show you how to troubleshoot those problems.

Reduce load time

In addition to allowing you to get back to work quicker, another benefit of hibernation mode is that it typically restarts your laptop quicker than a cold boot operation. Of course that depends on how many applications are running at the time you shift into hibernation mode.

Of course, if you put the system into hibernation mode when a lot of applications are running, the goal, and certainly the outcome, isn't going to be a faster boot up. Rather, the goal and the outcome are going to be that you can get back to work right where you left off.

However, if you close all your open applications, just like you would do if you were going to shut down the system, before you activate hibernation mode, then when you turn on your system, you'll definitely experience a faster boot up than if you would have turned your system off and then turned it back on.

On the flip side, putting your system in hibernation mode after you've closed your applications is much faster than actually shutting down the operating system.

Configuring hibernation mode

Configuring your laptop to use hibernation mode is a simple procedure. Of course in order to do so, you laptop must be Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI) ï¿?compliant. However, almost all laptops are ACPI ï¿?compliant these days.

To configure your laptop to use hibernation mode, click Start | Control Panel and double-click the Power Options icon. When you see the Power Options Properties dialog box, select the Hibernate tab. Then, select the Enable Hibernation check box and click the Apply button (see Figure A).

Figure A

The first thing you need to do is enable the hibernation on your laptop.

To continue configuring Hibernation mode, click the Advanced tab. You'll now focus on the settings in the Power Buttons panel, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

The settings in the Power Buttons panel will allow you to configure how you want to put your system into hibernation mode.

As you can see, on this particular system, the When I Press The Sleep Button On My Computer setting is set to Hibernate. However, both the When I Close The Lid Of My Portable Computer and the When I Press The Power Button On My Computer settings can be set to Hibernate.

Once you choose the method you want to use to activate Hibernation mode, you can click OK to close the Power Options Properties dialog box. When you do so, you're all set to use Hibernation mode at any time.

Password protecting hibernation mode

If you're using hibernation mode to quickly get back to work, you may be concerned about security. After all, hibernation mode allows you to bring your application right back to the way they were when you were last working and if those application contain sensitive data, you might not want just anyone having such easy access. As such, you may want to password protect your computer during hibernation mode.

To do so, just select the Prompt For Password When Computer Resumes From Standby check box on the Advanced tab shown earlier in Figure B. Keep in mind that while this option only mentions standby mode, it also works in hibernation mode.

One more way to activate hibernation mode

If you're used to using the Turn Off Computer button on the Start menu, you can continue to do so and still activate Hibernation mode. After you click the Turn Off Computer button, you'll see the Turn Off Computer dialog box, which contains three buttons: Stand By, Turn Off and Restart. However, if while this dialog box is on the screen you press the [Shift] key, the Stand By button will change to a Hibernate button, as illustrated in Figure C.

Figure C

Pressing [Shift] transforms the Stand By button into a Hibernate button.

Delete Hiberfil.sys before defragmenting

When you use the Windows XP's hibernation feature on your laptop system, you will want to delete the Hiberfil.sys file before defragmenting your hard disk. Hiberfil.sys can become very large and occupy a lot of fragmented disk space itself. As such it can prevent Disk Defragmenter from performing a thorough defragment operation.

Fortunately, you can easily remove the Hiberfil.sys file from the hard disk and make way for a complete disk defragmenting operation. To do so, access the Control Panel and double-click the Power Options icon. Next, select the Hibernate tab in the Power Options Properties dialog box. then, clear the Enable Hibernation check box and click OK.

As soon as you clear the check box, Windows XP automatically deletes the Hiberfil.sys file from the hard disk. Once you complete the defrag operation, you can re-enable the hibernation feature.

Troubleshooting hibernation mode

As you can imagine, just like everything else in Windows XP, hibernation mode is prone to a few glitches here and there. However, they really aren't that bad to deal with if you know what to expect, Therefore, let's take a look at a few of the more common problems you might encounter when using hibernation mode.

Wallpaper disappears after resume

When you resume a Windows XP computer from the hibernation mode and then log on to the computer, the wallpaper may not show on your desktop wallpaper. However, pressing F5 or right-clicking on the desktop and selecting the Refresh Command will in most cases bring the wall paper back.

The computer hibernates after resume

After your computer resumes from hibernation, it may enter hibernation again after five minutes of inactivity, regardless of the settings you have configured in the Power Options tool in Control Panel. This occurs if the computer's BIOS resets itself as the computer resumes from hibernation and clears any wakeup signals that might be active. Therefore, the operating system cannot determine why the computer woke up and as such returns to hibernation after five minutes of inactivity. It does so to avoid situations where an application wakes up the computer and causes the battery to drain while the computer is not being used.

The computer does not resume correctly

When you attempt to resume your computer from hibernation mode, you may experience on or more of the following problems

  • The screen is not displayed correctly, and garbled characters may appear.
  • The screen appears blank.
  • The computer stops responding.

These problems typically occur on Windows XP systems on which only SP1 is installed or on systems on which SP2 is installed, the computer is connected to a network, has the Wake-on-LAN feature enabled, and a network ping request brings the system out of hibernation.

If you encounter this problem, you can request a specifically designed hotfix that should only be applied to computers encountering this problem. To obtain this hotfix you need to contact Microsoft Product Support Services on the Microsoft Product Support Services Contact page.

However, keep in mind that if you're not encountering this problem, Microsoft recommends that you wait for the next Windows XP service pack that contains this fix.