Most people know that using the Standby or Hibernate feature on their laptop will extend the life of their batteries by conserving power during downtime, but many do not realize that these features will also protect their hard drive.  Recently, my wife’s laptop crashed.  Although it initially looked like a Windows problem, after several attempts to fix and restore the system it became clear that a portion of the hard drive was damaged and no longer accessible.  Although the hard drive could no longer be used, most (though not all) of the her data could be retrieved.  Fortunately, I had set up an online backup system for her laptop so she had a recent copy of her data.  But what caused her hard drive failure?  Her laptop was over 3 years old, so normal wear and tear was a possibility.  However, after some mild interrogation about her laptop use, I learned that she normally transports her laptop while powered on and doesn’t use the Standby or Hibernate features.

If you had a PC in the 80’s or early 90’s, you might remember your moving company telling you to “park the heads” of the hard drive on your PC before packing it.  At the time, this meant executing a special DOS command.  Nowadays, it’s pretty much automatic on most PCs or laptops when they are shutdown.  The reason for this is that hard drives, as sophisticated as they may be, are fast-moving mechanical devices with lots of delicate parts and are susceptible to being damaged when subjected to any shocks.  If you carry around a hard drive without parking the heads, it’s like shaking a record player with the needle still on the album (to use another dated reference).  Oftentimes, however, people do not turn off their laptop when they are on-the-go because they don’t like waiting the 10-90 minutes for Windows to shut down and start up again.  Using the Standby or Hibernate features on your laptop will put the hard drive in a safe mode for travel but will take much less time than a full restart.  You can directly access these features from the Windows Start menu when you click “Turn off Computer” (in XP, pressing “shift” when viewing the power-off menu will change “Sleep” to “Hibernate”).  You can also configure these options, through the Power Management section of the Windows Control Panel, to engage after a set period of time and/or by certain actions such as closing the lid or pressing the power button.

So what’s the difference between the two features?  Standby powers down the accessories such as the monitor and hard drive, but keeps the internal memory active so everything stays just as you left it.  Hibernate writes the current state of your session to a place on the hard drive (so it takes slightly longer), then completely powers down the computer … so when it powers back up, it reads from the hard drive and puts everything back as it was.  Standby still uses a small amount of power, so it’s better suited for shorter periods of non-use.  Not all laptops are set by default to activate these features, so be sure to utilize them to protect your hard drive and your data.

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