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What's Modern Standby and why you want it on your next laptop

An old Windows feature will have you shouting at your computer for good reasons.

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Acer's Swift 3 is one of several laptops announced at CES that support Modern Standby. 

James Martin/CNET

When you wake up your phone, it's instantly ready to work and your email, texts and notifications are all up to date because, even with your phone asleep, it's still connected and updating itself -- and it's doing it without a big hit to your battery life. Modern Standby is Microsoft's effort to bring that instant-on, ready-to-go feel to PCs and, while it's not a new feature, Acer, Lenovo and other PC makers promoted it in their CES 2020 laptop announcements

Introduced in Windows 10, Modern Standby is an expansion of Windows 8.1's Connected Standby, a low-power idle that allows your computer to stay up to date when it has a network connection available. The updated standard gives PC makers more flexibility in component selection and lets the OS manage network connectivity. But, why talk about it now? You can thank Intel for that. 

Modern Standby is key to Intel's Project Athena initiative, a group of laptops designed to perform more like our phones when it comes to responsiveness and battery life. That group currently stands at 25 models with the addition of several announced at CES. Intel said there will be at least 50 by the end of 2020

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Intel co-engineers the Project Athena laptops with the manufacturers to make sure they meet its Key Experience Indicators (KEIs) for real-world use. Those include faster wake times and the ability to run activities in the background even with the system asleep, which is where Modern Standby comes in. 

Another benefit is this sleep state can allow mics to remain active for wake words. If you've gotten used to asking Cortana (or Alexa on some laptops) about what's on your calendar or if you have new email, Modern Standby helps make this possible with your laptop's lid closed. 

Modern Standby, also called S0 Low Power Idle, is not supported by all Windows 10 computers, however. Generally speaking, you can expect to find it used in thin-and-light and ultraportable laptops, designs that are more travel friendly where having an instant-on experience makes a difference. A desktop replacement or gaming system would likely use Windows 10's older S3 power model, which is not capable of waking and connecting in less than a second. 

How to check your laptop for Modern Standby support

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Screenshot by Josh Goldman/CNET
  • Open Command Prompt window, which can be done several ways, but typing "cmd" in the Taskbar search window will bring it up fast.
  • Type "powercfg/a" and hit Enter and it will show you what sleep states your PC supports.
  • If S0 Low Power Idle is listed as available, congratulations, you have Modern Standby. 

If having an instant-on power and wireless experience is important to you, it's worth hunting down a model like those in Project Athena that are designed to go to work immediately.