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Start Windows in an Instant

Get your PC ready for work without having to wait for Windows to warm up.

No two jobs are alike, but one thing millions of us have in common is the daily wait for Windows to get going. Why can't our PCs start as quickly as our radios, TVs, and other electronic devices?

Well, the instant-on PC isn't likely to arrive anytime soon, but you can get your workday rolling without having to stare down that annoying Windows logo. The simplest solution is to set Windows' Power Options to send your system into XP's standby or Vista's sleep mode after it has been idle for a while. Then you can simply head for the door when your work day is done. When you return, just tap your mouse or a key on your keyboard, and say "Good morning!" to your desktop, or whatever apps you left open when you left. (Note that some systems require that you press the power button to bring them back to life.)

You might think this would be a waste of electricity, but your PC actually uses just a tad more power when in standby, hibernate, or sleep mode than it does when it's powered off but plugged in.

Why not use XP's hibernate mode? Your system wakes up faster from standby than from hibernation because standby stores your PC's current state in RAM, while hibernate puts all the system information on your hard drive. It takes longer to read data from a drive than from RAM, so you'll save yourself several seconds by using standby rather than hibernate. Just be sure to save your data before you leave, because if your PC should lose power, the information stored in RAM gets wiped out.

To set Windows XP to standby, right-click the desktop, choose Properties, click the Screen Saver tab, and select the Power button. You can leave the monitor and hard-disk settings at "Never", but pick a time in the System standby drop-down menu that you can live with. For me, 30 minutes is the right balance between going off too soon, and staying on too long.

Windows XP's standby setting in Power Options
Set Windows XP to enter standby mode after 30 minutes via this setting in Power Options. Dennis O'Reilly

If you're not comfortable leaving your PC on when you're not around, click the Advanced tab and check Prompt for password when computer resumes from standby (this feature requires that you are logged into a password-protected account). When you're done, click OK twice.

To put Vista to sleep, click the Start button, type power options, and press Enter. Select Change when the computer sleeps in the left pane, choose 30 minutes in the drop-down menu next to 'Put the computer to sleep', and click Save changes. To have Vista prompt for a password when resuming from standby, click Change advanced power settings, and choose Yes under 'Additional settings/Require a password on wakeup'. Click OK, choose Save changes, and close the Power Options dialog box.

Windows Vista's sleep setting in Power Options
Windows Vista's Power Options applet lets you put your system to sleep after a period of inactivity. Dennis O'Reilly

Maybe you're the impatient type and don't want to wait 30 minutes, or any length of time, to send your system to dreamland. To put your PC into standby right away, reset its power button from "off" to "standby": In XP, reopen the Power Options Properties dialog box, click the Advanced tab, choose Stand by in the drop-down menu under 'When I press the power button on my computer', and click OK twice.

Do the same in Vista by returning to the Power Options window, then click Choose what the power button does in the left pane, and select Sleep in the drop-down menu next to 'When I press the power button:'. You can also choose Require a password (recommended). When you're done, click Save Changes, and then close the Power Options dialog box.

Security alert: The occasional fresh start does all of us good sometimes, and that goes for Windows as well. Many of the OS's updates require a restart to take effect, so it's a good idea to turn off your PC and reboot Windows from scratch about once a week. Since Microsoft releases most Windows patches on Tuesdays, get into the habit of shutting down your PC manually on Tuesday nights: Click Start*Turn Off Computer*Turn Off in XP, and in Vista press the Windows key, then hit the left-arrow key three times, and finally type u.

Tomorrow: Sometimes a sleeping PC comes to life for no apparent reason, which can be enervating if the sound of a whirring hard drive wakes you up in the middle of the night. And it can be downright disastrous if it happens to a laptop stored in a bag, unless you're looking for a reason to get acquainted with your local PC repair shop after the machine overheats. Another common standby/sleep problem is a dozing system that doesn't want to wake up. I'll cover both subjects in tomorrow's post.