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Power management on desktop systems

Power-management features in Windows 10 can be broadly divided into two groups. Features in the first group apply universally to all Windows devices, even those that are permanently tethered to AC power. Allowing a PC or tablet to sleep or hibernate cuts the amount of power it consumes, which translates into monetary savings for you and a benefit for society at large.

For portable devices-including notebooks, hybrid devices, and tablets-paying attention to power management has additional productivity benefits. Anything you do to extend the battery life of a portable device helps you avoid having to quit working because your battery gave up the ghost.

As with several other Windows features, the transition of power-management settings from the traditional Control Panel to the modern Settings app is not yet complete. The simple Power & Sleep page at Settings → System. Two options here specify the amount of idle time before the screen goes dark and the amount of time before the system goes to a lowerpower setting called sleep.

Clicking the Additional Power Settings link on the Power & Sleep page in Settings opens the Power Options page in Control Panel, where you'll find an extensive selection of power settings, some extremely esoteric.

The old-school Power Options page in Control Panel, is based on power plans, which represent a collection of saved settings. With older versions of Windows, it was common to find at least three power plans, with a hardware maker sometimes defining its own plan as well. In the Windows 10 era, you're likely to find only one or two. This example includes a Balanced plan and a Power Saver plan.

Initially, Windows provides one or more power plans: Balanced is the sole option on most modern devices, but you might also see Power Saver and High Performance. (Click Show Additional Plans to see additional plans.) The recommended Balanced plan darkens the screen after ten minutes and sends the system into sleep mode after 30 minutes. (Note that original equipment manufacturers might change the names or parameter settings for these plans.) You can tailor any plan to your liking by clicking Change Plan Settings or by clicking one of the links at the left side of the screen.

For each option, the choices in the drop-down menu range from 1 minute (probably more annoying than most people will accept) to 5 hours (useful if you want the computer to sleep only when you're away for a long time). To disable either option, choose Never from the drop-down menu.

You can create a new plan altogether (while keeping the original plans provided by Windows or your device maker) by clicking Create A Power Plan on the left side of the screen. Doing so takes you to the Create A Power Plan page.

The Power Saver plan is set to turn off the display after 5 minutes and put the computer to sleep after 15 minutes. The High Performance plan is set by default to go dark at 15 minutes and never go to sleep. This might be the right choice for a system that must always be on alert. (Returning from a screen-darkened state is quick; returning from sleep takes a little longer.)

To create a new power plan, start with one of the existing ones, provide a name or accept the default name My Custom Plan 1, and then click Next. After clicking Next, you will find the usual Display and Sleep controls.

On the page that appears when you click Next, you will also see an option called Change Advanced Power Settings. Click here to arrive at the dialog box shown.

The options on the Advanced Settings tab, which are tailored to your hardware and software environment, provide a great deal of finely detailed control over power-related events. Click the outline controls to explore the choices available to you.

One of the options on the Advanced Settings page lets you tailor the behavior of your computer's power button. You can also do this by clicking Choose What The Power Buttons Do on the main Power Options page in Control Panel. Following this path brings you to the page.

The drop-down control associated with the power button gives you the following choices:

  1. Do nothing
  2. Sleep
  3. Hibernate
  4. Shut down
  5. Turn off the display

The same options, with the exception of Shut Down, are available for your computer's sleep button. Note that in sleep, your computer continues to use a small amount of power; in hibernate, open files and information concerning the state of your system are written to a file on disk, and the computer shuts down almost entirely. (A small amount of power remains available to your keyboard, enabling you to emerge from hibernation by pressing a key, if that option is enabled for the device.) Hibernation reduces power consumption to an absolute minimum, but restarting from this state takes longer than waking from sleep.

The four check boxes at the bottom of the page cover a miscellany of settings. Changing any of these requires an administrator's credentials. Click Change Settings That Are Currently Unavailable to make the check boxes selectable. The settings are as follows:

  • Turn On Fast Startup (Recommended).
    This option, on by default, results in slightly quicker startups. The system accomplishes this by writing Windows kernel information to disk when you shut down.

  • Sleep.
    This one is also enabled by default. If for some reason you'd rather not have the Sleep command appear when you click Power on Start, clear the box.

  • Hibernate.
    This option, not set by default, puts Hibernate on Start's Power menu. If you want to hibernate occasionally but don't want to alter the behavior of your sleep or power button, you'll need this menu option.

  • Lock.
    The account picture menu is the menu that pops up when you click your account picture in the column at the left edge of Start. Lock, equivalent to pressing Windows key + L, normally is on the menu. Use this check box if you want to remove it.

Configuring power options from the command line

If your work entails managing power settings for multiple systems and users, you'll find the powercfg command-line utility invaluable. With powercfg, you can query and set power schemes and parameters, export power settings to a file, import the file on remote systems, and more. (Many powercfg actions work only in an elevated Command Prompt window.) Even if your concerns are only with your own systems, you might find powercfg / batteryreport, powercfg /energy, and powercfg /sleepstudy useful. These commands generate reports that are not available via the interactive power-management features described earlier in this section.

To generate a list of commands available with powercfg, open a Command Prompt window and type powercfg /?.) For syntax details and usage examples of any powercfg command, type powercfg /? command.