Hey there my Noob Alliance!

Over the weekend I had some fun helping out friends of mine with their laptop and solving its power button mysteries.

I figured you might find this short post especially helpful if you also suspect that either your laptop is high as a kite or that you’ve lost your mind when it responds differently each time you make the dreaded attempt at pushing the power button!

For example, when you push the button this happens :

  1. Nothing (wtf?)
  2. It comes on this time (yay but still, wtf?)
  3. It was on all along even though it seemed quite dead and it now turns off (biggest wtf of the year)

Do any of these sound familiar? Don’t fret, just because it doesn’t behave as expected doesn’t necessarily mean there is something wrong with it. This gets me too at times because laptops vary in how they respond to long and short presses!

Who would have thought that there could be an “art” to turning a laptop on or off!

Here’s my attempt at “noobifing” the situation so that you too can decipher how your laptop wants its buttons pushed.

The Likely Cause

So computers have the state called “sleep” or “hibernation” mode.

Laptops go into sleep mode when they notice that you have not used them for a couple of minutes, when you close the lid or when you push the power button while its on.

When it is in this state it looks like your laptop is off but in reality it keeps a trickle of power going to all the vital components so that you can carry on where you left off when you come back.

It appears that we can’t turn our back on them for a minute without finding that they have gotten up to mischief!

Now some laptops are set to do this only when they are running on battery power, others are set to always do this no matter what even when plugged into the wall socket and then some are set to never do it at all.

I can see how confusion happens – perhaps you are still getting used to your new laptop and your old one ‘never used to do this’? Or after an automatic update or IT support has worked on it, suddenly it starts behaving differently?

No worries, we can make the irritation go away with a tiny bit of explanation and then simply changing a couple of settings.

Seeing The Light

With all the technology floating around today there is one thing 99% of them have in common and that is that they have little LEDs on them that try to communicate with us and tell us what’s up.

The same goes for laptops but you have to sit down and spend a bit of time to take a look at yours and what it does when you turn it on, when you turn it off, and when it is in sleep mode in order to work out its unique way of communication.

You can also type in your laptop’s make and model into Google, do a search and download the user-manual from the manufacturer’s website which will explain what the different flashing patterns and colors mean (the least confusing way would be to do it this way).

Noob Tip: The LEDs don’t always indicate clearly what is going on – in that case another way to tell if your laptop is in sleep mode is to place an ear close to the side of your laptop next to the air vents and listen – the internal fans will likely still be working to keep your laptop cool when in sleep mode.

If you hear nothing and see no LED lights on then I would say it is safe to assume your laptop is indeed off.

The Solution – Knowing/Changing Power Settings

To avoid the confusion of trying to find out if your laptop is on or off when it looks like it is off I strongly advise you to go and change the power settings. If you don’t want to change them then at least follow along to find out what they are and where you can find them.

First you need know which version of Windows you have on your laptop

  • Press the Windows logo key on your keyboard and the “R” key at the same time
  • The “Run” command will pop up at the bottom of your screen
  • Type in winver and click “Okay”
  • A window will open that tells you everything about your version of Windows

If you have Windows 10, you can follow along exactly with these steps – the Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 screens are almost identical and you shouldn’t get lost:

  • On your keyboard, press the Windows logo key and the “R” key at the same time
  • The “Run” command window will pop up at the bottom of your screen
  • Type in powercfg.cpl
  • Click “Ok”
  • This will open the “Power Options” window which shows you what “power plan” your computer is currently using.
  • Scroll to the relevant section below and follow along with the instructions

A ‘power plan’ is a set of instructions that your computer uses to manage its power resources – there are usually three of them “Balanced”, “High Performance” and “Power Saver”.

When you follow the instructions below, it will apply the setting to whichever power plan you currently have active and selected under “Preferred Plans” in this window (the one with the dot filled next to the power plan’s name).

I recommend that you follow these steps for all the power plans so that your computer always behaves the same thus preventing confusion.

  • On the left-hand side click on “Change when the computer sleeps”
  • Laptops will have two settings – “Plugged In” and “On Battery”
  • Next to “put the computer to sleep” select “Never” from the drop down list under the “Plugged In” setting
  • Next to “put the computer to sleep” and under “On Battery” select the amount of minutes you want your computer to wait before going into sleep mode when running on battery power. (You can set this to “never” and then manually tell it to go into sleep mode if you want to have more control).
  • Next to “Turn off the display” select “5 minutes” from the drop down list under “On Battery”

A few more tweaks

  • Click the back arrow button in the top left and corner of the window to go back to the main power plan screen
  • Select the “Balanced” or “High Performance” as your preferred plan (High Performance favors speed over battery life, Balanced gives you a “balance” between power and speed, Power Saver gives you a more battery life but speed suffers quite a bit).
  • Some laptop manufacturers have removed “High Performance” altogether much to my disgust
  • On the left-hand side click “Choose what closing the lid does”
  • Next to “When I close the lid” and under both “On Battery” and “Plugged In” select “Do Nothing” from the drop down menus.
  • Next to “When I press the power button under both “On Battery” and “Plugged In” select “Sleep”
  • Click “Save Changes” at the bottom
  • Click the “X” in the top right-hand corner to close the Power Options window

Noob Tip: To squeeze some more speed out of your laptop, make sure you have the “high performance” plan selected, especially convenient for those who have their laptops plugged in most of the time and don’t need to worry about battery life! Call me impatient but I can’t stand waiting eons for a window to open 😛 Check out these free tweaks to speed up your laptop and this handy solution to get the best out of your Windows computer if you’re like me.

For old-school users still rocking Windows XP

The settings are a lot simpler for those still running XP and its very rare that you would ever need to go change them but I’ll still guide you:

  • click on “Start” to open the Start Menu
  • click on “Control Panel”
  • click on “Power Options”

There are four tabs on the window that pops up – Power Schemes, Advanced, Hibernate and UPS

Under the Power Schemes tab you can select a scheme from the drop down list (there is one for laptops, one for desktops and an “always on” one as well) or you can customize when you want the computer to turn off the display and/or hard drives to save power.

To change what the power button does go to the “Advanced” tab and select your choice from the drop-down menu at the bottom.

To enable “Hibernation” (which will enable the “Hibernate” button on the Shut Down screen) click on the “Hibernate” tab and tick the box and then click “Apply”.

XP has two modes for power saving – here’s a brief explanation:

Standby Mode – Still uses some power but less than usual, it saves the computer’s current state (all your open programs etc) in RAM and when you turn on the computer from a “Standby” state it is faster than starting it from an “Off” state. If power is cut during Standby then any unsaved work will be lost.

Hibernation – Saves the most power, all the components are turned off and the computer’s state is saved on the hard drive in one big file. It takes longer than what standby mode does to “wake” the PC from Hibernation but it is still quicker than starting from an “Off” state. If power is cut during Hibernation then all open and unsaved work will still be intact.

It’s worth it to note that Hibernation can cause start-up issues because the file it creates on the hard drive can become corrupt over time. Fixable, but annoying!

The bottom line is that you can leave or change these settings anyway that suits you best – by simply being aware of your current power settings it will help you understand your laptop better.

My recommended power plan settings that serve me well are as follows:

  • Laptop never goes to sleep when plugged into the wall outlet  
  • Laptop always stays on when the lid is closed  
  • Pressing the power button (when the laptop is on) makes the laptop go into sleep mode
  • Closing the lid does nothing
  • Screen turns off after 5 minutes of “idle” time when running on battery power

After setting things up this way I would then just note to myself to manually turn it off when I’ve finished using it or make it go into sleep mode when I need to save battery power.

If for any reason you want to turn your laptop off and then back on again straight away make sure that it has completely turned off before pushing that power button again. (By looking at the LED lights and listening for the quiet hum of the cooling fans as we mentioned earlier).

The correct way to turn off a laptop (also applies to desktop PCs)

Windows 10

  • Close all your open Windows (remember to save your work before closing anything that you are working on)
  • Click on the “Start” button
  • Click on the “power” symbol (the button immediately above the Start button)
  • Click on “Shut Down”

Windows 8

  • Move your cursor to the bottom right-hand corner of your screen
  • A sidebar will slide out
  • Move your mouse to the “gear” icon (Settings) and click
  • Another bar will open
  • Click the “power” button icon
  • Select “Shut Down” (sometimes your computer will have updates pending in that case you may not see “Shut Down” – select “Update and Shut Down” instead – remember to keep your power cord plugged in when updates are installing)

Windows 7

  • Click on the “Start” button
  • Select “Shut Down”

Vista

  • click on the “Start” button
  • The Start menu will pop up
  • If you see a red power button, you can click on it to shut down your computer
  • If you see a yellowish colored power button then click on the tiny arrow next to the “lock” button
  • A menu will pop up – select “Shut Down”

XP

  • Click on the “Start” button
  • The Start Menu will pop up
  • Click “Turn off computer”
  • A shut-down screen will be presented to you with three options
  • Select “Turn Off”

Wait for the computer to go through all its motions before closing lids or unplugging power cords (for instance, it might want to complete an update before shutting down). You will know by checking your LED lights, the screen will turn off and there should be no sounds coming from the device (fans spinning etc).

Button Pushing Skills

Laptops vary in how they respond to their power button being pushed but the general rule is as follows:

  • To turn it on – One short press (note that some laptops want a longer press – 1 to 2 seconds).
  • To turn it off – One short press (starts the ‘safe’ shut down procedure) however some laptops will go into sleep mode if you do this instead of shutting down.
  • Forced Off – Hold down the power button until the power cuts out completely (only used as a last resort).

If for any reason you used the “forced off” method be sure to wait about a minute before turning your computer on again and then as soon as it has loaded Windows I recommend that you do a proper shut down/restart as described in the section above.

The reason for this is that computers do not like it when their power is cut out abruptly – it messes things up because they are reading and writing data constantly behind the scenes and an interrupt like that confuses them.

You might find your computer pretty laggy after a forced or abrupt power cut. Doing a proper shut down and then restarting it again should clear up the confusion and things should then run smoothly again.

Final Thoughts Before Hitting The Off Switch

I’ve realized again how easily a simple thing like this can ruin the relationship people have with their technology – my friends were convinced their laptop was dead and that they were the cause of all the confusion which shook their confidence in their ability to work with computers. In fact, they were so embarrassed they almost didn’t call me up for help.

This is exactly the kind of thing I want to help people overcome! Often it is just the smallest misunderstanding and if someone just took the time to explain, reassure, help and guide then it can make a world’s difference to the ‘average’ computer user (and I use inverted commas because you all rock in my opinion and could never be ‘average’ in my books). 😉

Want to improve your computer skills but don’t know where to start? Have a look at this post to get you started.

If you follow these steps, it will be unlikely that power buttons or sleepy laptops will get the best of you in future!

Let me know in the comment section below if this was helpful and if you have any confusing computer issues you would like some help with, until the next post my friends, stay safe & noob on! <33

6 Comments

  1. Simon

    Reply

    Hey Nadia, thanks for your information with regards to setting sleep and power settings on a laptop – desktop on Windows 10.
    I have had so many issues with my recently purchased monitor. It goes to sleep simultaneous to the computer but unlike the computer, it doesn’t wake-up – frustratingly stays blank. The only way I can get the screen to work is to turn it off, pull out the HDMI cable and reconnect.
    Problem is, my computer goes into sleep mode often because it’s set for 15 minutes. Thanks to reading your info on how to change the sleep & power settings, I have altered them to avert this issue.
    Thanks again, you’ve solved my issue,
    Simon.

    • Reply

      Hey there Simon! I feel your frustration, that is so inconvenient! I’m glad to hear I was able to relieve the issue somewhat. I fixed a similar issue on a client’s laptop by updating its BIOS – while anyone can do it, it’s delicate process and if something goes wrong then it could “brick” the laptop – an option would be to consider taking it to an IT specialist to assist with the process if you want a more permanent solution to the issue.

  2. Moni

    Reply

    Hi Nadia, thank you for a very informative article. I enjoyed reading it and learnt a lot.

    I have experienced all these issues you have described and I thought it was just me going through these challenges.

    It’s good to know some of these are common problems and of course now that you have provided the solutions my mind is more at relaxed.

    I am so happy I found your site.. keep up the good work!

  3. Kelly

    Reply

    Hi Nadia,
    Thank you for this post, it was truly enjoyable to read! Over the years I’ve gone through these same trials and errors with my various laptops and desktops. Always ended up having to learn it the hard way and on my own. Totally could have used a great article like this then 🙂

    • Reply

      Hey Kelly, I’m glad you enjoyed the post! I sometimes wonder why simple things have to be so complicated lol

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