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Maintaining and Troubleshooting Windows 7 : Identifying and Resolving Performance Issues (part 3) - Managing Power Settings

5/21/2011 4:31:07 PM

4. Managing Power Settings

As the cost of energy continues to rise, power conservation has become more important to companies concerned about the bottom line. Windows 7 includes access to many power settings that can be configured to help PCs conserve power.

Individual components can be placed into low-power states, and the entire computer can be put to sleep without completely powering it off. You can access the majority of the settings from the Power Options page in Control Panel. Click Start => Control Panel. Select Hardware And Sound => Power Options. You'll see a display similar to Figure 12.

Figure 12. Power Options page in Control Panel

In the figure, the High Performance plan is showing, but this is not displayed by default. By default, this space will have a text link labeled Show Additional Plans instead of Hide Additional Plans. If you click the text, the additional plan will show.


Powercfg is a neat tool you can use to analyze and configure power settings on a computer. As an example, you can use the following command to analyze the current power settings and performance of a Windows 7 computer: powercfg -energy -output power.html. You can then enter power.html to view the report.

4.1. Understanding Low-Power States

Windows 7 supports three low-power states:


When the computer is in sleep mode, most of the components will not draw any power, but the memory and processor will still consume some power. Enough power is provided to the memory to ensure that the contents of memory are not lost and that the processor has enough power to check occasionally for use action such as pressing a key. When a key is pressed on the keyboard, the computer wakes up fully.

If the system senses that the battery power is low on a laptop computer, it will automatically put the laptop into hibernate mode.


Hibernate is primarily used for laptops. It takes the entire contents of memory and stores them on the hard drive. When the data is stored on the hard drive, the system will completely power down and not use any power. This works even if a user has open applications and open documents. For example, you could have a Microsoft Word document open when the system hibernates. Later, when you turn it back on, Microsoft Word will open with your document just as it was when the system hibernated.

Hybrid Sleep

Hybrid sleep mode is similar to the hibernate mode used on laptops but remains powered on. The current state of the computer is retained in memory with enough power provided to keep the memory refreshed. In addition, the contents of memory are stored on the hard drive. If a power failure occurs, the system can resume as if it was hibernated. If a power failure doesn't occur and the user takes an action such as pressing a key, the system will resume as if waking from sleep mode. Hybrid sleep mode is intended to be used on desktop PCs.

You can choose one of the low-power states from the Start menu, or you can configure a system to enter these states based on different actions. Figure 13 shows how you can select either Sleep or Hibernate on a laptop computer from the Start menu.

Figure 13. Choosing Sleep or Hibernate from the Start menu

Available power settings are dependent on the capabilities of your system and whether the capabilities are enabled in the system BIOS.

You can also configure your system to go into one of these states when the power button is pressed, when the sleep button is pressed (if the system has a sleep button), or when the lid of a laptop is closed.

Figure 14 shows the System Settings page that you can access from the Control Panel => Hardware And Sound => Power Options page. In the figure, I've selected the drop-down box for When I Close the Lid when the system is Plugged In. These same options are available for any of the choices.

Figure 14. Choosing a response for different power actions on a laptop computer

For a desktop PC, the On Battery settings and the When I Close The Lid settings are not available.

4.2. Understanding Power Plans

A power plan is a collection of individual settings that can be configured for individual components of a computer. While the low-power states like sleep and hibernate affect the entire computer, these power settings affect specific components such as the display or hard drive.

Three power plans exist on the system. The two plans that are shown by default are designed to help you maximize the performance of the system while also conserving energy; the High Performance plan is hidden by default.

Balanced (Recommended) This is the default setting for a system that is plugged in, and it will meet the needs of most systems. It provides high performance for the system while it is being used, and it will automatically invoke different power settings when the computer is not being used.

Power Saver The Power Saver plan uses reduced power all the time to conserve energy. This is a good choice for a laptop that will be on battery power for an extended period of time.

High Performance The High Performance plan is used to provide maximum performance without considering energy conservation. This plan could be used if a system has extra uses such as sharing a printer or sharing files.

The settings for these plans can be manipulated individually by clicking Change Plan Settings. Figure 15 shows the basic settings for the Balanced plan.

Figure 15. Viewing the power settings for the Balanced power plan

Notice that you can configure different power savings for a laptop when it is plugged in and when it is on battery power. The Adjust Plan Brightness setting uses a slider bar. By sliding it to the right, the brightness becomes full. Slide it to the left to make it dimmer. This setting is probably the one that users will notice the most.

4.3. Changing Advanced Power Settings

You can also click the Change Advanced Power Settings link to access advanced power settings for any of the individual plans. These settings allow you to access settings for disk drives, USB settings, and more.

Figure 16 shows the Advanced Settings page for the Balanced power plan and also indicates that the Balanced plan is active.

Figure 16. Viewing the Advanced Settings page for the Balanced power plan

Settings that require advanced permissions often don't appear, and when they do appear, they are dimmed. You can enable all the settings by clicking the link Change Settings That Are Currently Unavailable.

You can configure several settings on this page. Table 2 lists of many of the settings and comments.

Table 2. Advanced power settings
Require A Password On WakeupThis requires the user to provide credentials when the system wakes up from sleep or hibernate mode.
Hard DiskYou can configure the hard disk to turn off after a specific amount of time (such as 20 minutes) to conserve power.
Desktop Background SettingsSlide shows can be configured to run (Available) or not (Paused). For example, you can configure this as Paused on battery power to reduce power consumed by the disk, video, and processor.
Wireless Adapter SettingsAdapters can be configured for Maximum Performance, Low Power Saving, Medium Power Saving, and Maximum Power Saving modes. This affects the power used for wireless transmissions, but it can also affect the ability to connect to wireless networks.
SleepThe different low-power modes can be configured here, such as automatically putting the computer to sleep after 15 minutes when on battery or after 30 minutes when plugged in. You can also configure the system to awaken for timed events.
USB SettingsYou can enable the Selective Suspend setting, which allows the USB hub to suspend individual ports selectively (such the port for a hard disk but not the hub for the mouse or keyboard).
Power Buttons And LidYou can specify actions for closing the lid, pressing the power, or pressing the sleep button.
PCI ExpressYou can configure power settings for PCI Express devices. You can turn Link State Power Management off or select Maximum Power Savings or Minimum Power Savings.
Processor Power ManagementThese settings allow you to configure thresholds for power consumed by the processor.
DisplayYou can configure when a display is dimmed and when it is turned off. You can also configure the brightness in percentages here.
Multimedia SettingsIf the computer is used to share media or play video, you can configure when it is allowed to sleep and the power plan to use when it is running.
BatteryYou can configure thresholds and actions for different battery power levels. For example, the system can provide a low-battery warning when it reaches a low battery level (configured at 10 percent) and go into hibernate when it reaches a critical battery level (configured at 5 percent).


As long as we're talking about power, you may be interested in how you can modify the default behavior of the Shut Down button available from the Start menu. Right-click the Shut Down button and select Properties. You can reconfigure the Power Button Action to Switch User, Log Off, Lock, Restart, Sleep, or Hibernate.

4.4. Configuring Wake On LAN

Most systems include Wake On LAN or Remote Wake-up capabilities. This allows the system to go into a low-power mode such as sleep but awaken in response to a special data packet, referred to as a Magic Packet. Network administrators use this to schedule remote administration while still allowing the system to use the lower power modes.

In order for system to listen for and respond to Magic Packets, the motherboard, BIOS, network adapter, and adapter driver must all support it. When all of the pieces are available, you can configure it in the properties of the NIC via Device Manager. Most NICs include a Power Management tab where Wake On LAN can be enabled.
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