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What does it mean to hibernate a computer?

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  • November 11, 2021
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You wouldn’t be alone if you felt like going into hibernation mode right now. With the nights getting significantly longer and with a distinct chill in the air, now feels like a very good time to wrap up and hunker down. Sadly, humans aren’t like some of those animals that are able to sleep through the colder months – so on we must plod.

However, one thing you might have heard about before is about hibernating computers. Given how much we use them this can be more convenient than simply shutting down a device at the end of use. But, you might have heard before that hibernation can damage a machine.

In this weeks blog, we get to the bottom of all of this.

How does hibernation mode work?

Firstly hibernation mode is more common for laptops than it is for desktops. It is designed to conserve power and does that by saving open content to the storage disk of the device. These storage mediums are less prone to data loss. On resuming normal use of the device, anything you were working on should be in the same state it was left in before hibernation.

So hibernation is different from shutting down or sleeping your device – but how do they differ?


When in sleep mode, the computer is in a low-power state. Some parts of the computer are shut down so that they do not use any power. When in sleep mode the device will come back to life quickly, meaning that you won’t have to wait for it to boot up again.

Shut Down

This is the fully powered down state for computers. When a computer is shut down all of the programs are closed and the operating system is shut down as well, meaning that the computer uses almost no power. Whilst using no power is beneficial, it does mean that going through the process of fully booting up a computer for use again can take a bit more time that simply putting one into sleep mode.

Which one should you use when

So given the differences between these types of dormancy modes for computers, what should you use and when?

  • Sleep is best when you’re stepping away from your computer for a short amount of time. It will save your electricity and battery power whilst you aren’t actively working on the machine.
  • Hibernation is best when you’re away from the computer for a longer period of time, for example if you are part way through working on something but are finishing for the day. Hibernating will allow you to pick up quickly when you return.
  • Shut down is best if you’re away from the computer for a longer period of time but you aren’t part way through anything. It does take longer to start up, but some apps don’t recover well from hibernation and benefit more from a reset.

Can hibernation damage your laptop?

There has been discussion before that putting a computer into hibernation mode can damage its hard disk performance over time. Whilst this may have been the case before, with modern machines its possible to use hibernation mode without much of a negative impact. Just be mindful that if you’re leaving the machine for an extended period of time its usually better to do a proper shut down.

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