6 March 2009

Windows VistaFor those of you who ignored the bad press that Windows Vista has received and decided to take the plunge, congratulations. You have successfully avoided being taken in by the “Apple can do no wrong / Microsoft always sucks” mainstream tech media.

Nevertheless, Vista is far from perfect. You may have run into one of Vista’s greatest features and most annoying problems: Hybrid Sleep.

Unfortunately, it seems that for some of us, there is no solution to a malfunctioning sleep mode, and Microsoft isn’t much help.

In Vista, clicking the “power button” in the start menu no longer shuts down the computer. Instead, it puts the machine into a super-low-power state in which the only components that remain powered are the memory modules. When you tap a key on the keyboard or click a mouse button, the computer wakes up within a few seconds, and since the RAM stayed powered, you are greeted with all your windows and programs exactly as you left them. What’s more, the OS also writes a copy of the data in RAM into a file on your harddrive. So, if power to the machine is cut during sleep mode, Vista simply gets the hibernation file from the harddrive, loads it back into the RAM, and you’re back up and running – albeit not as quickly as resuming from sleep.

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I have fixed sleep issues on many Vista installations. They fall into two general categories: can’t go to sleep, and can’t wake up.

First, the “can’t go to sleep” problem. This one is usually very easy to fix. The first thing to do is to make sure that your ethernet or wifi devices cannot wake the computer. To do this:

  1. Click Start
  2. Type “device manager” and press enter
  3. Under “network adapters”, right click your ethernet or wifi device and select “properties”
  4. Click the “Power Management” tab
  5. Make sure that “Allow this device to wake the computer” is UNchecked

Sometimes, you have to perform the same steps in Device Manager for certain devices, such as some mice. In my experience though, I have never seen a mouse prevent Vista from going to sleep.

The next step is to make sure that even if you are sharing media in Windows Media Player, your computer can still go to sleep. To do that:

  1. Click Start
  2. Type “power options” and press enter
  3. Under your currently selected Power Plan, click “Change plan settings”
  4. On the next screen, click “Change advanced power settings”
  5. Scroll down and click the “+” next to “Multimedia Settings”
  6. Click the “+” next to “When sharing media”
  7. For both “On battery” and “Plugged in”, change the option to “Allow the computer to sleep”

If your PC still won’t go to sleep, there is something else to check out: your motherboard settings. Especially if you have built your computer yourself, your motherboard may have some jumpers for the USB ports that need to be configured properly. On higher end motherboards, the jumpers are generally absent. But on cheaper ones (like lower-end models from Asus), you need to look in your motherboard manual for “keyboard power” and “USB device wake-up”. These items will generally be found under a section called “Jumpers” or something similar.

What do these jumpers for a PS2 keyboard and USB ports do? There are two options: +5V, and +5VSB. When set to +5VSB, the PS2 keyboard and/or USB devices will remain (sort of) powered when the computer is in the S3 or S4 sleep state. Since they stay powered, clicking them will wake the computer from sleep. If the jumper(s) are set to +5V and you try to put the computer to sleep, it will probably go to sleep – and then immediately wake up again! On one motherboard I installed recently, there was one jumper for “PS2 keyboard + USB PWR 5-6”, and three other jumpers for “USB PWR 1-4”, “USB PWR 7-10”, and “USB PWR 11-12”. I set them all to +5VSB. I should note that these jumper settings are also required for waking from the standby mode in Windows XP. So, if you could never get standby to work in XP, these jumpers may be why.

Okay, so that wasn’t so bad. 99 times out of 100, the above steps will at least allow your computer to go to sleep. In some cases, you need to upgrade to a newer BIOS version – especially if you have a laptop from the big name brands like HP or Dell. They won’t have lots of BIOS options or jumpers to set, so your best bet in that case (instead of checking for jumpers) is to visit the manufacturers’s web site and see if a new BIOS is available. Most of the time, upgrading the BIOS is nowhere near as dangerous and scary as many people make it out to be. Many motherboards now allow updating the BIOS from a USB stick, as well as various “crash free” options that allow you to restore the default BIOS image with a recovery option built in to the motherboard if something goes horribly wrong.

Alrighty. Now for the fun part: diagnosing and repairing “can’t wake up” problems.

Let me just say that if you search Google for others who are experiencing the problem of Vista being unable to wake up, you will find a TON of complaints, and a TON of potential solutions. On my current machine, none of them have worked.

But first, a description of the problem: You put your computer to sleep. It all goes well. You press the space bar or click a mouse button, and your computer starts to wake up. The power light comes on, the harddrive spins up, the fans turn on, the mouse lights up, and everything looks normal – except that your screen remains blank. No windows, no mouse cursor, nuttin’!!

This is a particularly vexing issue. I have actually worked on two identical machines that I built myself: same motherboard, same RAM, same power supply, same processor, same graphics card, same harddrive, etc. On one machine, Vista sleeps and wakes up just fine. On the other, no dice. I have tried the following:

  • Replaced power supply – twice
  • Replaced RAM – twice
  • Tried 3 different BIOS revisions
  • Fiddled with every conceivable setting in my BIOS, especially those related to power options, RAM timings, etc.
  • Upgrading every driver on the system
  • Downgraded every driver on the system to match the machine where sleep does work
  • Searched the Event Viewer in Vista for clues, but without any luck
  • Tried a different graphics card
  • Searched the net far and wide and tried everything else, including voodoo

Nothing I have found has worked. Sometimes, Vista goes to sleep AND wakes up without incident for a day or two. Then, it’s back to the VSOD – Vista Sleep of Death.

There is one last thing you can try: disabling Hybrid Sleep. From the link above to the Windows Help page on sleep and power issues, it seems that there are two versions of sleep: Sleep, and Hybrid Sleep.

Laptops use Sleep. In this normal sleep mode, the machine enters a super-low-power state just like with Hybrid Sleep. But you don’t have to worry about a power outage when the laptop is in sleep mode, since laptops have batteries. Thus, laptops use normal sleep that does not also create a hibernation file like Hybrid Sleep does. Desktops, however, default to Hybrid Sleep since the assumption is that you don’t have a battery backup for your desktop computer. Here’s the weird thing: according to the Microsoft help page, normal sleep will actually wake the laptop and dump the RAM contents to a hibernation file if the battery level becomes critical! In other words, if you have a UPS (battery backup) for your desktop computer, you don’t really need Hybrid Sleep.

In the end, I’m afraid that I don’t have a magic answer as to how to fix Vista’s sleep issues. I do know that many, many, many people have a problem with sleep. The problem doesn’t seem to be related to any particular hardware, motherboard, processor, manufacturer, or anything else like that. It seems to simply be a case of Vista not working. Many people reported that sleep became broken for them after installing Vista SP1.

Here’s hoping that SP2 and/or Windows 7 will actually address this problem properly…

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Vista Sleep Problems: Good Luck!
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