Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Importance of Sleep for Cyclists (and Bloggers)(and Gamers)

Should do what it says

I built this computer about four years ago, when I wanted a machine which was quiet and powerful. I was playing games back then, so it had to have a great video card, a quad core processor, an excellent power supply, efficient and quiet cooling, a fast(er) hard drive, and plenty of RAM. I also wanted it to be quiet, not some fan-blasting whining overclocked space heater, but rather, something that I could comfortably have next to my desk when I wasn't gaming. I already had a fan-blasting overclocked space heater, which was no fun to have sitting next to my desk.

In addition, I required that its "sleep" mode work exactly as it should, and this is the key to this post: press the "Sleep" button and the computer should save what you're doing and shut down nearly completely and almost instantly, then later, press any key, and the computer should wake back up, also nearly instantly and without fuss, putting you right where you left off.

If you have a sleep button and it doesn't work like that, then it's not working right, and your computer is not doing what it should. (I'm sure Apple users live in a perfect, sleepy world. You need read no further if you have an Apple). If I could have all the hours of my life back that I spent waiting for Windows computers to boot up, since the dawn of Windows, and tack them onto the end of my life, then I should live to be an old man for certain. On a side note, not related to Sleep mode but in the same vein, all wireless WiFi connections, and other network connections for that matter, after the first establishment, should reconnect instantly and automatically. I have also burned countless days of my life watching the sequence of "connecting...establishing network...getting IP..blah blah blah" and then when I got Windows 7 on a netbook I found out that is all horse crap and that it's very possible for that to all happen instantly, as part of the instant sleep-wake-up sequence. Again, I'm sure Apple owners already have that going for them, too, but with Windows you may or may not, depending on operating system and hardware, as well as random and esoteric registry settings, powercfg parameters, hardware and driver incompatibilities, ACPI and PNP compliance, installation settings, and the phase of the moon (who knew that's what the button actually indicates).

For Windows, the perfection of the instant sleep-wake up cycle arrived for the masses sometime around 2005, I think, with Windows XP and certain hardware combinations and chipsets, including some computers sold by HP. I had a Windows ME machine which acted like it supported it, but it would occasionally Blue Screen when I pushed the sleep button, so I don't count it. Heck, the Windows ME machine would Blue Screen if you looked at it funny. Back then, I bought a desktop computer for my wife which had this feature, which worked then (and still works now) like a champ, and I knew I had to have it: no more waiting for Windows to boot up. Hallelujah.

So I took care when assembling the quad core quiet gaming machine to try to make sure from the start that when I got it all put together, the little button in the photo would do what it should. Lo/behold, when I was done, it worked, and all was right at my desk. For about two years.

The lovely, shiny black Antec Sonata II case is quiet, cool, and glows blue.
Then, about two years ago, sleep stopped working properly, and I have no idea why. I must have done something, or else a Windows update killed it, but I don't know. I am supposed to know a certain amount about these machines, due both to my education and occupation, but I couldn't figure out what caused the sleep function to stop working. It took a lot longer to go to sleep, and then about two minutes to wake back up, which really looked a lot more like booting up instead of waking up, as well as requiring a push of the front panel POWER button, rather than "push any key to wake up". ARGH!, was my response. I mined online forums, I plowed through the Windows Event viewer, I swapped in and out hardware including the network and other cards, but no. Sleep was not to be mine any longer. My computer had insomnia.

So for almost two years, I put up with it. Waiting for it to boot back up. Not quite a full boot time, mind you, but not the near-instant wake-up of hybrid sleep mode. I was like a cyclist operating on two hours of sleep. Which is no way to operate.

Then, last week, it started working again. I have little or no idea what really happened, again. It didn't seem to correlate to a specific Windows update. I did nothing directly related to sleep or suspend configuration. The only action I can think of that might have had something to do with it was deleting some old, really large files (1 GB or so) which I didn't need any more, and cleaning up some files in the C: root directory that were leftover from some very old installations and weren't needed there, but also offended my sensibilities. If you think that someone whose sensibilities are offended by files in the root directory of his hard drive on the computer he assembled himself should also be able to figure out why the hell his sleep function stopped working, well, you start to see the shame and frustration of it all.* And if this starts to remind you of some of my DIY bicycle projects, then you may be on the verge of understanding the heart of a hacker who never gives up.

Now it works again, and instant sleep/wake-up is mine, once again. Why not move on? Why not just go all Apple up in here? For one, this machine is a pleasure to use in every other way, wicked fast, smooth, pretty, trouble-free, and it was difficult for me to kick it to the curb it just for that reason. Also, although I have totally given up gaming, I am holding out for the release of Half Life 3. Some day. There's a constructive protest planned for today, which I may take part in, to try to get Valve to say something, ANYTHING, about the disposition of Half Life 3. Which if ever released, I will play. On my quiet quad core with the working sleep function. If it still works.

*I suspect that the real issue with this machine is hardware-related. The power supply and motherboard have sometimes been flaky at power-on, and that doesn't bode well for a smooth and consistent hybrid sleep cycle, I know. However, acknowledging that the motherboard has some sort of power issue would be equivalent to acknowledging total failure with regards to assembling my own machine and using Windows, and require starting over, so I preferred a state of acceptance and simmering frustration which put me back in the mode of wasting precious moments of my life that I will never recover waiting for the machine to boot up, rather than just buying an Apple. All of which probably indicates a certain personal insufficiency that I should ponder on long bike rides, rather than attempting to distract myself from it by playing, or imagining playing, Half Life 3.  


  1. My computer is like six years old and has all sorts of quirks and eccentricities.
    I'm convinced it, the computer, has gained some AI along the way and it now exists to mainly to irritate me.

    1. I would go into the registry if I were you, under Windows, Current Control Set, Acquired Awareness Ability, and set the self_aware key to 0, or else just delete it entirely.

  2. Except for no touch screen, that sleep button is sort of a bulky foretaste of the iPad to come. And, should you wonder if I'm an Apple cultist, my newest Macintosh is a Mac clone built in 1997. It still works, though the Internet speed leaves a bit to be desired.

    1. I am openminded about ipads, btw, and may grow to love them and even to become a cultist. Bought my older daughter one for xmas. We'll see how that goes. She seems pretty attached to it already, though, and it seems like I would either have to pry its sleek and thin form from her fingers, or else wait until she falls asleep, which seems to be growing later and later, and then sneak in and take it.

  3. It's as if your computer is on some two year caffeinated trip. I blog on a netbook and love the sleep and hibernate mode. At work I'm a Mac person and IT for all our office Macs. Each one of those machines has their quirks too. I started as a Mac person but ideally the PC world is cheaper with more options.

    I hope YOU can sleep.

    1. I really do appreciate the engineering, design, and usability of Apple products. They are lightyears ahead of the PC and Windows, no argument. Going back to a pizza box NeXT machine that I owned for a while, which was a work of art and engineering well beyond its time.


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