Is sleep mode bad for a Hard Drive?

There are a lot of things that can affect the longevity of your hard drive and it is a good idea to mitigate as many of those things as possible in order to ensure you get the most from your hardware. Once you start considering all of the factors involved it leads you to this question, does sleep mode have an impact on your hard drive?

Sleep mode does not directly affect the lifespan of an HDD or SSD although it is important to ensure the transition to sleep mode is uninterrupted. You can actually use sleep mode to improve the lifespan of your hard drives, here is how…

There are actually quite a few settings around sleep mode to ensure the most efficient use of your hard drives, let’s take a look and also answer some FAQs about sleep mode and hard drives.

What is sleep mode and what does it do?

Sleep mode is a function of an operating system, sometimes referred to as “hibernate” or “standby” depending on the OS (operating system), that puts the computer’s processes on pause and powers down the system to a standby state. This is different to shutting down or restarting because the system doesn’t require rebooting in order to operate again. The process of shutting down a computer involves completing registries, clearing caches and stopping programs however sleep mode only pauses all of that.

If you shut down a computer without saving a document you will lose the unsaved changes, however, if you put a computer to sleep when you wake it up it will be in exactly the same state as before and the files will be as they were. That said I highly recommend you save everything before entering sleep mode!

What happens to a hard drive in sleep mode?

When your computer goes into sleep mode so too does the hardware. Hard drives require drivers and information from the filesystem as well as a whole lot of other stuff which has to be initialized on startup, during sleep mode this information is copied from the RAM, where it is operational, to the hard drive for storage, then when you wake up your computer the information is copied back to the RAM as initialized data and so it is functional right away. This is a particularly useful process for HDDs in that it reduces the time to get them going again. SSDs are fast enough for that factor to not matter but the reduced read-write from not initializing can reduce the “write wear” of the drive.

This usually happens between the RAM and the C: drive. You may have noticed slightly varying speeds in how quickly your computer goes to sleep and wakes up, this is dependent on how much RAM is being used at the time. RAM heavy software like a music DAW or video editing software might be using a lot of RAM. This is slower because the RAM data needs to be copied as page files to the C: drive. RAM data is RAW, meaning it is completely uncompressed so the computer compresses the RAM data inside the RAM itself which is very fast then copies it across to the C: drive and the process is reversed upon wake up.

The amount of data it has to copy can vary and so too can the speeds. you might also notice from time to time that the disk is still running after the screen has already gone blank and you have closed the lid. This is usually the system finishing off the copying of the data as page files. If you need to speed up the sleep process it is a good idea to close as much software as possible to reduce the amount of data the system has to copy back and forth.

The other time you might notice slow waking up from sleep is if the computer runs out of battery while it is sleeping. In this scenario, the process is the same but some systems will need to be initialized in order to operate and to be able to restore the page files into the ram and revert to the state it was left in.

Does a hard drive turn off in sleep mode?

This depends on the operating system and device but in most cases, the drive does power off because it is not necessary to have it running. This is typically a function of laptops as when you put a laptop into sleep mode there is a good chance it is about to be put into a backpack or similar and be moved about. SSDs can handle this better than HDDs as they have no moving parts. But as a precaution, most operating systems power down the hard drives in order to protect them during transit.

Does sleep mode decrease hard drive life span?

Sleep mode is designed to protect and preserve the lifespan of a hard drive by reducing power consumption and usage during times when the drive is not required. HDDs in laptops are susceptible to impacts and movements that could damage the disks by forcing them to collide with the read/write head. Powering off in sleep mode reduces the risk of this happening by turning off the hard drive ensuring that the head is on the ramp and not over the disks. Most modern hard drives particularly 2.5″ drives for laptops are also equipped with an accelerometer that can detect sudden movements and pull the head back to the ramp for the same reason.

For this reason, it is a good idea to ensure that your OS is set to save power and turn off the hard drives during sleep mode. This is an essential step towards increasing the life span of any hard drive, HDD or SSD.

Troubleshooting – Why is hard drive still running in sleep mode?

As mentioned above this can be because the system is still copying all of the information in the ram in a compressed format to the C: drive.

If it is spinning for less than a minute then this is likely to be because there was a lot of information in the RAM. Try closing some software before putting your computer into sleep mode to see if that helps improve things.

If that doesn’t help or if the laptop doesn’t stop spinning here are the key things to check.

1. Check to see if C: drive is full

If the C drive is full or nearly full then there might not be enough space to store the page files required for the computer to sleep. This will mean that the drive will keep running while the system tries to find room. In this case, your computer won’t actually be able to sleep because the RAM will still have the data meaning that if it powered down the data would be lost, essentially the computer would reset rather than sleep and your previous state would be lost.

(SOLUTION) Either close all software to ensure fewer page files are needed or clear space on the C: drive. It is recommended to retain at least 20GB of free space on a C: drive for functions like this.

2. Ensure that the hard drive settings are correct.

This should be automatically set on most operating systems but if you have space in your C: drive and have ruled that out it is an easy thing to check while troubleshooting the problem.

1. On windows hit the windows key and type “edit power plan“.

2. In the control panel shown click “change advanced power settings

Make sure that the hard drive settings show that the hard drive is supposed to power down after inactivity. It is worth noting that this setting only refers to HDDs. SSDs won’t be affected by this setting.

3. Check the health of the hard drive

If the hard drive is failing there are a lot of symptoms to look out for, one of which is slow read-write times. During the sleep process, a hard drive copies the page files from the RAM, which can typically be 1 or 2 GBs of data. A failing hard drive will struggle with this information.

To check hard drive health open a file window and navigate to “This PC” select your C: drive and right-click and select “properties” then click the “Check” option.

Then let the check disk function do its thing, it will give you the health status of your disk and recommend improvements or ways to fix it.

If any of the results show up in red then they indicate problems with the disk and it might be time to think about replacing it.

Check this article for more information about failing hard drives – Why do hard drives fail so often? 10 ways to avoid it.

4. Check the health of the RAM

Check the health of the RAM – if the RAM is failing it can take longer to compress and transfer files, if this is the case you will likely notice lagging and slow operation before anything else. RAM as with everything else has an operating lifespan and there are a lot of things that can affect it. RAM is one of the most vital components of the computer. And needs to be operating properly for your computer to function as it should.

This is easy to check, you can simply hit the windows key and type “windows memory diagnostic” in the search bar. Press enter and then choose how you would like to run the diagnostic, either by restarting immediately or the next time the computer is restarted. The tool will do the rest automatically. Keep an eye on the status to see if any errors are indicated.

The results would automatically appear in windows, but if they don’t you can find them by hitting the windows key, typing “event viewer“. Click the drop-downs on the left to select “Windows logs / System” and then choose the “find” icon on the right-hand side of the window and then type “MemoryDiagnostic” and your results will be displayed.

5. the amount of RAM you have.

The amount of RAM your computer has installed can affect not only sleep and waking up but all processes in your computer and is widely considered the most common bottleneck of most computer setups. It is relatively cheap to upgrade and most computers can be upgraded with additional RAM. The fact is that RAM can only store what it has the capacity to store, so it is unlikely to be unable to manage the page files but if it is maxing out then it will have a hard time compressing files and will take a lot longer meaning that the disk stays active longer than it should while it waits for the data.

FAQs about hard drives and sleep mode

Are Hard drives affected by “turn off disk” setting?

HDDs are affected by the turn off disk setting in advanced power options but SSDs are not.

How can I turn off a hard drive while not in use?

You can use advanced power settings to ensure your HDD will power off when the computer is asleep or idle.

Is it OK to leave an external hard drive plugged in during sleep mode?

Yes, this should not affect the hard drive in any negative way and the hard drive should also power off itself. Check the settings in advanced power settings to make sure the drive is behaving as it should.

Can carrying a laptop in sleep mode damage the hard drive?

Yes, it is best practice to make sure the HDD has stopped spinning first but most laptop hard drives are equipped with safety features to prevent damage in this situation. This doesn’t affect SSDs

Can I prevent a hard drive from turning off during sleep mode?

Not specifically, you can change the settings in the advanced power menu to not let a hard drive turn off while the computer or the hard drive is idle but this is not best practice and can reduce the life span of your hard drive.

Is it better to make hard drive run continuously?

No, it is better to let hard drives run only when necessary, this is because most desktop hard drives (not enterprise level), are not designed to be run 24/7 and doing so will greatly reduce their lifespan. If you require a drive to run 24/7 you should consider using a NAS drive specced to do it.