Microsoft Demos Superfast Boot Times in Windows 8

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Microsoft has a surprise for users tired of waiting forever while their computers boot up. It will take less than 10 seconds for a Windows 8 PC to go from powered down to the start screen, according to a Microsoft video demonstration. The speedy boot is thanks to a new hybrid system that mixes processes used in cold boots and hibernation mode. Microsoft showed off the new functionality in yet another blog post on its Building Windows 8 blog.

The less than 10 second boot time Microsoft displayed was on a laptop with a Core i7-2620M Sandy Bridge processor, 8GB RAM and a 160GB solid-state drive. Results using other hardware may vary. Microsoft tested 30 PCs comparing Windows 8 fast startup times to Windows 7 cold boots. The most dramatic drop in time was for a PC (specs were undisclosed) that went from a more than 70 second cold boot time in Windows 7 to about 20 seconds on a Windows 8 fast startup.

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Thanks to the influence of tablets and smartphones, users are more accustomed than ever to having instant-on access to their devices. This can make it feel as though you've stepped back into the Dark Ages while you wait a minute or two for your PC to boot. Nevertheless, more than half of all PC users (57 percent of desktop users and 45 percent of laptop users) opt to turn their devices off instead of letting them go into sleep or hibernation mode, from which the computer can resume much faster, according to Microsoft data.

Reasons for preferring shutdown vary, Microsoft says, from wanting to save on power to preferring to start a session fresh with no leftover processes from earlier (I suspect that another group of people avoid sleep and hibernate because it never works quite properly on their PCs).

But even though a slight majority prefer to shut down, many Windows PC users do use sleep and hibernate modes instead of cold boots. In Windows 8, Microsoft wanted to create a shutdown process that would appeal to both types of users, by achieving three basic goals: nearly zero power draw when the computer is shut off, a fresh session after boot, and a quick startup time.

To reach these targets, Windows 8's default shutdown mode performs what it refers to as a "session 0" hibernation. Basically, the computer shuts down normally, except that it saves the Windows kernel session to a hibernation file prior to shutting down. In Windows 7, the kernel session gets shut down completely--the kernel is the OS's core component that acts as a link between applications and data processing at the hardware level. Storing the kernel session results in a small hibernation file that the system can read back into memory in much less time than it takes to start everything up from a traditional cold boot, according to Microsoft.

The new faster startup time also takes advantage of multicore systems by using all of the cores in parallel to speed the work of reading the hibernation file. Microsoft says that this multicore process will help your system resume from regular hibernate mode more quickly as well. The Windows maker found that PCs with a Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) instead of a traditional BIOS tend to achieve faster boot times under the new system, too.

If you who need a traditional cold shutdown to install new hardware on your PC or if you want one because you like it the old way, Microsoft allows you to revert to the old shutdown method either permanently (through a setting in the user interface--probably in the Control Panel, though Microsoft didn't explain this fully) or as a one-time occurrence from the command prompt.

Windows isn't the only PC operating system to support speedy boots. Google's browser-only Chromebooks have fast boot times, and Apple's MacBook Air line also claims instant-on functionality.

If you can't get enough Windows 8 news, check out PCWorld on Tuesday, September 13 when Microsoft is expected to provide even more details about its forthcoming OS during the company's BUILD conference.

Windows 8 Fast Boot:

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