With Windows 8, “off” isn’t really off

Fred Langa

Win8’s default shutoff and startup processes are unlike those of any previous Windows version.

Completely shutting Win8 down — or doing a truly cold boot — requires a few extra steps!

Why Win8 doesn’t fully power down by default

Reader Pete was surprised he couldn’t access the BIOS in his new Win8 notebook by restarting the machine.

  • “I just bought a new laptop with Windows 8 on it and ran into quite an interesting problem that I thought Fred (and the rest of the Windows Secrets gang) might find interesting. The machine in question is an Acer V5 Aspire laptop.

    “I wanted to get into the BIOS. The instructions and posts on the Acer forums both said to tap the F2 key repeatedly when the Acer logo screen appears during power-up. No matter how quickly I began tapping the F2 key after a cold restart, I could never get into the BIOS. I called Acer tech support and they described how I could boot to the BIOS from within Windows. Although this worked, it didn’t solve the problem of getting into the BIOS at power-up. I then spoke with a Level 2 technician who was quite knowledgeable.

    “Acer’s shutdown icon lets you select Sleep, Hibernate, Restart, or Shutdown. According to the tech, you must hold down the Shift key while clicking the shutdown icon — and continue to hold Shift until the machine fully powers off. I was then able to enter the BIOS during system startup.

    “The tech stated that Windows 8 doesn’t really shut down when you click the shutdown icon (or go to Power via the Charms bar/Settings). Instead, Win8 goes into a sort of ‘deep sleep’ mode, similar to hibernate. This is one of the techniques the OS uses for fast boots. However, when booting from this ‘deep sleep’ mode, you can’t enter the BIOS via F2. You can get into the BIOS only after a ‘hard’ shutdown (for lack of a better term).

    “I then tried the shutdown command Fred used to create a custom shutdown tile [Nov. 1, 2012, item]. That command also performed the necessary ‘hard’ power-down needed to access the BIOS.

    “Have you heard of this power-down mechanism — where power-down is really just a form of hibernate/deep sleep? Do you suppose this is something unique to Acer machines or common to all Windows 8 machines?”

It’s normal behavior for Win8, Pete. By default, that operating system’s core never shuts down all the way! It’s part of a new feature — fast startup.

When you issue a standard power-down command to Win8, it carries out a hybrid shutdown. Win8 first closes and terminates all user sessions in the expected way. Next, it copies what’s still running in RAM (primarily, the live core of the operating system — the system kernel) onto the hard drive. It then turns off the system hardware.

When Win8 starts up after a hybrid shutdown, it performs a hybrid boot. As soon as the hardware’s ready, the core of the OS reloads from the hard drive; Win8 then picks up right from where it left off. Thus, the OS itself is up and ready to go in a flash. You still have to reload your apps and data the normal way, from scratch.

For more info on Win8’s Fast Startup hybrid shutdown/hybrid boot, see the MSDN blog post, “Delivering fast boot times in Windows 8.”

That’s how it works on most current hardware. However, on some of the newest systems, Win8 can employ an even faster option via a new kind of low-level firmware — Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI; Wikipedia info). The UEFI replaces the traditional BIOS that’s been a part of every PC since the first IBM PC shipped in 1981.

Simply put, the BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) boots and runs the PC until an operating system (Windows, Linux, etc.) wakes up and takes over. The BIOS has worked well for over 30 years, but with new hardware and software, it’s showing its limitations.

UEFI acts like a BIOS for operating systems that expect to see a BIOS, but it also adds new functions for UEFI-aware OSes, such as Win8.

On a UEFI-equipped PC, Windows 8 can have astonishingly fast startups — especially if the system is also equipped with a solid-state hard drive. How fast? Check out this YouTube Microsoft video, which shows a Win8 laptop booting from dead-off to Start Screen in about seven seconds!

(For a more detailed explanation of Win8/UEFI technology, see the MSDN blog post, “Designing for PCs that boot faster than ever before.”)

As you discovered, Pete, you need to take an extra step to fully shut down Windows 8. There are actually several ways to do so:

  • To bypass the hybrid shutdown/boot process, do a command-line shutdown (e.g., shutdown.exe /s /f /t 00). Or embed the command in a custom tile, as I describe step by step in the Nov. 1, 2012, LangaList Plus item, “Add custom tiles to the Win8 start screen.”
  • Use Acer’s Shift-key trick — other vendors probably provide something similar to trigger a complete shutdown.
  • Disable fast startup via the Shutdown settings in Win8’s Power Options menu. Open the Win8 Control Panel and click Hardware and Sound/Power Options/System Settings. Scroll to the bottom of the dialog box and deselect Turn on fast startup (highlighted in Figure 1).

    Disable Fast Start

    Figure 1. Disabling Win8's fast-startup option will let the OS shut down completely.

New technologies often require some rethinking and/or relearning of the traditional ways of doing things. You’re among the first to run into this, Pete, but many of us are right behind you!

Wi-Fi acronym soup: WPS, WPA, WPA2, etc.

John Richer is understandably bothered by some confusing Wi-Fi terminology.

  • “In reference to the Dec. 12, 2012, Top Story, ‘Routers using WPS are intrinsically unsafe,’ I’m surprised to see there is no reference to the WPA protocol.”

WPA and WPS sound similar, but they’re entirely different technologies that perform entirely different tasks.

WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) and WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access Version 2) are security protocols that use encryption for secure access and ongoing communication between connected Wi-Fi devices. (See this Wikipedia article.)

WPA is mostly obsolete because it uses an older encryption technology that’s now relatively easy to crack. WPA2 uses a stronger encryption technology that’s immune to most forms of hacking.

WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) is technology designed solely to automate the initial setup of a Wi-Fi connection (Wikipedia article). WPS doesn’t use encryption — and can actually bypass whatever encryption might otherwise be in use!

That’s the problem addressed in the Dec. 12 story. It doesn’t matter what encryption technology you use or how long and strong your passphrase is — if WPS is active, it can let devices — and hackers! — connect anyway.

That’s why the safest Wi-Fi setup is one with WPS entirely disabled.

Another Outlook/Android synching question

Alan Friedman asks:

  • “Does Fred’s Nov. 15, 2012, article on synching email to an Android device apply to any POP3 email — or just to Gmail?”

Android devices typically come with a Gmail-specific app (called, not surprisingly, Gmail) and a separate, generic email app, typically called Email. Between them, your Android device can use either Gmail or just about any non-Gmail, POP3/SMTP or IMAP service you wish.

But the Google Sync tool (site) is specifically for synching Gmail to PC-based email clients such as Outlook or Thunderbird. It also lets you use Gmail while offline.

Important note: As I was writing this article, Google announced, “Starting Jan. 30, consumers won’t be able to set up new devices using Google Sync; however, existing Google Sync connections will continue to function.” (It will continue to be part of Google Apps for Business, Government and Education.)

So, if you have any interest in using Google Sync, set it up within the next month! After that, you won’t be able to set up new sync connections for free.

For more info on using Google Sync, check out a Google help page.

Reader tip: Tracking email sources using Gmail

Will Pearce’s tips tie in nicely with some recent mentions of Gmail in this column, including the preceding item.

  • “I take full advantage of Google’s Gmail features and generous accounts policy to limit my exposure to spam, phishing, or email account–hacking attacks:

    “I have separate Gmail accounts for different purposes: commercial transactions, online forums (for posting) and blogs (for comments), personal blogging (for reader contacts), business correspondence, and personal correspondence.

    “I use Gmail’s email address alias feature to brand email addresses I use for online forms. That way I can track the source of an email address leak (i.e., an address that has been shared without my permission). I do this by expanding my address name with a + and a custom phrase.

    “For example, if my email address is name@gmail.com, a branded address might be name+windowssecrets@gmail.com.

    “Unfortunately, not all form fields for email addresses allow the + character. Still, I find that I can use this about 75 percent of the time.”

Thanks, Will!

Reader Will Pearce will receive a gift certificate for a book, CD, or DVD of his choice for sending the tip we printed above. Send us your tips via the Windows Secrets contact page.

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Fred Langa

About Fred Langa

Fred Langa is senior editor. His LangaList Newsletter merged with Windows Secrets on Nov. 16, 2006. Prior to that, Fred was editor of Byte Magazine (1987 to 1991) and editorial director of CMP Media (1991 to 1996), overseeing Windows Magazine and others.