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Mac 101: Sleepy success for the portably inclined

Aron Trimble

Welcome back to Mac 101, our series of posts aimed at novice Mac users and veterans who like the occasional refresher.

If you've owned a Mac portable for any length of time, chances are pretty high that you have had your Mac wake up while stowed away in a carrying case. You know the drill as well as I do. As soon as you open your bag of choice, a wave of heat rushes up to your face. And that's when you realize your Mac isn't sleeping and your battery is now mostly dead.

For our friends who are new to the Mac or who may have never used the sleep mode you might be asking yourself why it is important. For road warriors who office at Starbucks or just those that are energy conscientious, it is actually quite impressive functionality. Sleep mode is a low power, energy-saving mode that your Mac uses to extend the life of both batteries and displays. While it's more useful for mobile machines, Sleep mode is available on both portables and desktops.

Sleep mode on the Mac is very similar to system standby in Windows. It is is almost always successful at saving my battery life so when I'm on the road I don't have to worry about opening my Mac to a dead or dying battery.

How does one take advantage of all of this sleepy goodness? Well, there are several ways, some of which depend on your personal configuration. The most common method for putting your Mac portable to sleep (no, not like that) is simply by closing the lid.

Pressing the power button results in a dialog box with buttons for sleeping, restarting, or shutting down your Mac -- click Sleep, or press the S key to select the Sleep button. You can also change your system preferences to make the power button sleep your Mac with a single press.

Simply choosing "Sleep" from the Apple menu will also send your Mac to dream-town. Another neat trick: if your Mac has an infrared (IR) port you can use your Apple Remote to put your computer to sleep. Hold the Play/Pause button to put your Mac to sleep and push any button to wake it back up.

As it turns out, Sleep mode does not always work as expected. If you've had trouble with your Mac waking up without your being aware, you're not alone. In fact, there are several reasons why your Mac might wake up in transit without warning. Apple has even seen-fit to create a support article on the very subject. Three of the more common causes of sleep failure (besides Caffeine) are:

  1. External hard drives not properly dismounted prior to sleeping
  2. Bluetooth devices (such as a portable mouse) waking the Mac up
  3. An active application preventing sleep such as iTunes or QuickTime

Regarding external hard drives, I have found that a drive needs to be unmounted & unplugged prior to putting your Mac to sleep. This prevents the majority of sleep issues caused by external hard drives. Another good idea is to disable the "Allow Bluetooth devices to wake this computer" checkbox in Bluetooth System Preferences. A simple step with a powerful outcome -- no longer will your portable Bluetooth mouse awaken your Mac from its slumber.

While some people may not find Sleep mode a key bit of functionality in their Mac, many have found that it is absolutely indispensable.

For other awesome beginner tips, visit our Mac 101 category.

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