InstantGo - instant startup for Windows laptops

InstantGo is new laptop technology that is making its first conspicuous appearance in the new Microsoft Surface Pro 3 laptop/tablet. Expect to see it mentioned in marketing materials for more new laptops in the next year. It’s a subtle but wonderful feature that new processors and hardware can use to improve your experience.

InstantGo makes a Windows 8 laptop wake up instantly. While it’s asleep, the computer still updates email, weather, Skype and more, while using virtually no battery power.

In other words, it makes laptops work like phones and tablets.

Laptops with InstantGo will never go to sleep or hibernate as you know it now. You’ll hit the power switch or close the cover to stop working, then hit the power switch or open the cover to start working instantly again. New email and other notifications will just be there with no need to wait for the computer to sync after it wakes up.

Think of it as a new way for laptops to sleep when the cover is closed: with one eye open, continuing to receive a trickle of data about incoming email messages, Skype calls, notifications from your calendar, weather, alarms, and more. When you wake up the laptop by opening the cover or pushing the button, the screen will come alive immediately and Live Tiles will be up to date, with your email waiting, just like a phone or tablet. Yet the battery will be close to untouched; the drain is required to be less than 5% of battery capacity over a 16-hour idle period.

In 2011 Microsoft introduced InstantGo by its previous name, Connected Standby, as a new Windows 8 feature. It requires Intel hardware that has not been used widely on laptops yet – processor architecture known as “System on Chip (SOC)”, plus surrounding hardware that fits precise specifications (low-power RAM, the latest implementation of Trusted Platform Module, and a solid-state hard drive (SSD).) The new System on Chip designs are driving the next generation of thinner, lighter and more power efficient devices, like the Surface Pro 3.

The short answer is: your current laptop doesn’t support this. Your next one might, but perhaps only in premium laptops for a while.

It’s not brand new to Windows, however. Windows tablets have been taking advantage of this feature for a couple of years. The original Surface and Surface 2 (the RT tablets, not the Pro versions with the full version of Windows 8) support Connected Standby. That’s why they wake up instantly when the cover is opened. You can also find it in other Windows tablets, including some of the tablet-sized devices that are running the full version of Windows – the Thinkpad Tablet 2, Dell Venue Pro 8, and a handful of others.

The best current laptops already wake up very quickly, thanks to improvements in Windows 8 and sleep technology. Windows 8 laptops with SSDs wake from sleep so rapidly that it might as well be called “instant.” I can get to the desktop on my Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon in 2-3 seconds after I open the cover when it’s in its initial sleep mode. (It’s a special new hybrid sleep called “Fast Startup.” After several hours, it drops into deeper hibernation, which takes 10-15 seconds to start up and get to a desktop.)

Meanwhile, Intel has offered “Smart Connect Technology” for a couple of years. It wakes computers periodically to update open programs, then sends them back to sleep. Your perception is that the computer is up to date when it wakes up, just like InstantGo.

InstantGo brings those concepts to a new level, combining instant wake, continuous updates while asleep, and extreme battery life. It’s a nice improvement and worth looking for when you go laptop shopping this year. At the moment, you’ll only find it on the Surface Pro 3, which I hope you’re considering if you’re looking at laptops. You can test the Surface Pro 3 at Best Buy and the model you want is available now – the one in the middle with a Core i5 processor and 128Gb of storage for $999 plus $129 for the keyboard.

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