Laptop lids

(Goodness, this is only my second post this month. Evidently real life is getting in the way. I have a massive list of things I’d like to write about, if that’s any consolation to my readers.)

We live in the time where the laptop computer is ubiquitous. Most people who have a home personal computer use a laptop now, and it’s starting to become the primary workplace device too. Although tablets are gaining in popularity, it’ll be a while before they have anything like that market share.

So let’s talk about laptop lids.

Laptop computers fold away for ease of portability. It’s very easy to carry around a cuboid-shaped device. This isn’t news to anyone.

But wherever I go — home or office — I see people walking around with their laptop lids open, precariously balancing the computer and anything else they need to carry, such as notebooks and cups of coffee. I’m as guilty of this as anyone else. It’s such a common image it’s almost unnoticeable but when you think about it, it’s pretty hilarious.

Why does this happen? Well, most modern operating systems are configured by default to initiate an ACPI sleep event when the laptop lid is closed. This shuts down the monitor, hard disk and CPU and leaves only the RAM powered up — great for saving battery power when on the move, but causing a delay of a few seconds on wake when the various hardware springs back into life. On top of this, most authentication systems will use this as an excuse to lock the machine, requiring a password or fingerprint to unlock.

The delay caused by the wake and unlock event is traded off against the distance travelled and in most people’s eyes a journey from desk to meeting room (or living room to bedroom) is too short to warrant that delay and effort and so we end up in that silly state of balancing the laptop instead of closing it for easy movement.

But my engineer’s brain is not satisfied with this! There must be a solution where we can have the best of both worlds!

The easy solution would be to have a switch on the taskbar to say whether to sleep & lock when the lid is closed. I’m sure such features already exist. But I don’t want to be having to remember to click this, especially before going home for the evening or travelling — the risk of accidentally leaving my laptop fully powered and wasting energy (or not having any power at my destination) is too great.

We could program the ACPI based on our calendar information — my laptop already knows when I have meetings so perhaps it could decide not to sleep when it knows it’s being transported in or out of a meeting room. But this relies on the information in my calendar being accurate and it doesn’t solve the same problem at home.

What about just allowing us to specify a minimum time after the lid is closed before the sleep and lock events kick in? If I could say that any journey of less than a minute should be considered just closing the lid for convenience’s sake, and not because I’m travelling or leaving my laptop alone, that would probably work. There’s a tradeoff here in battery power (not much) and physical security (I could still manually initiate the lock if I’m worried about that) but I think the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.

This would be easy to do in GNU/Linux where ACPI is scriptable, but do similar tools exist for Windows 7 or OS X? And if we can solve this problem, how do we go about retraining everyone out of this habit?


  1. Dave Pearson
    Sep 17, 2011

    Is this where I mention that my ChromeBook goes to sleep but wakes pretty much straight away when I open it again? 😉

    • Rich
      Sep 17, 2011

      Yeah, the ChromeBook is an interesting one. The same could be said for the Asus Transformer which is essentially a laptop running Android. Maybe the solution is to use a better OS, but I’d hope there’s a solution for the existing bloatware OSen.

  2. Emily Axel
    Sep 17, 2011

    interesting! now–would there be a way to keep a skype call running through a closing/opening of the lid? i find when i’m walking around with my mac book open it’s *usually* because i’m talking to someone on skype and moving about in my apartment.

    • Rich
      Sep 17, 2011

      Heh. You can but I think Skype might be an exception here.

      • Tim
        Sep 22, 2011

        Skype might be an “exception” but if so, then so are every IM network and social network I’m on.

    • Vu
      Dec 14, 2016

      I set my laptop to “do nothing” when the lid is closed. I can continue conversations, etc.

  3. Jim Macarthur
    Sep 20, 2011

    I too find this annoying and one of the first things I change on a new install is to keep the laptop running normally when the lid is closed. I suspect one of the reasons for this default is to avoid the problem of putting a fully running laptop (with its fans blowing) into a bag, which could damage it even within a minute.

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