Conserving energy with Active Directory

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Treehugger magazine has a very clear statement on Microsoft Windows XP and its "high-performance" yet "energy-consuming" default settings this week. They boldly state Microsoft Windows XP wasted $25 billion of Energy with the help of Foreign Policy.

About Treehugger and Foreign Policy

Treehugger is a fast-growing web magazine, dedicated to everything that has a modern aesthetic yet is environmentally responsible. Foreign Policy is a magazine of global politics, economics, and ideas. Their mission is to explain how the world works—in particular, how the process of global integration is reshaping nations, institutions, cultures, and, more fundamentally, our daily lives.


Power Settings in Windows XP

Treehugger does a pretty good job on the three reasons why Microsoft Windows XP is a big energy consumer. I'll keep them short and simple for those that don't want to click links and read whole articles:


  • In order for XP to run smoothly, with all its bells and whistles going, desktop machines had to run in "high-performance" mode, the equivalent of flooring your Honda at every green light.
  • Studies of Windows 95 and 98 had shown that users hated to turn computers off because the boot times were so long. Sleep mode was supposed to be the answer to this. The problem is that Windows XP lets any program override the sleep function.
  • Systems administrators in offices across the nation find it too confusing or difficult to control power saving functions for all computers on the network. So, instead, they let individual users decide.


Of course it's easy concluding Microsoft Windows XP has three major design flaws when looking at power conservation. Please keep in mind it's a five year old operating system, built to last a couple of years for a world that looked very different from the world we now live in… No one in 2001 thought in 2006 we'd still be waiting for the successor to Microsoft Windows XP.


Power Settings in Windows Vista

If you look at the whitepaper that Microsoft published on the Energy conservation features in Microsoft Windows Vista you'll find a lot of possible angles to cut down on power consumption in your Enterprise:


  • Default settings optimized for best user experience and energy savings
  • Default Off that is actually Sleep
  • Immediate responsiveness to Sleep or Resume
  • Improved idle detection that helps ensure that a PC awakened from the network or for scheduled activity returns to Sleep after 2 minutes of idleness
  • Applications, services, and drivers that cannot block Sleep transitions
  • No requirement for users to distinguish between Standby and Hibernate—they merely choose "Sleep" and it just works


In my opinion Microsoft did a good job on energy conservation in Microsoft Windows Vista in contrast to Microsoft Windows XP and listened to some concerned people, but the best news for system administrators is the arrival of Group Policy Objects (GPO's) to centrally manage energy settings and a brand new version of the powercfg.exe command line tool.


Active Directory to the rescue!

We finally have Group Policy Objects (GPO's) , their corresponding registry keys and a command line tool to centrally manage power settings on desktops in our enterprises! All these tools can be used with the Active Directory so no-one has to worry about "computers of air traffic controllers going to sleep".

Group Policy Objects (GPO's)

According to the Group Policy Settings Reference for Windows Vista you will find 35 Group Policy settings in the Power Settings Administrative Template file (power.admx). Two of these were already available in Microsoft Windows XP and Microsoft Windows Server 2003 ("Prompt for password on resume from hibernate / suspend" and "Do not turn off system power after a Windows system shutdown has occurred") but these are the new ones that you can apply to machines running Microsoft Windows Vista:


  • Power Management
    • Specify a Custom Active Power Plan
    • Select an Active Power Plan
  • Notification Settings
    • Critical Battery Notification Action
    • Low Battery Notification Action
    • Critical Battery Notification Level
    • Low Battery Notification Level
    • Turn Off Low Battery User Notification
  • Button Settings
    • Select the Power Button Action (Plugged In)
    • Select the Sleep Button Action (Plugged In)
    • Select the Lid Switch Action (Plugged In)
    • Select the Start Menu Power Button Action (Plugged In)
    • Select the Power Button Action (On Battery)
    • Select the Sleep Button Action (On Battery)
    • Select the Lid Switch Action (On Battery)
    • Select the Start Menu Power Button Action (On Battery)
  • Hard Disk Settings
    • Turn Off the Hard Disk (Plugged In)
    • Turn Off the Hard Disk (On Battery)
  • Sleep Settings
    • Turn on Applications to Prevent Sleep Transitions (Plugged In)
    • Specify the System Hibernate Timeout (Plugged In)
    • Require a Password When a Computer Wakes (Plugged In)
    • Specify the System Sleep Timeout (Plugged In)
    • Turn Off Hybrid Sleep (Plugged In)
    • Turn on Applications to Prevent Sleep Transitions (On Battery)
    • Specify the System Hibernate Timeout (On Battery)
    • Require a Password When a Computer Wakes (On Battery)
    • Specify the System Sleep Timeout (On Battery)
    • Turn Off Hybrid Sleep (On Battery)
    • Allow Standby States (S1-S3) When Sleeping (Plugged In)
    • Allow Standby States (S1-S3) When Sleeping (On Battery)
  • Video and Display Settings
    • Turn Off Adaptive Display Timeout (Plugged In)
    • Turn Off Adaptive Display Timeout (On Battery)
    • Turn Off the Display (Plugged In)
    • Turn Off the Display (On Battery)


Effectively all Power Settings in Windows Vista can be enforced with Group Policy, but as a bonus Power Options in Control Panel indicates if Group Policy Object (GPO) overrides are active.


Registry keys

The Group Policy Settings Reference for Windows Vista also shows you the registry keys corresponding with the group policy settings. The new power settings can be found at:



Even if you're not blessed with Active Directory you can still make registry changes with the information in the reference by editing them using scripts.


Powercfg.exe is not a new tool. When you use Microsoft Windows Server 2003 or Microsoft Windows XP Professional you can already use it to manage power settings on these machines, but it's not as powerful or flexible as managing the power settings in Microsoft Windows Vista with Group Policy Objects (GPO's):


  • With powercfg.exe you can only script changes to the power settings and you won't have any way of reporting on the power settings within your organization (unlike Group Policy Objects)
  • Powercfg.exe needs administrative rights to be executed


But hey, at least it's available to you now!


The powercfg.exe in Microsoft Windows Vista is different in a couple of ways:


  • You won't have to worry about administrative privileges to change power settings anymore. In Windows Vista any user can change the power settings. (but of course power policy access rights can be restricted)
  • Power schemes and power settings in Windows Vista are now identified using Globally Unique Identifiers. (GUIDs) Powercfg in Windows Vista uses aliases to make the settings available to you without knowing the particular GUID of a power setting or power scheme. (If you are curious about the GUIDs try powercfg.exe /aliases)



Conserving energy is easy when you have Active Directory at your side.

When you're one of the lucky persons to soon deploy Windows Vista desktops and laptops take a look at the new Power Settings Group Policy settings for Microsoft Windows Vista and of course deploy them as well.

If you're using Microsoft Windows XP desktops and laptops then please read up on powercfg.exe. You can use this command line tool in your startup and shutdown scripts to centrally change power settings in your organization.

Save the world, use Active Directory!  🙂

Further reading

How Windows XP Wasted $25 Billion of Energy
Microsoft could save 45 million tons of CO2 emissions (digg)
Microsoft One Step From World's Greenest Company
Group Policy Settings Reference Windows Vista
How Microsoft can save the world
Can Microsoft save the world?
Whitepaper on Windows Vista Energy Conservation
How to use Powercfg.exe in Windows Server 2003
JSI FAQ on using Powercfg.exe
Kixtart Forum post on Windows XP Power Settings
Joel Spolsky on the OFF feature in Windows Vista
Windows Vista Power Management

One Response to Conserving energy with Active Directory


    Yeah, this is great, in the LongHorn Server session I gave at Teched I showed the savings in $ when you save on power. 100 000 users = $630 000 a year, thats quite alot 😉

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