When you call tech support, you’re probably going to get the same response every single time: “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” This seems like a flippant response, but rebooting a computer can actually solve many problems. So what’s going on here? Why does resetting a device or restarting a program fix so many problems? And why don’t geeks try to identify and fix problems rather than use the blunt hammer of “reset it”?
There’s a reason that this happens so often, and it’s because restarting your computer is a great, low-tech way to resolve some basic issues with your system. However, it’s still good to be cautious about more serious issues that a reboot won’t fix.
What Happens When You Reboot
When you restart your PC, it can resolve a surprising number of problems. According to HowToGeek, most problems that lead to the failure of a Windows operating system are caused by bad code (code that’s not being processed for whatever reason). This can be caused by something as simple as a failing driver or a hardware failure. Either way, something went wrong, and if this code isn’t processed properly, it can lead to what’s known as the “blue screen of death.”
Reddit – ELI5(Explain like I’m 5) post for why does restarting a PC help :
“Imagine your computer is a white sheet of paper and your mouse is a pencil. if you want to open google chrome, write “chrome”. want to close google chrome? use the eraser. but the eraser always leaves marks and stuff behind. do this over and over, and pretty soon your whole piece of paper wont be white anymore. restarting your computer is like grabbing a fresh sheet of paper. “
Now you understand the basics, this Isn’t Just About Windows…
Bear in mind that this solution isn’t just limited to Windows computers, but applies to all types of computing devices. You’ll find the advice “try resetting it” applied to wireless routers, iPads, Android phones, and more. This same advice even applies to software — is Firefox acting slow and consuming a lot of memory? Try closing it and reopening it!
Some Problems Require a Restart
To illustrate why rebooting can fix so many problems, let’s take a look at the ultimate software problem a Windows computer can face: Windows halts, showing a blue screen of death. The blue screen was caused by a low-level error, likely a problem with a hardware driver or a hardware malfunction. Windows reaches a state where it doesn’t know how to recover, so it halts, shows a blue-screen of death, gathers information about the problem, and automatically restarts the computer for you . This restart fixes the blue screen of death.
Windows has gotten better at dealing with errors — for example, if your graphics driver crashes, Windows XP would have frozen but in newer versions of Windows, the Windows desktop will lose its fancy graphical effects for a few moments before regaining them. Behind the scenes, Windows is restarting the malfunctioning graphics driver. But why doesn’t Windows simply fix the problem rather than restarting the driver or the computer itself? Well, because it can’t — the code has encountered a problem and stopped working completely, so there’s no way for it to continue. By restarting, the code can start from square one and hopefully it won’t encounter the same problem again.
It’s Common for a System Restart to Fix Problems
If you think that rebooting your computer will fix a problem, you should know that it’s one of the most immediate and simple ways to do so. These are some of the most common issues resolved by a system reboot:
Is Windows moving slowly? If your Windows operating system is running slowly, you might have a program that’s using up all of your computer’s resources. While it’s possible to just open up your task manager and find the program that’s causing the trouble, you can reboot the operating system without needing to experiment.
Do your programs eat up memory? Many programs, like Mozilla FireFox, are notorious for causing memory leaks. These can slow down your computer and make it difficult to accomplish any work. Restarting your computer gives you a chance to start fresh.
Are you having Internet or network problems? This doesn’t just apply to your PC. This advice can apply to any computing hardware that you use on a daily basis, like Internet routers, modems, etc. If it’s not working the way it should, try restarting it. Unplug it and plug it back in. This is what’s known as a hard reset, and can be an easy fix to a difficult problem. Keep in mind that it won’t fix major problems, but it should be a solid go-to strategy for troubleshooting minor technical difficulties.
If you’ve ever tried calling your computer manufacturer’s tech support, you’ve probably been asked several times if you’ve turned your computer off, and then back on again. Despite how repetitive this advice can be, it’s a pretty easy way to fix some technical problems.
“Soft Resets” vs. “Hard Resets”
In the mobile device world, there are two types of “resets” you can perform. A “soft reset” is simply restarting a device normally — turning it off and then on again. A “hard reset” is resetting its software state back to its factory default state.
When you think about it, both types of resets fix problems for a similar reason. For example, let’s say your Windows computer refuses to boot or becomes completely infected with malware. Simply restarting the computer won’t fix the problem, as the problem is with the files on the computer’s hard drive — it has corrupted files or malware that loads at startup on its hard drive. However, reinstalling Windows (performing a “Refresh or Reset your PC” operation in Windows 8 terms) will wipe away everything on the computer’s hard drive, restoring it to its formerly clean state.
This is simpler than looking through the computer’s hard drive, trying to identify the exact reason for the problems or trying to ensure you’ve obliterated every last trace of malware. It’s much faster to simply start over from a known-good, clean state instead of trying to locate every possible problem and fix it.
Ultimately, the answer is that “resetting a computer wipes away the current state of the software, including any problems that have developed, and allows it to start over from square one.” It’s easier and faster to start from a clean state than identify and fix any problems that may be occurring — in fact, in some cases, it may be impossible to fix problems without beginning from that clean state.