This article explains why it is important to shutdown your computer properly.
In our repair shop, we are sometimes asked by customers if there is any harm in shutting down their computer by just pressing the power button for a few seconds, rather than going through the Windows shutdown procedure.
As far as the customer in concerned, the end result appears to be the same, the computer shuts down. In fact, from their point of view, holding the power button for a few seconds appears to shut down the computer immediately, whereas a proper Windows shutdown takes maybe 20 to 30 seconds. So is it a good idea to do this?
To get straight to the point, it is a very, very bad idea to shutdown your computer by holding the power button.
In order to understand why this is such a bad idea, you need to understand a little about what a computer normally does during a standard Windows shutdown and why it needs to do these things when you shutdown your computer.
– a computer hard disk is rotating thousands of times a minute
– the little arm that reads and writes data to the hard disk is moving backwards and forwards all the time
– Windows has many files open for reading and writing
– Windows may be reading and writing to the system registry
During a normal shutdown, (amongst doing many other things)
– Windows closes any files it was reading or writing
– Windows closes any access it has to the system registry
– the little hard disk arm is parked carefully at one side of the disk
So in comparison, what does holding the power button for a few seconds do?
Pressing the power button for a few seconds cuts power immediately to the whole computer.
What effect does this have?
Any files that Windows was writing to may now have incomplete or corrupt data, because you didn’t allow it to finish writing properly.
If Windows was writing to the registry, the system registry may now have incomplete or corrupt data because you didn’t allow it to finish writing.
The hard disk arm, not being allowed to park by the side of the disk, may scratch or damage the spinning disk, causing data to become corrupt.
Each of these things can cause hard disk data corruption. So what’s the big deal about that?
Well, for a long time you might get lucky and the data corruption may be in an area of the disk that you don’t notice, or a file that you can do without.
But one day, and it could be any random day, probably when you need your computer most, you might find that one of your important programs no longer works because an important file is corrupt.
Or worse, Windows will no longer boot because the registry has become corrupt.
Even worse again, the hard disk might have so many physical problems that it has to be replaced, potentially losing all your treasured photos, videos and documents that you always meant to backup but never got around to…
So please, for the sake of your data, and to avoid a costly computer repair, take a few seconds at the end of the day to shutdown your computer properly.
Edit: April 2013
A couple of people have asked if there is any alternative to pressing and holding the power button when a computer is hanging and unresponsive.
While different people may have slightly different definitions of when a computer is unresponsive, ultimately if the computer is hanging for several minutes, the screen has frozen, the mouse pointer doesn’t move across the screen despite you physically moving the mouse, the computer does not respond to a Ctrl-Alt-Del, you can probably safely assume that something has gone badly wrong and the computer has frozen up.
In a normal healthy computer, these occasions should be few and far between. But in these circumstances there is really no realistic alternative to pressing and holding the power button to turn off the computer.
When you restart the computer, you may be prompted to allow the Check Disk tool to run. Let it run to check for, and try to repair, any issues that might be found on the hard disk as a result of the hard power off.
And if possible, check for any error messages or helpful information in the Event Viewer that would explain the freeze up. Although finding something useful in there could be rare.
Repeated freeze-ups are a sign that something is not well. If your computer freezes regularly, there could be a hard disk fault (run this tool to check hard disk health), or other hardware issue, or there could be corrupted Windows system files. If in doubt, get it checked out by your computer repair guy.
The original reason for writing this article was that in our computer repair shop, we often encountered customers for whom it was normal everyday practice to turn off their computer by pressing and holding the power button. Every single time! They rarely, if ever, shut down Windows properly. They wanted the computer to shutdown fast, and they found that this method had worked, not realising what damage they could be doing.
So I wrote this to try to encourage them to take a few seconds and shut down Windows properly, as it could save them money in the long run for computer repairs.
But as I describe above, there are exceptional circumstances where there is just no other realistic option to the hard shutdown, but having to do this should serve as a warning that something may not be well with your computer.