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Why you should shutdown your computer and not just press the off button



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.

During normal running,
– 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.




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20 Comments:

  1. TUMUSIME JOBSON BALUKU

    If i turn off my computer using a wall socket, some times when i turn it on again it delays

  2. All computer hardware is designed to be turned off by pulling the plug without being damaged. Even the hard drive, although there may be slightly less wear if the drive spins down quickly while still powered, which I believe many modern operating systems do just before putting the computer in to soft off state. What if you install DOS on your computer? There is no shutdown system with DOS.

    Windows uses a fully journaled NTFS filesystem which doesn’t ever get corrupted by a power failure, but files which are being written to could become corrupted. All important Windows files are designed to recover from this. So if you hold down the power button for 4 seconds at an idle Windows desktop it is unlikely that Windows would become corrupted. If you are installing Windows updates, a file could be in progress of being replaced, and that could easily render your system unbootable.

  3. Troy Dunn-Higgins

    “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.”

    This is incorrect. Modern HDDs will automatically park the heads if power is lost.

  4. Hey guys thanks for that information very informative. But I find when I turn off the computer using the power button when I turn it on the windows start up sound comes on but when I turn off the cpu from windows it does not play. any suggestuions

  5. I have to repeat Maurice’s question. If the computer isn’t responding to anything at all, then is there any preferable alternative to pressing and holding the power button? If so, what?

  6. You mentioned the arm of the hard drive that runs across the platters, is that the only thing that can be harmed by doing a force shut down? What if you have SSDs? Does that solve the problem?

    • Computer Repair Tips

      Even with an SSD you can still get file corruption if Windows is working on open system files when you turn the power off. If you have a good enough computer to have an SSD you should really look after it and turn it off properly. Solid State Drives are much more expensive to replace than standard hard disks.

  7. the place where i live suffers from intermittent power outages..i never know when will one occur and my pc ends up shutting down NOT through the normal process which happens at least twice a day…i wonder if it will have any detrimental effect on my pc/hardware anything..its an expensive machine :/

    • Computer Repair Tips

      If you are getting power outages on a daily basis, I would recommend buying a small UPS power system to help protect your expensive computer. It will provide power for a short time when the mains power goes off. This will allow you to shut down gracefully. Or if the power outage is short, you could continue working as normal until the power comes back on.

  8. You can press and release the power button which will do the same thing as going to the start menu. The article is in reference to “holding down the button”, not simply pressing the button quickly, two different things. You’ll find windows closes all programs before it shuts down with a quick press and release! You would “press and hold” only if your pc is frozen or unresponsive.

  9. Noted and slapped wrists for me although sometimes I’m impatient when in a hurry. Probably the best advice I’ve had in some time & duly noted. Thanks man.

  10. Most of the time when you immediately press the power button most of your files (without any warning) will actually not be saved and if lucky enough you might only retrieve a portion of your saved file…

  11. Rather late but…..

    What is the alternative to a hard switch off if the machine hangs, is completely dead and not responding to ctrl.alt.del or any other key combination? I can never get a satisfactory answer to this.

    Thanks

    Maurice

  12. David – ANY component of a PC can be damaged from a forced shutdown. Every piece of hardware has electricity running through it, activating and deactivating systems beyond your understanding.

    Think of inside your PC like traffic, cars and buses running around interweaving between each other. If you ‘kill’ all the drivers at once then everyone would crash. Same effect inside your PC.

    Of course, this is concerning and usually unlikely to occur, but the concerning part is your registry files. They are more prone to corruption than your hardware, but can still render your entire PC unbootable- permanently. This will of course require all new hardware anyway to replace. Often ending in a new computer…

  13. so the only component that might be damaged is the harddisk,the motherboard cant be damaged is this true

  14. Hey Johnny & Aleix….DID YOU EVEN READ THIS ARTICLE?? DUH?

    My daughter just did this (used the power button to turn off her PC) now for the 2nd time & both times screwed her HardDrive.

  15. Shutting down your PC incorrectly may damage software and hardware. Also may effect your internet and fire wall applications.

    If your having problems, do it right by shutting down properly or have a trusted service help you.

  16. I am just wondering, what this does to the computer other than corrupted data. Does it slow down the computer? Or is their anything else?

  17. Aleix escorsell

    Is it okay to press the button once quickly and is this any different from going to the start menu and clicking it?

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