Why Rebooting Works So Well

Have you already rebooted your computer today? A quick thought experiment: if you had a dollar for every time you’ve had to reboot a computer, how wealthy would you be?

Rebooting is a fact of life, especially in the world of Windows (although it’s not only a Windows issue). It’s often not a big issue, and it’s definitely something that we are used to doing. Sometimes computers hang up or start performing poorly. A quick reboot nearly always solves the problem.

Have you ever wondered why rebooting fixes so many computer problems?

Chris Hoffman at How-to Geek has, and his post, “HTG Explains: Why Does Rebooting a Computer Fix So Many Problems?,” is a great primer on what actually happens when you reboot your computer. It does seem that the first response you get when asking for tech help is the question: “Have you tried rebooting it?” As Chris says, “And why don’t geeks try to identify and fix problems rather than use the blunt hammer of ‘reset it’?”

He helpfully walks us through a variety of insights (it’s not just a Windows thing) and explanations.

Some highlights from the post:

  • Some problems simply require a restart because the code has stopped working. The reboot clears the issue.
  • Sometimes processes are misbehaving and tie up all the CPU resources (the “Windows is really slow” problem).
  • A program is using too much memory. This problem can happen with Firefox or other browsers. Closing and re-opening the program can resolve the problem (think of it as “rebooting” the program).
  • There’s a problem with an Internet or Wi-Fi connection. Rebooting your computer or router retries the connection and often solves the issue.

Chris also discusses the difference between hard resets and soft resets, although he doesn’t mention the “angrily holding down the power switch until the computer shuts off” reset. Not that I’m personally familiar with that one. I have friends who have mentioned that form of reset to me.

Chris’s conclusion:

“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.”

This informative post gives you a good introduction to what happens in the rebooting process and might make for good reading the next time you are waiting for your computer to restart.


  • UWWM Mediation

    Not to unnecesarily anthropomorphize computers, but this “behavior” is something that could work for people, too. How often have you noticed that cleaning off your desk and starting fresh will yield a result when nothing else will? Or taking a little vacation, or even having a good night’s sleep?