Considering Just Fix It is in the business of fixing computers, I might be giving a trade secret here when I say that rebooting actually fixes a lot of computer problems. Restarting is ranked just above percussive maintenance as the most effective way to solve issues with finicky computers, phones, modems or routers, and basically anything else electronic. “Have you tried rebooting it?” has become such a catch phrase for the tech minded, that it has begun to be construed as a condescending piece of advice, but the truth is, it’s the best way to start for a number of reasons.
Even the most basic program consists of staggering amounts of programming code, often created directly by our error-prone, human butterfingers. A computer is very literal, and it will follow its instructions to a fault. One piece of bad data can derail a system’s thought process, and while there are lots of safeguards in place to make sure a program can get back on track, they don’t always work. This can create a multitude of problems, and only some of them are immediately noticeable. When an issue like this occurs, sometimes the only way to get things straightened out is to stop and start from scratch, which is where a reboot comes in.
Broken programming can build up in a system, slowing things down or compounding problems. A memory leak, for example, occurs when a program stops allocating memory correctly, and keeps filling it until there’s nothing left. It’s a common problem with software, and can cause a system to slow to a crawl. Usually this can be solved by closing and reopening the problem program which is, technically, a different form of rebooting.
Speaking of memory, an average day for an operating system like Windows involves endless amounts of caching and clearing data. Without getting into the dirty details, your computer is constantly moving data from the relatively slow hard drive, to more accessible locations in the RAM and other volatile memory components. Rebooting clears this cached data, removing any leftover garbage data and allowing the system to start fresh. Network devices, hardware drives, programs, internet browsers, and even the OS itself are constantly caching data, so a reboot can work wonders on basically every facet of a computer’s functionality.
THE FIRMNESS OF A REBOOT
In the tech world, there’s more than one flavour of reboot; specifically, there’s the concept of hard and soft reset. Rather than referring to the pressure you place on the restart button when you go to reboot, this refers to the distinction between resetting the hardware and resetting the software.
This mostly pertains to mobile phones. The methods have varied from model to model, but the concept is the same. A soft reset occurs when you hold the power button until the phone turns off, then turn it back on, which cycles some of the phone’s cached data, but otherwise leaves things as they were. A hard reset is usually done by pulling the phone’s battery or holding the home button and lock button together for a few seconds. This cycles everything and empties the memory cache. Typically, you start with a soft reboot, and if that doesn’t work, you try it the hard way.
Desktops and laptops have this, as well, but it’s generally not advised to hard reboot, except in the worst of circumstances, as it can create corruption on the hard drive or lost data. This is done by either holding in the system’s power button until it turns off or unplugging it completely (i.e. shutting it down at the hardware level). By using the restart option (usually found in the start menu in Windows), the operating system first closes down all programs before cycling. It’s safer and generally accomplishes the same thing; it should only be necessary to hard reboot a computer if it refuses to soft reboot.
IT DOESN’T HURT (NORMALLY)
Though you shouldn’t be scared off, there is at least one situation where a reboot can make things worse; in the case of a virus infection. The space between when the computer powers on and when Windows starts up offers a window of opportunity to any program that wants to execute without interference. This means a virus that has already made itself known through a relatively harmless pop-up might just be waiting for that reboot to really dig its claws in.
Startup is when your system is most vulnerable, but only to threats that have already snuck into your operating system. This means that if you already practice good sanitation on your computer, there’s nothing to worry about when you cycle your system.
CLOSE THE LOOP
You’ve more than likely seen a stop error at some point when using a computer, or as it’s often called, the Blue Screen of Death. Every electronic with an operating system has some variation. While a BSOD can look pretty imposing and can be caused by an endless number of factors, they all mean the same thing: the system has suffered from a problem it can’t recover from and needs to reboot. That’s right, even computers themselves know the importance of a solid reboot.
That’s not to say a simple restart of the computer will fix all your problems, but it is definitely the right place to start. Issues with network connections, phones, tablets, web browsers, routers, and modems can all be miraculously resolved simply by rebooting. However, if the issue continues or keeps happening, it’s likely indicative of a bigger problem and it’s best to get a technician involved.