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Why IT Support tell you to ‘turn it off and on again’


“Have you turned it off and on again?” Sound familiar? I think there’s been a time where all of us have been asked this question by an IT support representative and the temptation to say “yes” when we haven’t is almost too hard to resist…but why do we get asked to do it, and how does it help? Rebooting a computer fixes 80-90% of problems incurred….read on to find out why.

Before explaining why it works – a little background information is needed. Behind the eye-catching user interface of your device, are lots of hardware components beavering away – processors, memory, hard drive, graphics and sound cards, network adapters to name but a few. The running of your device is also made up of a series of processes and services (and background software) that are always running, to make sure your computer behaves. Sometimes one or more of these hardware or software components gets out of phase with itself or its dependants and causes an error.

For example, your internet page may fail to load up…this is most likely a problem with your network connection. Since its unlikely anything has purposefully changed since it last worked, there is probably a problem with the network adapter itself – perhaps some other device has been assigned your IP address (an IP address is a unique number that identifies your device on the internet – without one you cannot connect). This could happen from time to time and a reboot would involve your network adapter to automatically ‘looking up’ a new available IP address for you to use, from your internet router. There are other ways to force this to happen, but the easiest and quickest way for those who are not technically savvy, is to reboot.

Another time where rebooting will almost certainly fix a problem faster than diagnosing and fixing it manually, is when your keyboard stops outputting what you type. There could be a number of quirky reasons for this but the motherboard (the central brains behind your computer) has probably ‘forgotten’ its there or there is something running in the background that does not like the keyboard – this is obviously not by design, and so restarting will almost certainly fix this.

Software can be problematic too. Nowadays core software has so many add-ins available (additional small pieces of software that embed themselves in large bits of software). Add-ins can conflict with other pieces of software and cause them to malfunction. These are usually from lower profile vendors. For example – you might install a CAD package that has an Excel add-in and it could cause a conflict from time to time. Again, there are other ways to fix the problem, but restarting is usually far quicker and more effective.

Even if you computer is just running slowly, it’s probably due to many services and processes not shutting themselves down correctly, after the computer stops needing them. Perhaps you close an internet browser, having been playing an online game and go to write a word processing document…the software may run slowly because resources are still being consumed by the web browser working in the background. Restarting the device will stop all unnecessary processes and services until they are next needed.

It isn’t just computers either – printers, smartphones, scanners – all types of software – they all have the aforementioned components and background software – it’s just you cannot see them. They also have static memory, that can take 30 seconds or longer to clear – so leaving a device switched off for that amount of time could clear any issues that a standard reboot didn’t fix.

Now many of you ask: Why doesn’t the computer just ‘work?‘ Well I think the computer vendors themselves would like to know this – and if they did, they would fix the bugs. The ultimate message here is that there are other ways to repair things but it usually takes a lot longer. If the problem re-occurs then it’s worth having IT support look into it in more detail…but unless it’s evident that a reboot won’t help (such as spilling a mug of tea on your laptop!) – try it first and you’ll save yourself a lot of time and frustration.

Of course – never try this with a server – but then we’d hope if you were a server administrator you’d know that already!

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About theithandbook

Reaching every day people and businesses with simple, effective and modern IT advice.

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  1. Pingback: Computer self help – diagnose and repair! « The IT Handbook - August 31, 2012

  2. Pingback: Turn It Off, Then Turn It On Again | IT's Easy - October 20, 2014

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