Have You Tried Turning It Off and On Again?

by JoHarrington

It is the standard first question of any geek called to troubleshoot a PC. The fact is that 80% of the time, it fixes everything.

After the first twenty million times of asking the same question, it starts to become funny.

"Have you tried turning it off and on again?" Geeks ask it with unending regularity. It's usually the first words out of our mouths.

It became the mainstay of the British comedy 'The IT Crowd' and passed into legend shortly afterwards. Now you can be sure that the question is being asked through a smirk.

But why is it asked and how does it work?

PC Troubleshooting Should Always Start with a Reboot

It is the geek equivalent of First Aiders assessing a medical emergency. Even the computer itself tries this quick fix!

The catchphrase 'have you tried turning it off and on again?' was popularized by Channel 4's The IT Crowd, but it was only funny because it was true.

PC technicians all over the world have to repeatedly ask this question, in a variety of languages, every time that the 'phone rings. It's the standard first response, because that simple action fixes a multitude of errors.

It's not only humans who know this. Have a close look at the dreaded blue screen of death (BSOD) next time you're unfortunate enough to encounter it.

The opening line is, 'A problem has been detected and windows has been shut down to prevent damage to your computer.' It then tells you what precisely has caused this error (which geeks will be noting), before repeating the initial solution in the form of advice, 'If this is the first time you've seen this stop error screen, restart your computer.' Like you have any choice in the matter!

Windows has been programmed to turn the computer off, at the first sign of any major error. It's computerized self-defense. Once it's off, then the system will reboot and switch you back on again. Hopefully now everything will be working and you can go about your day.

Of course, the problem has to be large enough, during that moment in time, to prompt Windows to automatically do that. Some issues are simply annoying, but the same solution applies. This is why technical support staff everywhere start all PC troubleshooting with an imitation of what Windows merely forces to happen. They ask you to turn the computer on and off again.

What Does Restarting Your Computer Do?

Turning your computer off and on again creates a refresh of all running programs. It might just clear the error.

Ask the average user what a computer does and the answers will probably involve reading e-mails, chatting on forums, browsing the internet and watching videos.

Occasionally someone might mention doing work, but that's probably because the boss is listening.

But that is not what your computer does. It's just the things that you can do through it. That is like describing a bag as bread, milk, cheese, your purse, keys and the folders that you need for class. Your bag allows you to carry all of this stuff, but the items within are not the bag itself.

The reality is that behind the scenes, your PC is performing thousands of little actions that continue unacknowledged all of the time. Programs are updating, performing checks or simply monitoring as per their jobs. Firewalls are defending you against enemy attack. Documents and websites are opening at the click of a button.

This is what your computer does. It's doing it silently, utterly unnoticed, except the parts that are hidden in plain view - like your e-mails uploading and your chat channel beeping with your friend's latest gossip.

Amongst one of your major hardware allies is the Random Access Memory (RAM), which is providing the space for all of this to happen. In many ways, this is the PC equivalent of your shopping bag. Instead of that packet of pasta, in goes a temperature check to ensure that your motherboard is keeping cool. Instead of a cheeky bottle of red wine, in goes a quick couple of levels on your favourite on-line game.

However things can occasionally go wrong. In your shopping bag, someone placed the litre bottles of coke on top of the eggs and they smashed; or you simply over-packed it and now you can't even lift the bag from the counter. The obvious answer is to start again.

This is precisely what can happen to your RAM. Programs opened, did their duty, then forgot to clear a space for the next one to do its job; or something updated, but the coding clashed with something else and the whole thing froze. Suddenly everything piles up on top of everything else and the RAM is over-whelmed. The obvious answer is to start again.

Switching the computer off clears out the RAM. It empties your bag. This isn't always what caused the error, but it's generally a major contender amongst the usual suspects.

Every time you start up, your computer will run through all of the necessary programs and finds the best configuration. Those updates have a chance to take effect; and hopefully everything will now be running smoothly. If it's not, then something slightly more serious is going on and you will know to hunt further.

Have You Tried Turning it Off and On Again Merchandise

Tired of saying the same thing over and over again? Hold up a mousepad or mug to ask THAT Question for you.

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How do you Restart Your Computer?

There are four ways to do it, but two are not highly recommended.

Windows Shut DownEven if you are computer illiterate, it's always nice to say that you tried something before calling in a geek. Being able to answer 'yes' to their first question would be a great start.

The best way to turn your computer off and on again is to repeat what you do when you're finished for the day. 

In the bottom left-hand corner of your screen is the start button. If you are using Windows, then this will be the Microsoft logo. That's a circle with a flag inside, sectioned into quarters of red, green, blue and yellow.

  • Click the start button.
  • Click the box entitled 'Shut down'.

This will close down your computer, allowing you to manually switch it back on afterwards. Alternatively, you could ask your PC to do that for you by working through these steps.

  • Click the start button.
  • Click the arrow beside the 'Shut down' button.
  • Select 'Restart' from the pull-down menu.

Now your computer will reboot after it has turned itself off. By doing this, you have used the most recommended method of restarting your PC.

Unfortunately, sometimes this isn't possible. For example, if  your screen has frozen or your mouse doesn't appear to be working, then you can't even make the start button respond. That is when we default to the second best way to wipe the slate clean.

 Control Alt Delete

Turning to your keyboard, you will need to locate three buttons which are famous throughout the geek world. Respectively, they will bear the legends: 'Ctrl', 'Alt' and 'Delete'.  Most commonly, they will be in the positions shown in the photograph above.

Once you have found them, press all three buttons at the same time. This should take you to a start screen, where the shut down button is in the bottom right-hand corner. (You can also access the task manager here, which will allow you to switch off individuals programs.)

If control + alt + delete has failed you, then you have no option but to choose between two drastic ways to turn your computer off. 

The first is to press down on the physical 'on' button, which can be found on your PC's actual tower. This is the button which you use to switch the computer on each time you need to use it. The second is to unplug the computer completely from the wall.  No electricity = no working machine.

Both of these solutions have the potential to damage your software. That rarely happens, but the risk is there. Personally, by this stage, I will have judged it a risk worth taking, but that is your own call to make.

Buy Have You Tried Turning It Off and On Again T-shirts

Updated: 03/09/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 08/20/2012

It's always good to know why you're doing something or, in this case, why the computer is doing it for you. :)

Gemstone Jewelry on 08/20/2012

Simple things any basic learner knows but here it is valued for you have bring it to everyone's notice on how to handle a PC the better.

JoHarrington on 03/14/2012

You are very welcome. <3 Thank you for commenting.

techne on 03/14/2012

Quite detailed and informative post. Great sharing.

JoHarrington on 02/01/2012

LOL Pcdman. Beyond this, I'm usually reaching for Speccy to tell me what's gone properly wrong. I should write about Speccy...

pcdman on 02/01/2012

it certainly is the first plan of action to consider. Failing that harsh language and then failing that a trip to the shed for a hammer.

JoHarrington on 01/31/2012

Hi Kate, Indeed it is. Now you'll be able to watch IT Crowd with a few extra giggles. :)

JoHarrington on 01/24/2012

The age old answer to resetting everything! LOL But yes, it really does work on so many things, including computers. At least as the first thing to try.

BrendaReeves on 01/24/2012

It sure does work! Turning my Blue Ray player on and off while watching Netflix fixes any problems with that also.

JoHarrington on 01/23/2012

Thank you very much. <3

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