The importance of shutting down your computer properly is like prepping really hard for an exam. The more you go deep into the nooks and crannies of what you’re studying, the more it trips you up when the paper is simple, because you’re preoccupied with much more complex stuff.
We might know a lot about overclocking, the best apps for GPU scaling, motherboard chipsets, whatever, but the basics remain vital. A lot of warning signs present themselves very soon if you aren’t giving your computer its proper rest: USB ports not connecting, audio malfunctions, problems connecting to SMART boards, GPU crashing, display problems, and the list goes on.
The bad form we’re discussing here is primarily concerned with things such as turning off the computer directly by pressing the power button or, worse, turning it off directly from the power source, like pulling the plug out of the socket.
Before we can go any further, why do computers take their sweet time to shut down at all? Does it affect long-term performance if they don’t get to? Let’s find out.
What happens as a computer turns off?
The main thing that happens as we decide to leave the computer alone is that it collects all the scattered processes and files that it had been running and shelves them in their correct places, indexing them, storing them to be pulled up easily and quickly the next time.
Every program that you’ve been running hence gets sent a shutdown signal. This is why you get prompted that processes are running, software is processing, and users have software running processes and unsaved documents. It’s a mouthful to say, and it’s a hefty task for a desktop to deftly do.
Essentially, Windows shuts down each and every piece of itself, safely and smoothly. Ultimately, the OS sends a signal to the computer’s power management hardware that it is now A-OK to turn off the computer.
A lot of desktops have issues with random power outages, and that’s precisely because of this function. If you have an office desktop, especially where there’s a lot of sensitive work (finance departments, design houses, publication and writing spaces, and so on), it helps to look into good Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) devices to ensure nothing unsaved isn’t lost.
Of course, the modern Windows runs NTFS (New Technology File System) which logs changes in data to avoid corruption or loss of data, but frequent sudden shutdown still causes a strain on the system, particularly when the files the system is writing remain incomplete because of a sudden shutdown.
A simple checklist for what a PC does as it turns off
To drive the point further home, consider all that a system does in its shutdown sequence:
- Checks and prompts the user for unsaved document and user applications that might still be needed;
- Stops all the services running in the background that the average user is never constantly aware of, if at all;
- Authorizing and applicating termination signals from the aforementioned user applications and system services;
- Flushes the cache to disk;
- Writes log files in order to keep a record of data that might be lost;
- Logging out all users, not just the one currently open on the screen;
- The OSS (operating system shell) is ended;
- Windows Updates being installed or updated, or logged to be finished during the next startup (both can happen);
- The system registry is updated;
- Finally, turning the computer off in all physical ways.
Pressing down on the power button for a few seconds ensures that some of these processes don’t happen at all in a best-case scenario, and in a worst-case scenario, the system goes slightly haywire trying to figure out what to prioritize, what to save, what to sacrifice.
What happens if your computer doesn’t turn off properly?
First things first, if you’re not turning your computer off at all (during the night or when you go out) – and maybe if you don’t have removable dust filters in your PC – just turn off the PC fully from time to time to avoid future problems.
Without a proper shutdown sequence, a hard drive’s physical lifespan can also decrease very quickly, even for some of the best gaming PCs.
Some articles out there might make arguments for it being completely okay to turn off your computer directly from the power sources but notice the caveats; changing system settings, doing this in the case of an emergency, other clickbait-y stuff.
The one big risk of using the power button to force shut down the computer is processes or data in transit or in the middle of being executed will be completely lost, particularly if it’s some critical I/O or system files!
This is because hard drives are essentially sped-up monster motors. They spin at a rate anywhere from 5400 to 7200 rounds per minute and require some optimum measures for temperature, uninterrupted movement, and safe containment.
If this cyclical and orderly movement is affected, even if by a power surge, it could theoretically have some very disappointing consequences. (This is why surge protectors for PCs even exist, devices that cost less and work just as safe as a UPS for work that isn’t too sensitive to lose.)
When a computer is restarted after what, for the system, was an unexpected termination, the computer might even immediately write over previously assigned portions of the hard drive and system, meaning that a lot of data corruption can even go unnoticed, either until a later date or indefinitely.
A very simple rule of thumb is ‘safety first’. Even in the case of a frozen computer, it’s best to go the CTRL+ALT+DEL method instead of forcing the computer to power down.
(Pressing the CTRL+ALT+DEL keys at the same time and opening up Task Manager, you can find an application or process that shows ‘Not responding’ and shut it down, instead of having to shut down the whole computer.)
A host of complicated issues can arise from forcing-quitting your computer system as well, such as a CHKDSK error in the volume bitmap.
If you haven’t exercised caution to avoid these problems altogether, it is best to consult an expert at this point, especially if you wish to save your files. Until then, and, learning from such a situation, remember that while such things might not always cause a problem, it’s not worth the hassle to make a habit out of it given the havoc it can wreak if something does go wrong.