20 Oct 2013

TechGooner Explains: Why Does Rebooting Help Fix Most of the Problems?

Recently, I met a guy who put some really interesting, yet basic questions in front of me regarding stuff on Windows, Android, etc. This gave me the idea of starting a new series ‘TechGooner Explains’. Here we go with the first one..

The moment your PC starts showing problems the first thing that comes in your head is “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” This is the standard response any computer geek will give you (even if they have not watched The IT Crowd). So the question that pops up is, why don’t geeks try to identify and fix problems rather than use the blunt hammer of “reboot”?

Firstly, remember this reset philosophy/process is not restricted to Windows, it is applicable on routers, phones, iPads, sound systems and even software’s! Ever had extensions crash in Chrome?

To illustrate the requirement of a reboot, I’m going to use the most famous example – the blue screen of death! The problem is usually caused because of problems in hardware drivers or hardware malfunction. Windows has reached a state where it does not understand the error. So it stops all functions, shows the blue-screen of death and gathers the require information about the problem in the background. After this Windows automatically restarts the computer for you. This restart fixes the blue screen of death.

Another usual occurrence is the loss of Graphic Drivers. Earlier (Windows XP and the ones before it), a crash in the Graphic Drivers would ‘hang’ the system, and one had to force reboot it. Windows has improved, the desktop will lose its fancy graphical effects for a few moments before regaining them. Behind the scenes, Windows is restarting the malfunctioning graphics driver.

But why doesn't Windows simply fix the problem rather than restarting the computer itself?  Well, because it can’t — the code has encountered a problem and stopped working completely, so there’s no way for it to continue. By restarting, the code can start from square one and hopefully it won’t encounter the same problem again.

Examples of Restarting Fixing Problems

Windows is Slow: Windows running slowly, usually means that a program is misbehaving and using up a major chunk of the CPU. A geek could head to the task manager and look around, hoping to locate the misbehaving process an end it. If an average user encountered this same problem, they could simply reboot their computer to fix it.

Browser is Using Too Much Memory: Internet browsers including Firefox and Chrome are well known for memory leaks. Over time, the browser would often consume more and more memory, getting larger and larger and slowing down. Closing the application will cause it to relinquish all of its memory. When it starts again, it will start from a clean state without any leaked memory. This doesn’t just apply to Firefox and Chrome, but applies to any software with memory leaks.

Internet or Wi-Fi Network Problems: If you have a problem with your Wi-Fi or Internet connection, the software on your router or modem may have encountered a problem. Resetting the router — just by unplugging it from its power socket and then plugging it back in — is a common solution for connection problems. On the computer front, resetting the adapter works, but rebooting does the same trick.

In all cases, a restart wipes away the current state of the software. Any code that’s stuck in a misbehaving state will be swept away, too. When you restart, the computer or device will bring the system up from scratch, restarting all the software from square one so it will work just as well as it was working before.

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.

If you want a certain topic in the next edition of TechGooner Explains, leave it in the comment section below.

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