Turn off your computer safely

Ray Saitz, a Peterborough resident and teacher, writes a weekly column on the Internet.

By Ray Saitz

Your Windows operating system didn't come with any instructions, which can lead to problems when you're unaware of a supposedly basic aspect that "you should know." One of these "basics" is how to correctly turn off your computer.

At first glance, shutting down your computer should seem pretty simple. In Windows 7 or 10 you click on the Start button and then the power icon or text. However, in Windows 8 the process is tricky. Click the Windows icon in the bottom left and the tiled home screen will appear. You'll see a power icon in the top right corner to click on. Or you can mouse over the top right of the screen to bring up Settings, which contains the Power button. I'm not sure how a newcomer to Win 8 is supposed to intuitively know this.

When you click on Power you'll have three options: shut down, restart, or sleep, which sounds self-descriptive but can be deceptive depending on the computer's operating system.

In Windows 7, but not 8 or 10, the Shut Down command performs an orderly termination of critical operating system files, clears the memory, closes programs, backs up changes, and powers down the hard drive.

This last step is important since the hard drive spins at around 6000 revolutions per minute and the Shut Down command will let it slow down, come to a full stop, and then park the heads to prevent damage if the computer is jostled. Shutting down the computer and immediately pushing the power button again before the hard drive completely stops can cause damage as the drive is abruptly wrenched back to full speed. Use Restart instead since it shuts down and restarts the computer but the hard drive continues to run at full speed.

Sleep will save all of the computer's settings in memory and put it into a low power state while you're away. When you return and wake it up, usually by hitting the Enter key, your computer will be ready to quickly resume where you left off.

Windows 8 and 10 complicate this nice arrangement of choices. In these systems, which most of you are using, Shut Down does not work as it does in Win 7. Because 8 and 10 are also used for tablets there is a need for the operating system to boot up quickly so, instead of shutting off the computer, Shut Down puts the computer into a hybrid sleep where it appears to be shut off but many system files and settings are stored in memory and not cleared, which allows for a fast start.

That's fine until your computer is not running well or a program has crashed. Using Shut Down in Win 8 or 10 will not totally refresh your computer and often the same problems will persist after re-booting. To reset a Win 8 or 10 computer you'll have to use the Restart command.

There is another method of shutting down a computer which can do tremendous damage to the operating system and programs. It's called a cold shut down wherein someone holds down the computer's power button until it abruptly shuts off. The result is that tons of Windows system files that are in use aren't saved and the operating system and programs could be permanently damaged and crash upon re-boot. The only time to use a cold shut down is if the computer is completely frozen and will not respond.

An iPad, iPhone, or Android device goes to sleep when not in use but it is possible to re-boot a mobile device which may be necessary if it's running slowly or malfunctioning. On an iPad, iPhone, or Android device push and hold the power button on the top or right side of the device. When asked in a pop up, confirm that you want to shut down the device. Hold the power button again to restart the device. The Lifewire site has instructions for doing this on an iPad ( and an Android device.

Ray Saitz, a Peterborough resident and teacher, writes a regular column on the Internet. He can be reached at