Understanding Shut Down Options in Windows 7

Screenshot of the Windows 7 Start Menu and desktop

Keith Ward / Lifewire

Windows 7 supports several states for when you're not at your computer, and they're not all the same. Some methods help you shut down your computer completely, while another makes it look like your PC is turned off but it's actually ready to jump into action at a moment's notice.

The key to shutting down your Windows 7 computer is in the Start menu. Click the Start button in Windows 7 and you'll see, among other items, the shutdown button on the lower right-hand side. Next to that button is a triangle; click the triangle to bring up the other shut down options.

Shutdown

If you click the Shutdown button itself, without clicking the triangle and opening the other options, Windows 7 ends all current processes and shuts down the computer completely. You would normally follow this procedure to power down your work computer at the end of the day, or your home computer before going to bed.

Restart

The Restart button reboots your computer (it is sometimes called a "warm boot" or "soft boot.") That means it saves your information to the hard drive, turns off the computer for a moment, then turns it back on again. This procedure is most often used after fixing a problem, adding a new program, or making a configuration change to Windows that requires a restart. Restarts are often needed in troubleshooting scenarios. In fact, when your PC does something unexpected this should always be your first recourse to try to solve the problem.

Sleep 

The Sleep option puts your computer into a low-power state but doesn't turn it off. The main advantage of Sleep is that it allows you to get back to work quickly, without having to wait for the computer to do a full boot, which can take several minutes. Normally, pressing the computer's power button "wakes it up” from Sleep mode and it's ready to work within seconds.

Sleep is a good option for those times when you'll be away from your computer for a short period. It saves power and helps you to get back to work quickly. This mode does slowly drain the battery; if you're using a laptop and are low on power, this mode could eventually result in your computer turning itself off. In other words, check how much battery power your laptop has left before going into sleep mode.

Hibernate 

Hibernate mode is a compromise between a full shutdown and Sleep mode. It remembers the current state of your desktop and fully shuts down the computer, writing active memory to disk. So if, for example, you have open a web browser, a Microsoft Word document, a spreadsheet, and a chat window, it would turn off the computer, while remembering what you were working on. Then, when you start up again, those applications will be waiting for you, right where you left off. Convenient, right?

Hibernate mode is intended mainly for laptop and netbook users. If you'll be away from your laptop for an extended period and are worried about the battery dying, this is the option to choose. It doesn't use any power, but still remembers what you were doing. The downside is you will have to wait for your computer to boot all over again when it's time to get back to work.