Understanding Shut Down Options in Windows 7

Shutting down your computer is not as simple as it seems

Windows 7 logo

It seems like the simplest thing in the world: shutting down your computer. But Windows 7 gives you a number of different ways to do that, 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. Here's a guide to choosing the best shut down option based on what you need your computer to do at any given time.

The key to shutting down your Windows 7 computer is in the Start menu. Click on the Start button in Windows 7 and you'll see, among other items, the Shut down 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.

Option No. 1: Shut down

If you click the Shut down 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 do this to turn off your work computer at the end of the day, or your home computer before going to bed.

Option No. 2: 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 is most often done 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 and solve the problem.

Option No. 3: Sleep 

Clicking on Sleep 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 (which saves money), and allows you to get back to work quickly. Keep in mind, however, that it 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.

Option No. 4: Hibernate 

Hibernate mode is sort of a compromise between the Shut down and Sleep modes. It remembers the current state of your desktop and fully shuts down the computer. So if, for instance, 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. 

There you have it. The four shut down modes in Windows 7. It's a good idea to experiment with the various shut down modes and learn what works best for you in a given situation.