Why Does Restarting Fix Many Computer Problems?

Troubleshooting often begins with powering a device off and on

Powering a device off and then on again may seem like too simple an action to fix any kind of problem. But guess what? It almost always works! We estimate that more than half of the technical problems we hear about from our readers are fixable with a simple reboot. Yet, many people forget this step when troubleshooting their electronics.

Rebooting any device is usually as simple as shutting it off and then turning it back on again. If it doesn't have a power button or restart feature, you can instead unplug the device from its power source and plug it back in.

Restarting your device is the same as rebooting it or powering it off and then on manually. Restarting is not the same as resetting, which is a much bigger process that involves erasing everything and returning to factory defaults.

Why Restarting Your Computer Works So Well

When your computer is running, you open and close some programs, leave others running, and maybe install or uninstall software or apps. Lots of other behind-the-scenes processes stop and start, too.

Woman looking at computer in dark room
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Many of these actions, as well as your operating system, leave behind a kind of electronic footprint, usually in the form of background processes you don't really need running anymore, or programs that don't quite close all the way.

These "leftovers" hog your system resources, usually your RAM. If this happens too much, you get problems like a sluggish system, programs that won't open, error messages, and other issues.

When you reboot your computer, every single program and process ends as the power leaves your computer during the restart process. Once your computer starts back up, you have a clean slate and, usually, a faster, better working computer.

Your TV Is a Computer Too

The same logic applies to things you might not think of as computers but actually are, including smartphones, televisions, DVRs, modems, routers, home security systems, digital cameras, etc. These devices all have tiny operating systems and software that can be subject to the same issues that your computer is.

These problems even happen to more sophisticated electronics, including the Hubble space telescope.

Frequent Restarting Is Probably a Sign of a Bigger Problem

Needing to restart your computer to fix the occasional issue is perfectly normal, especially if you're doing work that requires a lot of interaction with the operating system, like updating drivers, installing updates, or reinstalling software.

However, if you need to restart more frequently, you might have issues that a restart is only temporarily fixing for you but that may need a more robust solution. A piece of hardware may be failing, important Windows files may be corrupt, or you might have a malware infection.

If you find yourself restarting regularly, try some additional troubleshooting steps. For example, running System File Checker with the scannow switch is often a good thing to try. Additionally, a full system malware scan is almost always in order.

If you're still having issues after that, your best bet is probably to consult with a professional.