Did You Turn It Off And On Again?

If you have ever had occasion to call Tech Support, or the Help Desk at your place of employment regarding a troublesome computer, or other computer-related device, they seem to be obsessed with having you shut the thing down and restart it. Why? What's up with that? It's so common, the BBC Show "The IT Crowd" used it as a running gag. When I say "they", I should say "we", because the Help Desk has been a part of my career too.

The basic premise of the power-off and power-back-on mantra is that is stops whatever is going on (or going wrong) and causes the equipment to "start fresh"; it frees up precious memory, stops things that might be in a runaway condition, and just generally shakes things up.

Software can be complicated, with a lot of different things going on and fighting for resources. Even when a piece of software does not actually crash, it can still hog up RAM and cause other pieces to fail. Restarting can relieve this - and this is true for cable modems, computers, eReaders and so on - just about anything that has some kind of computer chip and software.

Even when it's not necessarily a software problem, restarting most devices will cause them to perform at least a perfunctory hardware self-diagnosis, and this may give an error code or other indication that may be helpful - for example, if a hard drive is failing it may give a S.M.A.R.T. warning at startup.

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