I recently instructed an office worker to restart his computer because the asset management system reported it had been running for over 100 days. It is a good practice to restart Windows computers frequently, ideally once a week and once a month for servers. That is because the Windows environment is constantly changing as programs are run, the system is updated and used, and more. Restarting the computer helps to keep it in optimal condition.

Many people don’t realize that shutting down the computer to turn it back on is different from restarting it. Different things happen under the Windows hood. So, in this article, I will explain the differences between shutting down a Windows computer and restarting it.

The office worker said he didn’t understand why his computer was reported to be up for 100 days. He said he shuts down his computer every night and turns it on in the morning. He asked, is there a difference between restarting and shutting down and turning the system back on? I said yes.  The key to understanding why they are different is to understand what happens when a Windows system is shut down and when it is restarted.

Restarting The Computer

Restarting a Windows computer is not the same as shutting it down and turning it on, depending on the system configuration. By default, Windows computers, when shut down, store the state of the operating system environment and then turns the computer off. That process is known as hibernation, which enables Windows to startup faster when the computer is turned back on. When the computer is turned on after a shutdown, the saved state of Windows is applied, and the system is back where it left off before shutting it down.

Shutting Down the Computer

A completely different process happens when a Windows machine is restarted. It does not store the state of the environment before turning it off. Restarting a Windows machine will cause Windows to reinitialize the environment at startup. The Windows kernel (the main part of the Windows operating system), registers, memory, and more are reinitialized, which takes time. That is why Windows needs to restart after applying Windows updates, i.e., the system has to be reinitialized with the updated components instead of reverting back to a previous state based on the older version of those components.

The Main Difference

The main difference between shutting Windows down and restarting it is the state of Windows after starting up. Restarting results in a fresh environment, whereas shutting down results in Windows starting with the previous environment. By default, shutting down hibernates your system, and restarting does not.

So, even though that employee was turning his computer off, Windows was not getting reinitialized. Instead, it maintained the same state for over 100 days. That also means that possibly no Windows updates were applied during that time because some updates require a restart (aka reboot).


Restarting a Windows computer is critical for system health. Of course, if you regularly apply Windows updates, which you should, your system will restart for some of them, giving you a fresh environment. To get the same fresh environment as restarting by shutting down, press and hold the <Shift> key as you click “Shutdown.” That is known as shift shutdown. That will cause all running programs and services to stop, and data in cache and memory will be erased. Your system won’t hibernate.

It is also possible to turn hibernation off. That is your decision based on your preferences and usage. Hibernation is good if you know you will be away from your computer, especially a laptop, for an extended period of time, and you want to continue where you left off quickly when you turn your computer back on.

A basic part of computer maintenance is to restart it frequently and not just turn it off by shutting it down (or using shift shutdown).



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