Restart, Shut Down, & Sleep – What Is The Difference?

Sleep, restart, and shut down. Do you know the difference and the times you should use each option? All of these states have their own purpose and can be useful in different situations. In this post we will cover the notable distinctions between these options and a change Microsoft made nearly 10 years ago that still causes confusion today.

We will start by shedding some light on a common misconception about the shut down option. It used to be when you chose shut down or restart, the same thing would happen. All running applications and processes would be closed, and the computer’s operating system would shut down completely. However, starting with Windows 8, shut down was changed and is no longer what it used to be.

Windows introduced a new feature called Fast Startup with Windows 8, and it is enabled by default on Windows 10 and Windows 11 devices.  With fast startup enabled, when you shut down your computer, the operating system saves the current state of the system files and drivers to a hibernation file (hiberfil.sys) on your hard drive. When you start up your computer again, the operating system reads this hibernation file and uses it to restore the system files and drivers to their previous state. This allows your computer to start up faster because it doesn’t need to go through its full boot process. A great concept, but since the programs and processes aren’t fully closed, you won’t receive the benefits of a true restart.

Restarting your computer is a common solution to many software problems. It’s like turning it off and on again, but with a few extra steps. When you restart your computer, it goes through a complete shutdown process and then boots up again. During the restart process, the computer clears its memory and runs tests to ensure everything is working correctly. Once the tests are complete, the operating system and all your applications will start up again. Restarting your computer can resolve many issues, such as slow performance, software glitches, and connection problems. We recommend a restart at least once a week. This will allow your device to install any updates and clean up any temp files hanging around in your device’s cache.

With Fast Startup enabled, a shut down does not close applications and processes but will boot much faster. This is closer to a hibernation state than a powered down state. If you have disabled Fast Startup, a shut down will close all applications, terminate all processes, and conserve the most amount of power. This also means any unsaved work will be lost, so make sure you save any work and close applications beforehand.

Sleep mode is a power-saving state that allows you to quickly resume your work later. When you put your computer to sleep, it saves the current state of all running applications and processes to memory, and then shuts down most of its hardware components to conserve power. This means that when you wake your computer up from sleep mode, it quickly restores the saved state, and you can continue working where you left off. Sleep mode is a useful feature when you need to take a short break from your work but don’t want to lose your progress. It’s also useful for laptops because it conserves battery power.

So, why would you choose one state over another? Restarting your computer can resolve many software issues, but it takes longer to complete than shutting down or putting your computer to sleep. If you’re not experiencing any problems, it’s best to shut down your computer at the end of the day or when you’re not going to be using it for a while. Sleep mode is useful when you need to take a short break from your work, but it’s not recommended for long periods because it can use up battery power.

TLDR: restarting clears the memory and can resolve many software issues, shutting down turns off the computer (if Fast Startup is disabled) completely, and sleep mode is a power-saving state that allows you to quickly resume your work later. Each of these states has its own purpose, and choosing the right one can help you get the most out of your device.

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