What’s the difference between “shut down” and “restart” on a Windows computer?
On a Windows computer, you are offered several options if you choose the power option in the Start menu to close the computer. These are usually “Sleep, Shut down, and Restart”.
This option does not close the computer down. Instead, it closes all the parts that don’t need to be powered if you are not using the computer. Everything in memory, on the other hand, is kept in memory so that it is immediately available when you click the mouse or press a key. Absolutely fine if you don’t intend to be away from the computer for long, but I would recommend saving anything important before sending a computer to sleep. You wouldn’t want to return to your computer to find that the battery has gone flat (or a power interruption has occurred) and you’ve lost work because you hadn’t saved it to disc.
You might expect that “shut down” means “switch everything off so that it will start afresh when I switch it back on again”. It seems that everything – including the screen and the fan – switches completely off when you take this option and you probably assume that the contents of the computer memory are lost (because the power to the memory has been stopped). This is how things did used to work with Windows.
If you have ever initiated the “restart” option, you will know that the apparent sequence is that everything switches off and then immediately back on again, with little or no break in the middle. You don’t have to switch it back on manually (that’s why it’s called “restart”, natch).
If asked which of the two methods is the more “definite” and likely to cause the whole system to “throw a six and start again”, everyone I have asked thinks the “shutdown/switch back on” method is the more definite. This is not the case. It may seem counter-intuitive, but It’s actually the other way around. This is because “shut down” these days causes the whole state of the memory to be saved on disc. When you then switch the computer back on, all of that information is reloaded into memory exactly as it was before the shutdown. So, any problems in the state of the “kernel” that caused you to initiate the shutdown might still be present when you switch back on.
The “restart” option is, in fact, the more thorough option as it causes everything to be closed down without saving the contents of the kernel. That means that when it (automatically) restarts, it does so “cleanly” and you will hopefully be rid of the problem that caused you to do the restart.
So, if you are re-booting the computer because of a problem, “restart” is the option to take.
Why did Microsoft change what “shut down” does? Simple. The way “shut down” works now results in a faster startup because it’s quicker to re-load previous settings and other content than work everything out from scratch again. In other words, Windows looks and feels better because it starts faster.