When computer users think about the actions that they do the most often with their computers, they rarely include a very important action that most people do every single day. Turning their computer off.

Electronics are becoming more and more vital to every day life and turning these electronics off is an important part in ensuring that they will not only continue to function, but also that they will function the way that we expect.

Find out why this is true here.

Before we dive into the different ways that we can turn off our devices, let’s clear up one bit of terminology. A term commonly used when discussing computers is memory. There are two possible meanings for this term as used by your average computer user.

Hard drive storage

When referring to memory, some of our customers are actually referring to hard drive storage. The computer uses this type of memory to store your documents, pictures, music and other files. This is “permanent” storage. The documents will be there until you delete them. Modern computers will have in the range of 500 gigabytes to several terabytes of hard drive storage.

Random Access Memory (RAM)

The second type of memory is called Random Access Memory. Most technicians and stores will simply call this memory or RAM. This type of memory is much faster than hard drive storage, but doesn’t retain information after shutdown. The computer uses it to temporarily store a variety of things so that your computer can access information very quickly.

When an application first starts up, a lot of the information that it needs to function is stored in RAM. RAM is not generally directly accessible to the person using the computer.

This is “temporary” storage. Anything stored here will be gone when the computer is turned off or loses power. That document or email that you’re writing but haven’t saved yet is stored here until you press the save button. Modern computers will have in the range of 4 to 16 gigabytes of RAM.

1. Sleep mode

We live in a fast paced world. Many of us need our electronics on and functioning in order to produce, communicate and manage. The companies that create the software that give our electronics life have recognized this. Sleep mode is the de facto standard for turning off our computers.

The computer doesn’t truly turn off in sleep mode. It turns off the monitor and many other non-essential things. RAM, the fan and the hard drive will remain on in order to retain information needed to quickly restore the computer. Because of this, sleep mode requires power, whether from a battery or a power cord.

When you press the power button, everything is restored very quickly. The software that was already running before you used sleep mode can skip all of the things it normally has to do when it starts. It already has all of the information it needs in RAM.

Sleep mode does not count as “turning it off and on again”. Many of the issues solved by restarting your computer are solved because the RAM is cleared.

You should also not carry a computer in sleep mode in an enclosed space like a suitcase or backpack. The fan will not be able to keep the RAM from overheating.

Because the hard drive stays in a rest position but does not completely power down, it is important to handle the computer as if it were still on. A hard bump could damage the disk or cause other issues.

2. Hibernation

Hibernation is the second fastest way to turn off your computer. It’s a combination of sleep mode and shutdown and doesn’t require any power. Hibernation is ideal for keeping any unsaved work while still completely turning off the power.

Hibernation is a slower process than sleep mode. During the hibernation process, the computer takes all of the information in RAM and saves it to the hard drive. Once the computer is started back up, it will take the information from the hard drive and put it back into RAM.

Much like sleep mode, hibernation also does not count as “turning it off and on again”. In order to clear RAM, the computer needs to be shutdown or restarted.

A computer in hibernation is completely off. It can be stored the same way as a computer that was turned off using the shutdown method.

3. Shutdown

Shutdown is the third and most important way to turn off your computer. This is the only one of the three options that will help you when troubleshooting issues. When performing a proper shutdown, all of the applications you have open on your computer will close as intended.

When you turn your computer on after a shutdown, the computer will start normally. It will run any application slated to start on a normal start and any application you load will start from a clean slate.

Some modern devices don’t have an option to hibernate or sleep and others have these options disabled by default. If you have trouble finding these options, feel free to contact us for help.