Reboot, Shut Down, Log Off: What to Do When?

At the end of the day, when you’re ready to close up shop, we’re sure you’ve noticed how Windows has multiple options to choose from when following the steps to power down your PC for the day. In addition, you’ve more than likely come across the SJC Tech Support Office recommend or ask that you perform one. Ever called to report a problem and had an Analyst suggest that you reboot your computer? How about those global emails we send before a scheduled power outage asking that you shut down before you leave campus?
The reason for this is because Microsoft understands that powering down your computer isn’t always what a user needs to do (imagine having to shut down and then power back up just so another user can log in). Instead, Windows designed several shutdown options in order to create a more convenient experience for users depending on their needs. Available options include Shut Down, Restart (or Reboot), Log Off, and Lock Computer. So, what exactly does each do and when is it best to use them?
Shut Down:
Shutting down your computer basically means that Windows closes all running programs and completely shuts off your machine. It’s typically best used when leaving your office for the night or when the College has a scheduled power outage planned.
Reboot or Restart:
Rebooting (or restarting) is when Windows turns your machine off and back on again. As explained by Keith Ward at, “…it saves your information to the hard drive, turns off the computer for a moment, then turns it back on again.” A restart is typically best when your PC is running unusually slow or if a program has locked up. In fact, a reboot can be performed as a troubleshooting step for quite a few unexpexcted problems as it is known to be quick fix for many issues. It may also be required after a new program or an update to Windows has been installed. ITS, on occasion, may also recommend a reboot if we have performed a global change that may affect your computer.
Logging Off:
When logging off, you’re shutting down your user account only. The machine itself will remain powered on and will revert back to the login screen for the next time you or someone else logs in. Logging off may be best used if you are using a shared computer and anticipate someone else will be using the computer soon after you. In addition, it’s best to simply log off your computer at the end of the day if you anticipate ITS will be performing work on your computer after hours. You can also use logging off as a way to restore SJC network drives if you find they are unexpectedly missing (such as after a network disruption).
Lock Computer:
Locking your computer is a great way to protect your programs and data while you are away from the computer. When you press CTRL+ALT+DEL on your keyboard, one of the available options is Lock Computer. This option does not close any programs or documents you may be working on. It merely prohibits others from using the machine in your absence. It’s best used if you need to step away from your computer for a short period of time. Once you are ready to use the machine again, simply press CTRL+ALT+DEL and log in to return to your desktop.
Other options exist as well; such as Sleep and Hibernate (only laptop users may have these options available). Putting your machine to Sleep doesn’t shut down the computer, but does cause it to go into a state in which it uses very little power. It’s useful if you want to conserve power, but need to get back to your desktop quickly. Hibernate works in a similar way except it does turn off the machine. What makes this a useful option is that, even though it completely turns off the machine, it remembers what you were doing. So, when you return to working on your computer, you can pick up where you left off.


3 Comments on “Reboot, Shut Down, Log Off: What to Do When?

    • Never a bother, Becky! 🙂 I’m glad you found it useful. If there’s ever anything you want to learn more about, just shoot me an email and we’ll whip up a post or put it in the next “Did You Know” for you.

  1. Good information. I was wondering whether if your computer can lock if you log off. I did it and when I typed in the password it said that the computer is locked down and contact an administrator. Thank you for the help.
    Joe Steve

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