When shut down doesn’t mean shut down

Boot time has often been hailed as an important factor when evaluating the speed of a machine and Windows 10 machines undoubtedly start up faster than their Windows 7 counterparts. Part of this start up time, however, is due to a trick that Windows 10 plays on its users.

Pre-Windows 10, users had the option of making their machines sleep – a mode that essentially puts the machine in a low power state but keeps the RAM powered to maintain the current status. The alternative was to hibernate which copied the RAM state to the fixed disk before turning the power off completely.

Under Windows 10, hibernate has disappeared and a feature called Fast Startup has effectively replaced it.

If Fast Startup is enabled (and it is by default), then when you choose shutdown the machine will perform something akin to a mix of shutdown and hibernate so that the next time you power on, the machine will start up quicker.

Does this matter?

In terms of performance, Fast Startup is a good thing, getting you or your users up and working on the machine faster than would otherwise be the case. There is a downside, however, in terms of troubleshooting issues.

Switching your machine off and on again is the much-mocked advice handed out by IT support staff since PCs were invented. The reason is that there are lots of services/processes that run behind the graphical interface and when they play up it’s much easier to stop and start all of these processes with a reboot, than to try and talk the user through finding the offending process.

Historically, when hardware was more temperamental, a cold boot (i.e. switching a PC off completely and then turning it back on again) was considered more effective than a warm boot (restarting it). These are not technically accurate terms now and date back in to mists of computing time, but the effect is the same – people still regard a shutdown to be more complete than a restart.

If you start Task Manager on your Windows 10 PC and visit the Performance tab, you can see how long your machine has been on, sort of.

 The machine in the example above has be up for 5 days 18 hours. Except it hasn’t as it was ‘shut down’ overnight and “Fast Startup” is the reason. To properly Shut Down your machine, resetting everything to a clean state as (so often) requested by your IT support, you need to restart your PC.  Essentially due to Fast Startup, a shutdown is now not the diagnostic fix-all that it once was and Restart has replaced it. The irony, however, is that because PC start up much faster than they used to, users are less likely to leave them on. This means that restarts are far less common.  So the standard advice from support staff should no longer be “switch it off and on again” but “restart it” instead.

The machine in the example above has be up for 5 days 18 hours. Except it hasn’t as it was ‘shut down’ overnight and “Fast Startup” is the reason. To properly Shut Down your machine, resetting everything to a clean state as (so often) requested by your IT support, you need to restart your PC.

Essentially due to Fast Startup, a shutdown is now not the diagnostic fix-all that it once was and Restart has replaced it. The irony, however, is that because PC start up much faster than they used to, users are less likely to leave them on. This means that restarts are far less common.

So the standard advice from support staff should no longer be “switch it off and on again” but “restart it” instead.