DATA DUMP: The Magic Power of Rebooting

The Magic Power of Rebooting your Computer

“Have you tried rebooting your computer?”.  If only I had a dollar for each time I have asked that question.  You’ve, no doubt, heard that as a first response from technical support for years and years.  But, do you know why rebooting your computer, cell phone, or other electronic device resolves the problem?

To understand why rebooting works, we need a clear picture of the resources necessary to run devices, including the central processing unit (CPU) and random-access memory (RAM).  The CPU is the brain that tells your devices components what to do.  The faster the gigahertz (GHZ), the more cores a processor has, the faster it can “think” or handle tasks.  RAM is where data is written and read for programs that are actively running.

As we use our computers and phones, the applications and hardware will “fight” over the available resources.  A video game, for instance, will need more resources to run effectively and may require a video card with its own separate processor and RAM to run smoothly.  But, as I write this article in Microsoft Word, the program requires very little resources to run smoothly.

A program you are using can go rouge and get stuck in a loop causing high CPU or RAM usage.  The program internally tells TASK A to execute TASK B, but TASK B says to execute TASK A, creating a loop.  The applications (or even the computer) freezes and the CPU may peg out at 99% utilization.  A reboot is your only option at that point and typically fixes the issue.

Memory leaks may develop within an application as you continue to use your computer.  Memory leaks are when the computer cannot reuse RAM after the application has completed its task.  This has been a typically notorious issue with some web browsers.  Web browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, etc.) require significant memory to handle lots of tabs open simultaneously.

As you close web browser tabs that you are finished with, the memory is supposed to be available for something else.  On occasion, the web browser won’t release the memory and forces you to close all your open web browser tabs or even potentially the entire computer to get a fresh slate of resources to work with.

Applications that are poorly coded can also cause memory issues behind the scenes that have nothing to do with your computing habits.  A poorly coded application can slowly eat up available memory until there is none left and the computer comes to a crawl.  This can be a slow process over a series of hours or almost instantaneous.

Another common issue is with Wi-Fi routers.  You are at home using a laptop and cell phone while playing PlayStation without any issues.  A friend comes over and asks to jump on your wireless connection.  Two issues usually occur, your friend cannot see your wireless network or can see it, but it network refuses to accept a new device connection.  In these instances, your best bet is to reboot the router.  The software in the router can get stuck in a wrong state and the reboot clears it out.

When is the problem more serious?

Obviously, if the problem immediately reappears after a reboot, there is something else going on.  But I tend to look for the number of reboots necessary in a particular time period.  If I have to reboot my router 3 times in a day, something more serious is going on.  If I have to reboot my router 3 times in a year, nothing to worry about.

If the problem persists, then the hunt is on.  Do you have an operating system problem, an application problem, or a resource problem?  Happy rebooting!

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