Restart vs. shutdown

Brock Bingham candid headshot
Brock Bingham|November 1, 2023
Dog drooling while reading content on laptop
Dog drooling while reading content on laptop

Have you tried turning it off and on again? It’s a question as old as system administration itself and perhaps the most dependable troubleshooting technique in the sysadmin toolkit, better known as ol’ reliable. But how do you turn it off and on again? Do you use the shutdown option and then turn it back on? Or do you use the restart option? Is there a difference? Let’s find out!

Is there a difference between shutdown and restart?

It turns out there is a difference between shutdown and restart. Sure, technically, restart turns the computer back on instead of just turning it off, but the differences go deeper than that.

In Windows 8, Microsoft introduced a feature called Fast Startup, which is still present in Windows 10 and 11. By default, shutdown uses Fast Startup to increase boot speed, but restart doesn’t. While everyone can appreciate speedier bootups, Fast Startup cuts some corners to achieve the results.

What does shutdown do?

While shutdown does turn off your computer, it may not be as off as you think thanks to Fast Startup. With Fast Startup enabled, shutdown puts your computer into a hybrid hibernation state. Unlike the traditional hibernation state, which saves the user state, Fast Startup only saves your Windows kernel state into the hibernation file. This information is loaded the next time you start your device to reduce boot times.

What does restart do?

Restart entirely stops all system processes, including the Windows kernel, then restarts the system from scratch. Restart continues to function how it always has and is not affected by the Fast Startup feature.

Should you shut down or restart?

If you’re wondering if you should shut down or restart, I’ll give it to you straight: It depends. While I detest not giving a definitive answer, what I can do is give you some information so you can make an informed decision.

For the vast majority of users and situations, shutdown, even with Fast Startup enabled, should be your go-to option if you need to turn off your computer. While it may not start the Windows kernel from scratch each time you boot, most users shouldn’t experience any issues. And while Fast Startup probably won’t save a lot of time for devices with SSD drives (seven seconds for me), the time savings could be significant for traditional spinning disk drives.

However, there are a handful of situations where I recommend using restart instead of shutdown. Use restart when:

  • You need to install updates.

  • You’re trying to resolve operational issues, especially if the issues could be driver related.

  • You need to apply group policies.

In these situations, it’s better to have the kernel boot from scratch. Or, consider disabling fast startup, which prevents shutdown from saving the Windows kernel state.

Super-secret method to shut down your computer

Did you know there is a secret method to shut down your computer, completely stopping all processes without disabling Fast Startup? I hope you’re ready to amaze all your IT friends.

If you’re familiar with Windows OS, you know that the Shift key can enable additional functionality in certain situations. For example, holding shift while right-clicking on a file gives you the option to copy its file path. Well, it turns out that if you hold the Shift key and click Shut down, the system fully shuts down as if Fast Startup was not enabled. Neato! Yes, I’m a sysadmin; I’m easily amused.

Want to shut down or restart computers en masse? PDQ products can help. PDQ Connect and PDQ Deploy & Inventory will have you shutting down and restarting hordes of devices with just a couple of clicks. Top that off with seamless package deployments, world-class endpoint management, and an unrivaled user experience, and you’ve got everything you need for simplified system administration. Try out any of PDQ’s products free for 14 days.

Brock Bingham candid headshot
Brock Bingham

Born in the '80s and raised by his NES, Brock quickly fell in love with everything tech. With over 15 years of IT experience, Brock now enjoys the life of luxury as a renowned tech blogger and receiver of many Dundie Awards. In his free time, Brock enjoys adventuring with his wife, kids, and dogs, while dreaming of retirement.

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