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Fact or fiction? Powering down a PC via the power button will harm it

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / September 9, 2011 9:02 AM PDT
Question: Fact or fiction? Powering down a PC via the power button will harm it

For the record, I am not talking about holding the button down for
several seconds as would be done in the case of a hard shutdown. Only
a quick press and release--which (from my perspective) seems to send
the system through the exact same shutdown gymnastics as the "Start /
Shut Down" method. I have been using this method my entire life with
every single system I've owned (since 1998) and (to my knowledge) have
never done harm to the OS of any of my workstations.

I just had a $7,000 3D workstation built running Windows7 and the
builder told me never, ever shut it down using the power button
because it would eventually harm the OS. To which I said to myself,
"Yeah, right! I've been shutting off computers that way (Windows XP,
mind you) for the past 12-plus years without a single issue. What's the
big deal? Prove to me that this does harm."

But the more I read online, the more I see people supporting this
notion. Also, I've noticed that some people say it used to be an issue
with older computers. But today's systems are designed to be shut off
either via the power button or the old Start / Shut Down method.

So, for the record, please advise me on this. Is it safe to shut a
(Windows 7) PC down via the power switch as opposed to the standard
Start / Shut Down method?? Is that one of those rules that no longer
needs to be followed because of advancements in technology? For example,
it used to be necessary to pump a car's gas pedal one or two times before
turning the ignition to prime gas into the carburetor. But then came
the advent of electronic fuel injection, which meant you never again
had to worry about priming the fuel. Thanks.

--Submitted by: Michael B.

Here are some member answers to get you started, but
please read all the advice and suggestions that our
members have contributed to this question.

The action of the power switch is.... --Submitted by: Zorched

Power Buttons Aren't Power Buttons --Submitted by: Droid

Power button okay for shut down --Submitted by: bmbougie

It's amazing how many people don't read --Submitted by: timhood

Fiction - taking into account your clarifications --Submitted by: cfbosch_

Thanks to all who contributed!
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As you wish and at your own risk

I've found it necessary over the years to do a hard reset of a PC. So far, no known damage. I've also accidentally forgotten to lock my car at night. So far, no break-ins. I've worked with equipment that definitely had a power-up/down sequence which, if not adhered to, would be dangerous. I've worked with power supplies that did sequencing so that solenoid operated circuits would not be in an active state before what was supposed to control them. Whatever can happen, eventually will happen. I'll go with what the designer/builder recommend. If the instructions are to power down by a certain procedure, I do that procedure. And, really, how much of an inconvenience is it to use the software shutdown feature rather than reach for the power switch?

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Just to say...
by me4 / September 16, 2011 10:56 AM PDT

I completely agree with you, but to add some reality (at least for some of us), I have had to shut down my computer the "hard way," or the lightning storm decided to do it for me. And I have lost data as a result. Many times and over different systems. Will a few times hurt? Probably not if the system's idle, but if it is doing a critical operation or it's just bad luck, damage is possible and will likely occur. Sometimes it's not even data loss as much as something going wrong, like slowing down your PC or in one of my cases, corrupting a graphics driver.

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You apparently never had a computer 'freeze-up'
by QuasiMobo / September 17, 2011 10:51 AM PDT

In the case where nothing, neither keyboard nor mouse, seems to have any effect, you're pretty much going to be limited to a hard off, or the ridiculous option of pulling the plug from its outlet. So far I've escaped punishment for holding the off button down for 5 or 6 seconds, but if you know a better way to handle a freeze, please share it with us!

(Compaq laptop running Vista)

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My computer freezes-up every week or so.
by net2j / September 26, 2011 12:05 AM PDT
Yes, please share any better ways to handle a freeze.
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The only problem is confusion about the question.
by NerfBlossom / September 30, 2011 1:36 PM PDT

You can program what will happen with a press of the power button. But, no matter what you program, pressing and holding will still force a hard power off. Be sure the advise giver is referring to tapping power, not holding it down.

If you have the button programmed to shutdown on a top, it is exactly the same as selecting shutdown yourself except for one major problem. If you are logged on with data files open and tap the power button, it will warn you that there are users still logged on. If you say to continue shutdown then there is the danger. You will force programs to close without properly saving data. Windows does not care but you might.

Otherwise, there is no difference in the two methods of shutting down. But I always feel unsafe when I get that message unless I am completely sure that no programs have data files open and could lose changes or corrupt the original data files in some way.

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Come on, you can afford it.
by ahtoi / September 9, 2011 10:40 AM PDT

Do the experiment and let us know, haha.

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Fact or fiction? Powering down a PC via the power button wil
by ChrDWells / September 9, 2011 11:15 AM PDT

Yes the newer machines can handle this better but the issue has to do with current. Whenever a switch is turned on or off, there is a spike in the electrical current and this spike could corrupt something, such as the boot system or OS. Technology has come a long ways and use what are called suppressors to control these spikes but why take a chance. Chances are that it may never happen to you but haven't you ever wondered why larger computers are never turned off?

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Why large computers are never turned off
by skottieg / September 9, 2011 9:37 PM PDT

" haven't you ever wondered why larger computers are never turned off"

Large computers, as in an enterprise environment, are never turned off because they are always in use - not because turning them off will break them.

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by alaskagram / September 17, 2011 12:02 PM PDT

My ASUS machine has a surge protector built into the motherboard.They are so proud of it it say's so all over the board.New computers do take into account all the basic stupid things people do to their machines.I suspect that the power supplies have enough capcitors and power sensors in them that even if you pulled the plug there would be enough juice left to shut down.

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Properly shutting down a system.

There is a difference between an unavoidable involuntary shutdown, such as a power failure, and you just "flipping the switch off"! Most all systems are set up by the operating system to have write caching enabled on the hard drives. When you "properly" shut down a system using the OS "shutdown" software procedure, all data remaining in caches are written to the hard drive, and your data remains intact. IF you just flip off the power switch, you risk corrupting files because there is unwritten data remaining in the cache(s). Don't be lazy, be smart, and maintain your data integrity whenever possible!


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It's amazing how many people don't read
by timhood / September 9, 2011 1:54 PM PDT

I can't believe how many replies I've read where it's clear people didn't read the question. In the original post, the author clearly states, "For the record, I am not talking about holding the button down for several seconds as would be done in the case of a hard shutdown. Only a quick press and release..."

Anyone who has done even the most cursory exploration of Windows Control Panel would know that there's an option to control how the power button works, and the normal operation is for the PC to do the exact same shutdown as if the shutdown option was selected from the start menu.

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1up for timhood
by rachit20012 / September 9, 2011 3:56 PM PDT

I strongly am in the favor of what timhood has nicely explained. The hard shutdown has its negative shades which one must consider if doing on regular basis like corruption of the user data and system configuration which by far most new operating system fix for themselves.
But as far as the soft shut down is considered it just sends an Interupt request for the Operating System to process a shut down or whatever your options are as per the Power Options menu under the control pannel. The shut down hence triggered is same as the one that happens when you use the shut down option in the Operating System.
The only negative effect it will have is on the ego of the shut down option. Grin
And the average life of the new age buttons is quite a lot to go for atleast five years with an average 50-80 use per month.

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lots of dinosaurs posting on this topic
by Jim Johnson / September 9, 2011 10:14 PM PDT

Since this is a new machine running Win7, timhood is correct.

The rest of the nay-sayers in this post are back in the dinosaur age and haven't updated their knowledge of PCs since the mid-90's (and maybe before in a couple posts). You should listen to them if you are still running a 16bit OS.

The power switch on a modern PC is connected to the motherboard, not the power supply, and is interpreted by the BIOS much the same as a key on a keyboard. There is no power spike as another poster stated. Unless you do a 'push and hold', the BIOS will check what the OS wants via the ACPI interface and perform that action (shutdown, restart, hibernate, sleep). Just like most TVs, the power supply never shuts down. The BIOS tells it to go into a sleep mode. That's why I totally kill power to my PCs externally - after they have been shut down.

I too have a grey roof and started my association with computers using punch card readers. The computing world has changed folks, but sadly people have not. Most still don't RTFM.

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I hit the tumbs down by mistake! This is the correct answer
by cheetah11111 / September 12, 2011 5:27 AM PDT

Just think of your power button as a key on your keyboard... basically just a momentary switch that connects to the motherboard and allows the software to interpret its function by how the OS (Windows) is configured. The motherboard watches for a 'hard power off' and will virtually 'pull the plug' when the power button is held for 10+ seconds but if that state is not sensed, windows functions as normal and the power command is executed as determined in your 'Power Settings'. This feature has been available since Windows XP. Older machines with a hard switch were directly connected to the power supply so when you shut it off, you cut the power like pulling the plug. You can not do any more damage to your PC using the 'soft power down' feature as you would clicking the shutdown button because that 'soft power down' runs the same program.

If you had an old PC with a hard toggle or push on/push off switch OR you perform a 'hard power off', you could damage your data by not allowing it to complete a 'write function' which would corrupt the data being written, you could damage your hard drive by the read/write heads not returning to 'park' position and possibly crashing into the spinning platter or damage the motherboard by the shock of power suddenly being removed like in a power outage.

But once again, for a new PC and a 'soft power off', you shouldn't run into any of these issues.

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I would worry about how long that switch would last
by krazyken44 / September 16, 2011 11:37 AM PDT

While I like most of your post the part about how long the switch lasts isn't always true. In the last ten years I've replaced so-called "soft switches" about 20 times and 18 of them in the last 3 years.. The biggest replacement problem I run into is finding the switch. Laptops seem to suffer from this a little more, but I seen three Acer desktops and two HP desktops with bad switches.
All these computer switches were made in China and a couple of the times I found power management settings for the switch set to be used for the shutdown command. I also found the owners had used the switch to put the laptop to sleep nad/or hibernate in other replacement cases quite often.Believe me when I tell you that they aren't made like they used to be and they are made in China. I believe older Windows operating systems used the power button for start-up, but didn't allow the power button options of sleep, hibernate, or shut done in power management. Maybe that's why I see failed switches more often now.

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Fact or fiction? Powering down a PC via the power button wil
by keveri / September 17, 2011 1:32 AM PDT

I agree with the possibility of premature physical switch problems. While a $7000 workstation may have a premium case a $400 consumer pc is likely to have the cheapest case the manufacturer can get away with. A new pc bought today may be used for years longer than previous computers. Computing is moving more to different hardware platforms. I'll let the software shut down my computers.

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power to soft switch
by acrawley1 / September 19, 2011 1:43 AM PDT

reading the last part of this post - I have found that if I am away for an extended period and unplug my desktop computer from the power socket , when I try to start it again the " soft switch " does not respond until a while after power has been restored ( almost like it has a battery which has to be powered up ) . is this normal or a sign of a problem ?

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by ebbtides / September 19, 2011 12:26 PM PDT
In reply to: power to soft switch

Please read some of the other earlier posts which talk of the importance of adjusting your power settings from the Control Panel. Changing the plugged-in power setting time period to NEVER could solve your problem. Waking-up a sleeping or hibernating computer sometimes takes time & patience, even when your settings are correct.

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Shutting down your system
by geomurray / September 9, 2011 11:16 AM PDT

I've been working with computer for 35 years, IBM, Microsoft and others and I can tell you for a fact that you can harm your system shutting down the way you have been doing it. You have been lucky, very lucky. When a system is shut down it has to index both the data and the registry. If neither one is indexed then corruption can set in and you lose integrity of the system. The only time I shut a system down hard is when it is frozen and that isn't too often. I firmly believe that one of these days your luck will run out.

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35 years
by msgale / September 9, 2011 11:56 AM PDT

There haven't been PCs for thirty five years; it was released on August 12, 198, that is only thirty years ago. It had a lever type red on/off switch on the right side in the pack, which cut power immediately. I have absolutely no idea what you meant by "index both the data and registry." If you mean flushing the caches, it is a non-issue; there is residual power in the system to perform that function. Most main frames computers (with the exception of CDC) had power fail interrupt handlers that worked and upon total power failure preserve the state of the system. I worked on UNIVAC CP901s, and IBM AN/UYS-1s, which could easily ride through all types of power problems

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Math majors can figure it out
by netsiu / September 9, 2011 12:19 PM PDT
In reply to: 35 years
I am not a mathmatition but 30 years ago was 1981 and univa was around at least 10 years pryor.

Back before Vista my programmer budy would hard shut down after installing updates. If I understand right, the old fat 8 and 16 systems could easily be scrambled by hard shut downs. But the I remember my old Widows 95 haveing to be wiped and reinstalled six months to a year just because it cofused itself.
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Cheers to Windows 9x
by net2j / September 26, 2011 12:18 AM PDT

Cheers, to Windows 9x blue screens, reinstalls!

Thanks to XP for figuring those problems out, almost.

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PC vs Computer
by mach37 / September 16, 2011 1:02 PM PDT
In reply to: 35 years

Sorry, msgale, but geomurray said "computer," not "PC." You should know better, i.e., RTFM - M for message, not Manual.

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Try the Xerox Alto
by gordon451 / September 16, 2011 1:31 PM PDT
In reply to: 35 years

Sorry sport, you're wrong.

try the Xerox Alto from 1973.

My arithmetic says that makes 38 years.


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There haven't been PCs for thirty five years;
by pegpluscol / September 16, 2011 4:31 PM PDT
In reply to: 35 years

Hi Magle, I was also among the first to use PC's and it was before 1981.
I distinctly remember that the date would always re-set to ??-??-1980.

This prompted many jokes at the time, EG:
"Gee Dad, was that the day the earth was created?"

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Your wrong
by ratdog25 / September 16, 2011 9:54 PM PDT
In reply to: 35 years

I recall my uncle who is 90 now had a job in Canada working on Univac in the late 50's. That was over 50 years ago.

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Windows 7 allows button shutdown
by stuestes / September 9, 2011 11:57 AM PDT

In the Windows 7 Control Panel/Power Options is "Choose what the power buttons do". You get choices for what happens "When I press the power button: Do nothing, Sleep, Hibernate, Shut Down" When that is set to "Shut down," pressing the power button (without holding it down) takes the computer through the exact same shutdown procedure that happens when using the Start Menu/Shut down option. All of the caches, registry, etc. are handled the same way and there is no more "energy spike" than the other way. So there is no reason to avoid shutting down with the button.

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true today, but ...
by Gerdd / September 9, 2011 7:48 PM PDT

... you implicitly give the caveat yourself:

provided it is all programmed the way you expect, this is true. And, don't forget, there are still a few systems around where the power button is not programmable and the control panel won't show you that option. Unless you know all of these things for certain on any given machine you should not jump to conclusions but rather play it safe.

I also shudder when i think of the people that use a power strip to shut off the computer, the printer, the network router, and so on with just one flick of a switch.

Mythbuster: There is no "residual power emergency shutdown feature" on any desktop PC I have ever seen and not on a whole lot of servers, either. Laptops nowadays will detect the end of battery power and will go through some sort of emergency shutdown, provided they were configured to do so.

And, oh yes, there were desktop computers before August 12, 1981, they just weren't IBM PCs or IBM compatibles. But none of those had a programmable soft power button. And if they did have a hard drive there was nothing like a write cache yet that could have corrupted data. You had to catch a write operation in progress to do harm ...

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Power button okay for shut down
by bmbougie / September 9, 2011 11:35 AM PDT

It will not harm your pc to shut down using the power button. Pressing it briefly tells windows to shut down and it does so just like it would if you clicked start/shutdown. Windows even lets you change what the power button does, like letting you set it to sleep mode or hibernation.
If you press the power button and hold it until the pc shuts off, that's a 'hard' shut down and that is not good. I have seen it damage not only software but the actual hardware too. It has to be done sometimes but it shouldn't be done on a regular basis. A 'soft' shut down though, by pressing the button for a second then letting go, is just fine and dandy.

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follow up question
by kosjambekar / September 16, 2011 12:28 PM PDT

how can a hard shutdown damage hardware? i can understand software writing process going corrupt which can damage the OS needing <in extreme cases> a reinstall/format, but how can hardware get damaged? I have been using computers for the past 13 yrs now, and have tortured their poor computer souls quite a bit with quite a few hard shutdowns, which luckily have never damaged my software, let alone my hardware...

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