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Have you tried turning it off……………………………….

And back on again? The statement made famous by the Channel 4 show ‘The IT Crowd’ and repeated every time you say that you work for an IT Support company!

The thing is it actually works quite a lot of the time, which is why it may well be what an IT Support engineer asks you to do.

But why? What does it actually do?

The answer is reasonably simple. In basic terms a reboot wipes the temporarily stored data from the computer. This will often include whatever is causing the problem. Shutting down and restarting returns the computer to a ‘clean’ state.

Want to get a bit more technical? Here comes the science bit………….

Electronic devices are state based machines, as in they start at one state and go to the next in steps. Programs work the same way (code is sequential and logic based). Restarting an electronic device gives it “a fresh state” and re-initialises the device, resetting it back to the initial state.

If you can’t sleep you could watch THIS introduction to finite state machines on YouTube but it’s dull so I wouldn’t bother.

Electronic devices, especially those with software, can run many programs at once. If one program gets “buggy”, or say if two conflicting commands are going to a device at once, it can cause “issues.” Troubleshooting these issues without restarting the device would take an expert. Rebooting the device is something anyone can do, and it is likely to be the first thing an expert would do as well.

You’ve also probably heard you’re supposed to unplug and wait a few minutes before booting back up. There’s a good reason for that, too.

Basically, this ensures the machine is completely off, since even after you’ve flipped the switch, power may still be circulating from the capacitor (the component that regulates the flow of power from the outlet). Things don’t reset until it’s depleted completely.

So next time you’ve got a problem and you’re about to call IT support (or throw your laptop out of a window) try turning it off, make a cup of tea and then turn it back on again and marvel at your own skills as an IT troubleshooter!