A running joke featured in the British TV show, The IT Crowd, involves the members of the IT department responding to every computer problem with “have you tried turning it off and back on again?”. While the cry of “reboot your computer” is a common one in IT departments, the idea behind it is sound. Rebooting (turning your computer completely off, then back on) clears temporary memory and resets your computer’s RAM (Random Access Memory) back to empty.
Computers have two major types of memory – hard drives, which are big and slow, and RAM, which is smaller but faster. When you are working on a document on your computer, that document is loaded into the RAM because if you accessed the hard drive (where the document is permanently stored), there would be a noticeable delay between you hitting a key on your keyboard and that letter appearing on your screen. RAM holds the document in super-fast memory, allowing you to work in real time, until you close and save the document back to your hard drive memory. Because RAM was intended just for short-term memory, it can get cranky when asked to remember too much for too long…
One way to help keep your RAM from getting cranky is to turn your computer off completely and turn it back on (reboot!!). If you have a laptop that is battery powered, you may actually need to take the battery out to completely clear your RAM (this is fairly rare that this is needed, but occasionally it will be useful to help clear up issues in your laptop). For those of you using desktop computers, turning the computer off (or at the very least, closing all windows and programs at the end of the day) is a good way to keep your RAM happy.
Since one of the first things your IT people generally ask when you have an odd computer problem is “did you turn the computer off, then on again?”, you may want to try that before you call next time. And remember, turning the computer off on a regular basis can help keep it from having those odd computer problems in the first place!