When you try to fix a faulty gadget, you have probably read or heard the following: Disconnect it, wait 10 seconds, and then reconnect it. That is often all that is needed to solve the problem. What does this do and why does it work?
You perform a forced start
Disconnecting something usually works because many consumer devices, such as cable modems, routers, and streaming TV boxes, have small computers in them. Disconnecting and reconnecting them forces the computers to restart and clear any software problems.
The internal computers on these devices have firmware (called firmware) that controls the device’s behavior. Sometimes firmware contains bugs that can lead to error states, memory leaks, or crashes. Restarting the device forces the internal computer to restart, clearing the device memory and forcing it to restart and run the software from the ground up again.
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It’s a temporary fix
Restarting a device by disconnecting it may work well at times, but it is actually only a temporary solution. It does not solve the underlying problem that caused the disturbance, hang or crash in the first place. To do so, you need to download and perform a firmware update for the specific device.
Hardware failure in a device can also cause problems that rebooting may temporarily resolve. However, permanent fixing requires repair or replacement of the device. In these cases, it is best to consult the manufacturer’s support department.
Devices that often benefit from the unplug / plug-in method
In general, it is best to disconnect only devices designed as consumer devices that do not have switches. These devices load their software from the firmware, which will generally not be damaged by an abrupt power cycle.
A few examples are:
- Cable Modems
- Internet routers
- Streaming and cable TV boxes
- Smart TVs
- Smart home devices
What if a device has a power switch?
If the device you are troubleshooting has a power switch, try using it first to restart the device as it may solve the problem.
Sometimes, however, the switch is not enough. Today, many gadgets use “soft” switches that depend on software control. Some of these switches only put one device in a “sleep mode”, while others can start an internal shutdown sequence.
Turning off a “soft” power button and turning it back on on a faulty device does not necessarily force an internal computer to boot. So you may still need to proceed to the next step: disconnect the device and reconnect it.
When you should not disconnect an error that works as it does not work
It is usually a bad idea to suddenly turn off the power to devices such as desktops or laptops. This is because they load their software from a rewritable source, such as a hard drive or SSD. They often use these devices to store temporary settings while the computer is running.
If you suddenly disconnect power to your computer, it may interfere with a writing process and damage the file system of your machine.
Sometimes, however, a computer becomes completely unresponsive and there is no way to fix it in the software. In these cases, it is okay to unplug the power cord and then restart the machine as a last resort. There may be some data loss, but sometimes you just have no choice.
There are also certain types of sensitive scientific and medical equipment that should never be suddenly disconnected. Doing so may cause injury or endanger someone’s life.
Obviously, you want to make sure that all the devices you are disconnecting will not put someone’s safety at risk while it goes offline and restarts.