General Question

ScottyMcGeester's avatar

Why is it that computers need to reboot?

Asked by ScottyMcGeester (1005 points ) May 13th, 2013

I assume it’s all kinds of computers, but the other day I got a message from Windows 7 telling me that it had been a week since the computer actually shut down and that it “needs to reboot to normalize the system.”

I’ve had this before, sometimes I don’t realize for how long I actually don’t turn off my laptop and just close the lid when I’m done. But I often wondered why a computer needs to “normalize” and what that actually means. Is it like the computer equivalent to how a person should need sleep? What would happen if you just left it on forever (or, well, just a super long time)?

Sidenote, but it made me think of The Matrix Reloaded. Ha.

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7 Answers

bolwerk's avatar

Probably in most cases, it means just any corrupt data stored in memory (e.g., application data mainly) is removed and everything starts from a zero/off state. Consumer operating systems (e.g., Windows and Mac) are made to be cutting edge and fun, not reliable and mission critical, and even that is perhaps only a function of the type of applications we actually use on them. Basically: don’t do anything and it will probably not need to be rebooted as much.

There are certainly computers that have run years or decades without rebooting. Checking the uptime on some of my work Linux and FreeBSD machines, I’ve had some go without a reboot for more than a year, and I had some that were only rebooted in November because of Hurricane Sandy. I’ve managed to keep Windows machines up for months, though not years.

I don’t know about Apple, but current Microsoft policy seems to to make sure machines reboot regularly to install security patches and the like, probably because they used to get burned so badly on security.

XOIIO's avatar

Weird, I’ve never gotten that, and I’ve had my PC on for months

Staalesen's avatar

as @bolwerk says, it can vary greatly… Personal Computers can run for months at a time, but servers can run even longer… I recall a tidbit about a server that was restarted after a whopping 16 years of uptime.

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Pachy's avatar

Guess what? Some “error” or “warning” messages don’t mean much of anything at all.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Could be a virus.

rexacoracofalipitorius's avatar

Poor memory management.
As @bolwerk et al point out, if the computer is asking for a reboot to “normalize” the system it probably means that some pages in memory are corrupt. This happens when processes (programs) don’t exit cleanly and their traces are not cleaned up properly by the OS. Some OS are more prone to this than others- desktop OS are typically less careful about memory management than ones made for servers (Linux, of course, being the best ;^)

It could also mean that the system installed one or more updates in the background, and that the machine needs to reboot in order to take advantage of those updates. Or your system could be compromised by an evil program that installed a bad patch, and wants to reboot so it can steal your face. Check your logs for more information!

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