A finger about to press a laptop power button.
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If you regularly power off your PCs, tablets, laptops, or game consoles by holding down the power button until it shuts off, you should think twice. Here’s why it might damage your machine and what you should do instead.

Why Long-Pressing Can Be Bad

Here’s the gist of it: Long-pressing a power button to force a device to shut off can potentially corrupt the operating system on the device. You should shut it down gracefully instead using a software option or by pressing the button once (without holding it) to either initiate a software shutdown or put the device to sleep.

Long-Pressing Is for Emergencies

In the old days, most power switches physically disconnected power from the device. Flipping or pressing them would break a circuit, stopping the flow of electricity that powered the gadget.

Today, most power switches on smart devices like PCs, tablets, smartphones, and game consoles are what engineers call “soft switches.” When you push them, they send a signal to an intelligent circuit to begin a shutdown process that is often controlled by a computer operating system.

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Sometimes that shutdown process doesn’t work properly, so many soft switches have a backup mode where you can hold them down for several seconds (instead of a momentary touch) to force a device to turn off. But that’s not the ideal way to always shut down a smart device—it should only be reserved for emergencies.

Computers Need to Shut Down Gracefully

Modern smart devices contain computers that need to perform a software-controlled shutdown procedure to shut off without damaging the device’s file system or the device itself. Sometimes a computer might use flash storage or RAM to cache data or settings temporarily, and if the power goes out suddenly, the operating system won’t have a chance to save that data permanently. Also, you might interrupt a write process, which can create incomplete or corrupt data that make your device malfunction.

What You Should Do Instead

Instead of forcing your device to power off by long-pressing the power button, look for a “Shut Off,” “Shut Down,” or “Power Off” option in the device’s on-screen menus (if it has a screen). Choosing one of those options will initiate a graceful software shutdown procedure that will ensure all loose ends in software and memory are tied up before the device powers off.

Also, these days, many PCs will automatically begin a graceful shutdown process if you just press the power button once. That’s OK.

You can also use the device’s sleep feature (if it has one), which can usually be accessed by tapping the power button once. Whenever you need to use the device again, just wake it up. If you need to reboot or restart the device, look for an on-screen software option for that as well.

When You Should Long-Press the Button

Still, there are times when a gadget becomes unresponsive and you have to long-press the power button—or simply unplug the device completely—to get it to power off. In those cases, which should be rare, it’s OK to force a shutdown. But if you find yourself having to do it often, there is likely something wrong with your device. Consider replacing it or having it checked out by the manufacturer for errors. Good luck!

RELATED: Why Does Unplugging a Device Fix So Many Problems?

Benj Edwards Benj Edwards
Benj Edwards is an Associate Editor for How-To Geek. For over 15 years, he has written about technology and tech history for sites such as The Atlantic, Fast Company, PCMag, PCWorld, Macworld, Ars Technica, and Wired. In 2005, he created Vintage Computing and Gaming, a blog devoted to tech history. He also created The Culture of Tech podcast and regularly contributes to the Retronauts retrogaming podcast.
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