Click Start. Click Shut down.
Wait. Wait. And wait some more.
It’s not uncommon to complain about start-up time, or the speed of your computer while booting. As it turns out, the amount of time it takes to shut down is another source of occasional frustration. I mean, how long should it take to turn something off? Why can’t it just shut down now without pulling the plug?
As always, there are many possible reasons. I’ll review the most common.
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Shutdown: it’s a process, not an event
It’s important to realize that turning off your computer is almost as complex a process as starting it up — perhaps even more so.
Once you tell Windows to shut down, it in turn asks each running program if that would be OK. This gives every program an opportunity to do things like warn you if you have unsaved work. Next, all programs are then told that Windows is shutting down, whether they like it or not. After that, device drivers (the software responsible for each piece of hardware on your system) are similarly told that a shutdown is about to happen.
Why this complex chain of events?
Every application needs an opportunity to save whatever it needs to save prior to closing. Each device driver needs an opportunity to turn off devices in an orderly manner, saving whatever state might be important to the next time you turn the machine on.
That all takes time. Sometimes it takes a long time. And sometimes there’s a problem.
So many programs
Shut-down speed is at the mercy of every piece of running software. Each is given the opportunity to perform some work, potentially time-consuming work, before Windows finally shuts down. In the worst case, they can even pause the process completely, as they ask you things like, “Do you want to save this file first?”
As a result, I rarely “just” shut down Windows. Instead, I close open applications first. As I do so, I deal with any that need final input from me.
So many more programs
What about all the programs running that you didn’t start?
It’s common to have many programs start automatically when you sign in to Windows. From security software, automatic update utilities, to communications tools like Skype, they impact the amount of time it takes for your system to start and shut down. Each program has the opportunity to take time “doing something” before they exit.
What Windows Startup Programs Do I Need? is a good place to learn what starts automatically on your machine, and some tactics to determine whether they’re needed.
Your local network can be responsible for shut-down delays, too. Each local connection — say an active printer, or files and folders being shared locally — needs to be closed individually. If the remote side is sluggish or non-responsive, that contributes to overall slowness.
Other hardware problems can result in slow shut down. Most common are issues with device drivers (the software used to control the hardware) that can cause shut-down problems. Actual hardware issues more commonly cause problems at other times.
Make sure your drivers are up to date. Conversely, if you start experiencing a problem after updating a device driver, it makes sense to check with the manufacturer.
And malware too
Finally, there’s the issue of malware.
Malware works in mysterious ways, and can certainly wreak havoc at any time, including shut down.
Check out the article Internet Safety: 7 Steps to Keeping Your Computer Safe on the Internet for tips to keep your machine safe from malware.
A word about never shutting down
There’s taking too long to shut down, and there’s never shutting down at all.
Everything I’ve discussed above applies to both situations. Never shutting down could be due to the software you’re running, device drivers, hardware issues, or malware. The difference is that being slow may simply be a side effect of everything working as it’s supposed to.
Never shutting down, on the other hand, is a failure of some sort. Poorly-written software, bugs, and configuration issues can result in software waiting for things that will never happen before it can shut down.
The most important thing you can do to avoid these scenarios is to keep your software as up to date as possible.
Your mileage may vary
The real problem with shut-down delays is that there’s rarely a single cause; each situation is different.
Hopefully, these guidelines will allow you to narrow down the cause of your slowdown and eventually fix it.