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Can computer hardware suffer damage from forceful shutdowns (holding the power button for five (5) seconds) or power failures?

I believe that normal PC hardware does not suffer from this - after all, it's not much different than what they experience under a standard shutdown. But elsewhere I've read tht another person thought that it could do physical harm to the hard drive and possibly other components as well. He also said that the journaling features of filesystems are useless in face of power failures and were intended to help mitigate damage from system crashes.

I think this is nonsense, but then again I lack the experience and knowledge to say it with certainty.

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It used to be that power failures could cause damage to old "big iron" boxes. One prime case would be disk drives, where the heads would not be retracted before the disk spun down. There were also other possible glitches, as when one internal voltage would die before another, causing excessive current flow. (But of course power-up is even more hazardous, to old hardware and new.) As to journal features, it depends on the design -- a good, well-implemented commit/rollback transaction journal should handle power failures just fine, but many shortcut forcing journal writes, for performance. –  Daniel R Hicks Sep 4 '12 at 21:41

12 Answers 12

up vote 15 down vote accepted

In the case of shutdown using the button, no hardware damage is possible (noting that corrupted storage content is not hardware damage).

In the case of power failure, damage is not caused by the sudden loss of power. But it absolutely can be caused by the fluctuations of voltage and current, both up (at extreme levels these are called spikes) and down (brown-outs) that inevitably occur on the line immediately prior to power loss as the power company's equipment fails. These fluctuations can be observed often in your house lighting as it flickers before losing power.

In addition, since voltage fluctuation can sometimes occur during normal operation, without total power loss, a high quality PSU or some kind of power conditioning UPS will help preserve the longevity of your equipment.

Dirty power, or EMI noise on the power line, is also damaging to sensitive electronic equipment - watch where you plug in that treadmill or other large motor device.

Lastly, power fluctuations are more prevalent on low voltage (110 - 120 V) mains than on high voltage, such as 220 - 240 V systems.

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Having been through spiking power outages and lightning strikes, power outages can damage hardware. Usually the power supply serves as the sacrificial element and burns out before the overvoltage protection that's supposed to be on the secondary voltage circuits can kick in. Usual cure is PSU replacement and a disc scan to check for anything left over from an unclean shutdown. Surge strips need to be replaced every couple years to help prevent this kind of failure (MOVs degrade from doing their job and a 10 year old surge suppressor is just a power strip with extra lights). –  Fiasco Labs Jan 16 '12 at 22:52

With modern systems, no - as long as you're using the power button, its designed to have a graceful shut down. There's some possibility of data corruption, since your system would not have the time to save everything it was working on.

On the other hand, the very reason you're forcing a shutdown might indicate hardware or software problems already existing.

EDIT: thats practically a seperate question. Thinkpads arn't cheap for a reason - they're tanks, and have great warranty service. Pulling the cable, and closing the computer, is... well stuff they're designed to do. If you switch off the mains, and turn it back on, the Power brick will handle it, gracefully. Unplugging is within design specifications, hell, i suspect lenovo might have a machine to test just that. I'd say none of that sounds dangerous, outside the risk of data loss.

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Want to add that powering off that way can cause data not to be written to the hard drive. –  Keltari Aug 24 '11 at 1:49
    
@luke - was a spelling misteak that firefox didn't catch –  Journeyman Geek Aug 24 '11 at 2:03
    
@keltari -the possibility of data corruption refers to that very situation. –  Journeyman Geek Aug 24 '11 at 2:04
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With the classic, proper, manly power switches, 'definately likely'. With modern soft switches, its still the motherboard that does the switching off, which would avoid any really bad power surges. There can be data loss, but physical damage, such as fried chips, or magic smoke escaping is unlikely, IMO –  Journeyman Geek Aug 24 '11 at 2:11
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"Manly" power switches? :D –  Isxek Aug 24 '11 at 8:59

No.

If you're trying to decide between pulling the power cord and holding the power button down for 8 seconds, hold the button down. Pulling the plug could introduce surges or spikes immediately preceding the actual power loss, while holding the button does not do this.

If for any reason your system is not responding and needs to be shut down quickly, hold the button.

The only case where you ought to pull the plug rather than wait the 8 seconds while holding the button down is if you've spilled something liquid on the system where the risk of electrical short causing significant damage is greater than the risk of problems caused by pulling the plug.

UPDATE for question update: Most damage of this sort is cumulative. As in, it builds up over time. Older, weaker, or lower quality components could be actually broken by such actions, but usually not. Usually such spikes and troughs in the power will contribute to wear and tear which decreases the lifespan of the computer, but does not usually kill it right away.

And with a Thinkpad, or any laptop, you need to remove the battery and the power cord in order to hard shut off like this.

It all boils down to risk: If there is risk of liquid getting to sensitive components while they are powered up, pulling the battery and cord is not so bad in comparison. If the only risk is a virus hurting your files, holding the power button down is not so bad in comparison, but pulling the power cord and battery is much worse.

So, depending on what the situation is, take the appropriate action to mitigate damage while minimizing risk.

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Is it not good to shutdown Laptop by pressing power button for a while instead of pulling battery. –  avirk Aug 26 '11 at 15:52
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No, what I'm saying above is that it depends on what's going on, why you want to shut it down. If you just spilled liquid on the laptop, you want to remove the power cord and batter as quickly as absolution possible. If the computer is just locked up or you have a bad virus, holding the power button is the correct thing to do. –  music2myear Aug 26 '11 at 15:53
    
Got it thanks for clear I've already +1 on this.... –  avirk Aug 26 '11 at 16:01

Adding to the previous answers, it's been my experience that power outages (defined as power ceases coming into the home and nothing that needs volts will go) are frequently not simple now-it's-on-and-now-it's-off events. The power may go off and on more than once in a very short time. In the process, there will likely be fluctuations in voltage (high and low). It's the rapid, repeated on-and-off that can give your computer heartburn. Before uninterruptable power supplies were available to the little folk, I plugged in my computers through a homemade box that contained a relay that would open if the power failed. So even if the power went on/off several times, the first failure would keep the power off to the CPU until I reset the box. Now that UPSs are so affordable, I don't run any computer without one. My DVR even has one.

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The worst can be the "three strikes" rule as the power grid tries to clear a fault on a branch circuit. The main grid can black out two or three times before it either blows the branch circuit off line or decides the short is permanent and shuts down for good. Lots of good gritty surginess while this is happening. Another is to have one of the HV lines break and fall through the LV house distribution. That cost our neighborhood a lot of electronic equipment (dishwashers and washing machines now fall in that category). Simple power cuts to blackout are rare here. –  Fiasco Labs Jan 16 '12 at 23:06

Lets just say that hardware damage is possible but unlikely.

And you have to separate the two cases

  • When the power gets cut off suddenly for example when a fuse blows there is a small chance that a power spike damages the computer.
  • when holding the power button for five seconds you could in theory give the computer time to prepare (don't know what really happens)

That said,
a corrupt file system due to a sudden shutdown is actually software issue, it's not the physical disk that is damaged.

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I know about the corrupt file system, of course. –  Vilx- Feb 2 '10 at 16:37
    
I gave much the same answer as this to a similar question (which I can't find) and was down-voted on the point about the holding the power button down, so I deleted the answer. I'll try and find the question to see if I recover the relevant information. –  ChrisF Feb 2 '10 at 16:40

Physically? Not very likely. But filesystem structures could be left in an inconsistent state, leading to operating system or data errors when the system is used later.

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Depends on the situation.

Most of the time, you really want to avoid doing this whenever possible. It isn't impossible, but, you are unlikely to cause damage to any piece of hardware - however, any active file writes going on will instantly be cut off. If you were saving a document it will most likely be corrupt/half written and if you are performing an update, dependent on the actual process, it is highly possible to corrupt the program being updated.

However, in the situation where your computer is actually completely frozen, quite frankly, the same situation will apply where files can be corrupt at the time of the freeze. Shutting down will not cause any "extra" damage.

Turning it off from the wall, the Power unit or the button will do the exact same thing.

If you want to know the history behind this, it is a bit hard to prove definitively, but, the whole idea about this came from hard drives. Hard drives now automatically (usually) park heads when power to them is cut. In "olden" days, they didn't do this automatically and you would use the park.exe command (came with some disks).

And if you go back further to the huge disks that were the size of desks and only had about 5MB storage, if power were to cut unsafely, head would "crash" in to the platter.... I believe that this is where the term "crashed" came from when referring to computers... well, this is what I heard at least!

(Edit thanks to Keith Thompson - I remembered about crashing incorrectly!)

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I think a disk crash was more likely the read/write head crashing into the disk rather that two disks crashing into each other. I've seen platters with part of the oxide covering scraped off by a head crash, exposing the aluminum underneath. –  Keith Thompson Oct 24 '11 at 1:04
    
@KeithThompson Ahh... I am sure you are correct... I wasn't sure as I wrote that, and now you said that, it suddenly reminded me! –  William Hilsum Oct 24 '11 at 1:08
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There's nothing like cracking open a drive and seeing a huge furrow dug by the head in the platter... –  Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Oct 24 '11 at 1:09
    
Hard drives now automatically (usually) park heads when power to them is cut. (Voice Coil Servo Head Actuators) In "olden" days, they didn't do this automatically and you would use the park.exe command. (Stepper Motor Head Actuator systems which thankfully have gone with the dinosaurs, another characteristic was having a cold start in a cold room where the platters had shrunk so much that the heads were no longer positioned over the tracks and the system wouldn't boot till the drive had spun for a half hour to warm up.) –  Fiasco Labs Jan 16 '12 at 23:13

Yes. A little. Maybe.

When you hold the power button to shut down, most (but not all) operating systems attempt an orderly shut down.

If the operating system has crashed, though, you run a slight risk of damage to your hard disk and subsequent data corruption or loss. (This is why many operating systems do disk checks on the first boot after a bad shutdown.)

Ideally you'll use a software menu item to shut down, and avoid using the power button if you can. If you're doing it a lot because the system is hanging, you'll want to address whatever's causing that more directly.

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I was told that power outage events or power button shutdowns will cause hard drive disk needles to slam down on their disks, causing scratching and physical damage to the hard disk. If you think about it, it makes sense. If your hard drive is spinning, and a sudden power off causes the needle to slam down, then the needle is scratching the spinning hard disk.

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No, it doesn't. On modern hard drives, "needle" which isn't a needle will be returned to its parking position by rotation of the disk. When you cut power, disk doesn't freeze. It continues to rotate for some time until friction halts it. That amount of time is more than enough to return the read/write head into its parking position. Also on modern hard drives no electricity is needed to keep the head above the disks. –  AndrejaKo Sep 26 '10 at 14:16
    
Maybe @BillP3rd, our hard disk drive expert, could give a better explanation. –  AndrejaKo Sep 26 '10 at 14:17
    
Modern voice coil head actuator hard drives float the heads on a film of air. Upon loss of power, the heads immediately park before the platters even have a chance to lose much rotational speed and therefore the air film the heads float upon. The only way to crash the heads is to give the drive a good slam that causes the heads to break through the air film, something that modern laptops detect through accelerometers and take evasive action to protect the heads, parking them before the computer hits the floor. –  Fiasco Labs Jan 16 '12 at 22:42

YES

It will most likely damage the hard drive before motherboard components Here is why

Hard drives... Hard drives are.made up of.... A. Circuit board B. Motor or spindle that turns the disk C. Disks or platters the data is stored on D. Actuator, Actuator arm and finally E. Read write heads

The read write heads are.pretty much a bit of wiring wrapped around metal When electricity flows in 1 direction its magnetised north, when the current flows the oposite direction its.magnetised south

The read write heads.never.touch the platter but.instead hover on a cushion of.air caused by the spinning disk (blown up by the force of air like a fan from the spinning.disk)

When power is cut, the disk naturally slows down The arm lowers The head crashes.onto.the platter and.damages sectors of the disk as a result

When powered.down.correctly.the arm.retracts its self.to.either the.edge.of.the disk or the centre where.no data is stored preventing damage

Now you also can understand why computers talk in binary 0s or 1s Since a 0 represents a magnetic south and 1 represents a magnetic north When the read head reads the polarisation of the bit (binary digit) it coverts it back into an electrical signal for your computer.to.process

If the read write head has crashed onto.the platter not.only does it do damage to the platter but when powered back on,.the.disk.will start spinning again whilst the head.is.on the disk damaging it.further.until it elevates again

However whilst that only takes a split second But try to remember most hard drives spin af 7500 rpm (revs or complete turns.per minute) Thats 125 Times a second

Can you imagine how.much damage can be.caused.by.the head scraping the.surface of your.hard drive in that split.second if.it.has turned 125 Times with.the drives read.write head.still on the surface?

This is what will damage your.computer.the most

Motherboards Spikes and Brown outs can cause damage by form.of a hard reset However it wont cause data loss unless you didnt save your document you was working on The drive head was already retracted (not reading or writting) If a motherboard becomes damaged via spikes you can easily replace.it

Motherboards come.in 2 forms Integrated Non integrated

Integrated have loads of components.soldered onto.the board.meaning if they break you cant replace them you can however.install an expansion card.ie...

South bridge damage to onboard graphics, you can.purchase a graphics.card South bridge damage to onboard sound, you can purchase a sound.card

Non integrated motherboards.have.nothing.built.into the motherboard, so you.would.simply remove the damaged expansion card and replace.it.with a new.one rather.than.replacing the.entire.motherboard

Psu or.power aupply.units do a good job.at regulating this.nowadays.but.a good.ups system can give you 60 seconds.of.power.after a power.cut to.shut.down.safely

These are.expensive.mind so you.will probably.find simply getting a new.motherboard.cheaper and.buying a solid state drive.more effective since.there are.no moving.parts thus the drive motor will not.pack in, the heads wont.crash onto the drive,.the.actuator.arm.is unlikely to become.damaged if.joshled about ie.a laptop Making it more data safe

Tho... Ssd drives usually store.less and cost more than.regular.hdd Another.thing worth looking.into.is.a RAID system

Redundent array independant disks

Raid 0 is useless.for Data loss as only.splits Data into 2 hard.drives to.read.it.back.quicker Tho as.mentioned.above.if.one.begins.to.fail it.will slow your machiene.down and.if.it fails the.Data is gone for good

Raid 1, 3, 5 however offer mirroring In short 2 hard.drives, same.size.will allow your.computer.to.automatically back up your entire.system as.it.uses.the drive

So 2 hard.drives 2 terrabites each (4 terrabites.in total) would.only give you 2 terrabites storage But at least your data is.more.secured and.if.one.disk becomes damaged it.will back up to a thrid disk (raid 5) as (raid 1 only supports 2 disks)

Some.motherboards come.with this.built.in (spacially gamer.motherboards) Some.dont.in.which case you can purchase.a raid.expansion card

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Why are you using a dot instead of space? Anyways, I always thought that there was a nice magnet at the center of the disk which pulled the arm back to the center when the power was cut. That's what makes the characteristic loud "click" when the hard drive powers down (or is unplugged). Do you have any links that would back up what you're saying? –  Vilx- Oct 3 '13 at 12:04

Yes, it may damage your hard drive. At least my hard drive was damaged when I switch off the power outlet. In my case, I also have a SMPS power supply links to router. When I turned the power off, both router and computer lost the power. The SMPS might have some impact to the computer's power too. I can't explain why but from my experience, I'd never turn them off directly.

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Depends on the OS and the bios configuration, almost all PC's will do a hard shutdown when holding the power button down for 5-8 seconds, no matter what the OS is configured to do, this is a bios only setting that overrides the OS. Some bios's allow you to change the number of seconds you need to hold the power button down before it does a hard shutdown.

In Windows 7 you can go to Control Panel > Power Options > Choose what the power buttons do

In here you can set what happens when to do a single press and release of the power button, if set to Shutdown, the PC will shut down gracefully as if you chose shutdown from the start menu.

It is never a good idea to do a hard shutdown.

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