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I use a remote desktop program (usually Microsoft's Remote Desktop) to connect to a Windows machine everyday. The remote computer has a fixed IP address, and if the computer is on and responsive, I can access it and even reboot the computer remotely if necessary.

Unfortunately, if the remote computer freezes (for example, if it gets a blue screen), as far as I know, I can't use a remote desktop solution to restart it. Similarly, if my computer is off, I can't use remote desktop to boot it.

I know that one solution is to ask somebody who is physically near the computer to press the reboot or power on button, but I am opening this thread because I am interested in solutions that do not require the physical presence of people to turn on or reboot a remote frozen computer.

Is this possible? If so, what are my options?

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by the way, it is impossible to turn on a computer without pressing the power button; this is due to well, turning the computer off. A computer can only accept data over the network if it is turned on –  Nate Koppenhaver Aug 6 '11 at 18:05
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Nate, true, but you can still wake it from sleep with Wake-on-lan or Wake-on-modem. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wake-on-LAN –  RJFalconer Aug 6 '11 at 22:10
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@Nate Koppenhaver your terminology is a bit wrong 'cos I think people often call that on/off switch on the front, a power button. Though one could also call the mains switch a power button. The correct term for what you refer to, would be the switch at the wall, at the mains, or the mains switch. Obviously nobody is stupid enough to think that a computer not plugged in / not getting any electricity from the wall, is going to turn on. –  barlop Aug 6 '11 at 22:11
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@Nate Koppenhaver No, computers for years and years like 13+ years get power even when the computer is off, not sleeping. OFF. One of the power supply's wires is called 5VSB it feeds 5V in always. Try plugging a Ps2 keyboard into a ps2 socket and lights will flash. or a usb torch. wake on lan is in the BIOS and turns it on from nothing like you hit the power switch on the front. –  barlop Aug 7 '11 at 1:50
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@Nate Koppenhaver ATX PSUs have all had 5VSB(the purple wire). And came out in 1995. So for your entire life they've been out! You have to go back to AT PSUs, before you were born, to find otherwise! They had a cord with a power button on the end, and a socket so the monitor plugged into the computer for power. I don't think computers even turned off with a command, you had to push the button, "It's now safe to turn off your computer"! and the monitor turned off with it . I don't know what you mean about different computer types power switch. –  barlop Aug 7 '11 at 2:01

9 Answers 9

up vote 44 down vote accepted

Server-grade computers by most major manufacturers have provided these types of management capabilities for many years. Watchdog timers in the BIOS, COM-based Telnet console redirect, IP based COM, remote KVM, etc.

For a desktop-grade computer you have a few options:

1) Replace your system with one that has these types of management features (out-of-band management).

Intel offers their AMT (Advanced Management Technologies) on the desktop as well, which when adhering to the certain requirement is branded as vPro. (Basically a vPro-compatible board and CPU).

AMD has DASH; with similar requirements I'm sure. I've never used it, and haven't seen any 3rd party support for it.

I prefer Intel's AMT personally. All versions (that are 'vPro') allow shutdown, power-on, reset (hard), as well as a textual BIOS and boot view. The newest versions include a VNC-based "KVM" that allows you interact with the boot process as well as the OS, so it can be used to diagnose boot problems (BIOS, POST, Bluescreens, etc.) as well as end-user and OS support.

2) Get a remote-controlled power strip:

As echoback mentioned, there's products by DLI (Digital Loggers Inc.): Web Power Switch

I looked into this, and it was too expensive for small-time use. Perhaps the price has come down though. It was feature rich, but I've never actually used it.

Another option is Technology On Demand's recent iRemoteReset product: iRemoteReset

It is aimed mainly for auto-rebooting a router/modem combo (we use them mainly for that), but it shouldn't have a problem dealing with a desktop computer as a load. You can hit it by HTTP and reset the sockets manually (individually), as well as have it auto-reset due to lack of Internet connectivity, schedules and such.

3) Build an Interent-enabled robotic arm.

Robotic Arm

:)

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10  
Don't forget ITAPPMONROBOT: thedailywtf.com/Articles/ITAPPMONROBOT.aspx –  Fake Name Aug 7 '11 at 5:10
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If I happened to be walking past a computer as it was being turned on by a robotic arm, I think I'd mistake it for Skynet. –  Maxpm Aug 7 '11 at 20:01
    
+1 for a great answer, and because the suggestion about creating a robotic arm made me laugh (plus it's also a valid solution because it really could work). –  Randolf Richardson Aug 14 '11 at 2:03
    
For the solution 3 - what happen if the robotic arms is damaged or not working? –  Larry Morries Sep 26 '11 at 1:04
    
+1, Good answer. –  Jet Feb 18 '13 at 19:53

There's an option in sysdm.cpl -> Advanced tab -> Startup and Recovery section (settings) -> called "Automatically restart" that will automatically restart the machine upon a blue screen.

Machines that depend on remote access for configuration/support need to have this enabled. You can then check eventvwr.msc or use a utility like NirSoft's BlueScreenView to later determine the STOP code and find why it crashed.

There are many types of freezes. A "hard freeze" where even the mouse stops working has a high percentage of defective hardware as the cause and needs to be physically looked at when that occurs. I've had users say their systems are frozen, but the system is just "stuck" at some point and they can still move the mouse. I've been able to use Sysinternal's PsExec sometimes to get a remote command prompt and issue a shutdown -r -t -0 command which reboots it.

At my place of work, we are a Dell shop. A lot of newer "high-end" Dell computers (T5400 and T5500 specifically) have a feature called AMT (that we don't use for some reason...). Supposedly it is a component that lets you remote reboot (even if the system is hung or powered off) and access the BIOS remotely. I don't know if you can get something with similar capability on a PCI card. I'm sure other manufacturers have a similar feature in their higher-end workstations and something like this is likely what you want.

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HP servers have a separate system within them called the Integrated Lights Out that has it's own power supply and everything and that polls specific system services at regular intervals. If certain conditions are not met (services don't respond in allocated time frame) the server is rebooted. It's a simple and very effective tool. I've often wondered how difficult it would be to integrate such a system into a desktop or home server system. –  music2myear Aug 6 '11 at 19:01
    
"Machines that depend on remote access for configuration/support need to have this enabled." And it's useful for servers. For a techie not needing that would be better off with the crash than a crash and automatic restart. –  barlop Aug 6 '11 at 22:14
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@music2myear Many Intel machines already come with similar technology. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intel_Active_Management_Technology for more info. –  Kibbee Aug 7 '11 at 1:51
    
That is a good idea but I think IPoAC will work better. –  omeid Aug 7 '11 at 3:13

I haven't found a way to reboot a computer that is hung up besides a remote power switch device. I use this one ip-p3 and it supports rebooting over the LAN or telephone. It's $200 though.

If you need something a little simpler, you could check this one out this. It's only $100, but the features of the IP-P3 are a lot better.

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They are not cheap, but many companies offer remote power switches which provide a web interface to toggle power to a given outlet. These are typically used in data centers and server rooms to simplify maintenance, so if you can find a place nearby that is getting rid of equipment, you might be able to work something out for considerably less.

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Another option can be using a virtual machine. It might take some time to move your server to the a virtual machine but it is free anyway. (VMWare is very nice for this and is free.)

Once you manage to migrate your server, you can install remote desktop server to virtual machine and a text-based (ssh-like) server to the real machine. I don't really know it VMWare has support for console commands, but I bet they have. So, you will use the same desktop software and you will connect directly to the virtual machines, your using habits wouldn't change and in case of system failure, you can easily restart, reboot or even reinstall windows to the machine.

It also provides a wall of security as virtual servers cannot access the data above as long as you don't give permission explicitly.

But also, if the windows machine is used on regular basis on local(w/o remote) using a virtual machine can be, disturbing.

-----edit----
Another budget option which solves the hardware failures as well. You can buy a 2nd hand cheap phone which has a vibration motor. Dissamble the phone and remove the vibration motor, throw it away, open your mainboard connect the reset pins to the remaining vibration pins on the phone by a relay contact. (requires soldering)

So when you call the phone, it will try to vibrate and eventually activate the relay which will hard reset the computer.

There a chance that you can break the cell phone completely while trying to dissamble and solder it, but so long as you use relays correctly, it is nearly impossible to do damage the mainboard.

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This will not help if there is a hardware problem. –  yakatz Aug 7 '11 at 2:39
    
True. But we should know our limits, hardware failures are not much common and OP claimed that he can call someone closer to computer to force a restart. Hardware-based solutions are, kind of, expensive. And I still think this is a nice workaround which is completely free. –  Umur Kontacı Aug 7 '11 at 3:33
    
It now helps if there is a hardware problem as well =) –  Umur Kontacı Aug 7 '11 at 12:41

Another option, though not exactly what you're asking for, is a "watchdog timer". This is an add-in piece of hardware that reboots the system if the timer is not reset in a given interval of time. (The reset is performed from a loop in a software module that continually checks system health.)

A few years back when I checked there were a number of different types of these being made, though I haven't checked recently.

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Check if your motherboard have watchdog timer. If it does (many do) then just install and configure proper software. Motherboard will reboot your computer if OS hangs.

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Since you say your IP remains the same and is known to you, you can use this from the command prompt of your PC:

shutdown -r -m \\IP-Address

For example:

shutdown -r -m \\14.233.90.157

The only limitation is that the remote machine should have been last logged in with the same user account as the user from whose PC you are running this command.

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Kind of an odd way to do it, but I have a home-made watchdog timer.

My Linux server instructs a PLC to perform various automation tasks in my house, but unfortunately freezes from time to time. I set my Cron scheduler to send a command to the PLC to tell it that it's still alive. If the PLC doesn't get the keep-alive command within its preset time, it clicks a relay that I wired up to the reset pins on my server.

Done.

Quite expensive, but it could be done cheaper. Get yourself an on-delay timer, and set it to say, a few minutes. Have your computer apply power to it (via printer port, breakout board) to keep the delay at a high value. If there is no power from the printer port, and the timer elapses, it resets the system.

Done.

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Whats a "PLC"? Also, answers generally shouldn't have a "signature" or tagline. –  Heptite Apr 22 at 2:16
    
@Heptite You can always suggest an edit (i.e. improve grammar, remove signature, etc). If you don't have the rep, other users can vote yay or nay to your edits, but makes our jobs easier here. –  Canadian Luke Apr 22 at 2:30

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