Troubleshooting Windows Shutdown Problems

by [Published on 25 Jan. 2005 / Last Updated on 25 Jan. 2005]

One of the most common, but most overlooked problems with the Windows operating system are shut down problems. People tend to place a low priority of fixing Windows shutdown problems, but these problems can be symptoms of something more serious. In this article, I will explain how to diagnose a Windows shutdown issue.

Have you ever tried to shut down Windows, only to have the shutdown sequence hang, or to have the computer reboot instead of shutting down? Shut down problems are one of the most common types of problems with the Windows operating system. At the same time though, they are also one of the problems that is most seldom resolved because shut down problems tend to take a back seat to more serious issues. Troubleshooting operating system shut down problems is easier than you might think though. In this article, I will share some techniques with you that you can use to resolve shut down problems on machines in your office.

Before I Begin

Before I get started, I want to point out that the techniques in this article are intended for use primarily on Windows XP. You can probably get away with using most of these techniques on Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 systems as well, but these techniques will not work on Windows 95, 98, or ME. If you need to troubleshoot shut down problems on an older version of Windows then I recommend consulting the Microsoft Knowledge Base at http://support.microsoft.com

Rebooting Rather Than Shutting Down

By far the most common shut down problem is that the system will reboot rather than shutting down. In most cases, the reboot is triggered because Windows XP is designed to reboot after a critical failure. To put it simply, if something were to go wrong during the shut down sequence, Windows may interpret the problem as a crash, and reboot the system as a result.

If you just want to band-aid the problem, you can disable the restart on system failure setting. To do so, right click on My Computer and select the Properties command from the resulting shortcut menu. When you do, you will see the System Properties sheet. Click the Advanced tab and click the Settings button found in the Startup and Recovery section. Finally, deselect the Automatically Restart check box, shown in Figure A, and click OK.


Figure A: The Automatically Restart check box allows Windows to automatically reboot after a failure

The technique that I have just shown you will prevent the system from rebooting itself, but it still doesn’t get rid of the root cause of the problem. There are several known causes of Windows shutdown problems.

Roxio Easy CD Creator

One of the most common causes of Windows shut down problems is a bug in Roxio’s Easy CD Creator (particularly version 5). Roxio does have a patch available at http://www.roxio.com/en/support/ecdc/software_updatesv5_2.jhtml Keep in mind though that the patch has been known to disable Roxio’s Take Two backup software that came with Easy CD Creator 5 Platinum. You should also keep in mind that version 5 is an old version that Roxio no longer supports. The current version is Easy Media Creator 7. If you suspect that Easy CD Creator may be causing your problem, then I recommend upgrading to a newer version rather than patching an old version.

Wake On

Another common cause of system restarts is the Wake On setting. The Wake On setting allows a computer to be automatically booted if it receives LAN packets intended for it, or if the modem line rings. Typically, the Wake on LAN settings would be adjusted through your computer’s BIOS setting. If you have checked the BIOS though and the Wake On LAN setting is disabled,  it is possible that Windows might be responsible for waking the system up. To find out, open the Device Manager and locate your system’s network card. Right click on the card and select the Properties command from the resulting shortcut menu. When you do, you will see the network card’s properties sheet. Now, select the Power Management tab and verify that the Allow This Device To Bring The Computer Out Of Standby option is deselected, as shown in Figure B.


Figure B: Certain types of network traffic can wake a computer up

Hardware Issues

Another common cause of reboots during shutdown are minor hardware incompatibilities. Microsoft maintains a hardware compatibility list for Windows XP. Only hardware appearing on the list is guaranteed to be 100% compatible with Windows XP. Even so, most people don’t pay any attention to the hardware compatibility list. Most of the time, minor hardware issues go unnoticed, but they can manifest themselves in the form of reboots during shutdown.

Unfortunately, I can’t possibly tell you every piece of hardware out there that’s known to cauyse reboot problems. What I can tell you though is that pariphrial devices are especially notorious for causing the problems. This is especially true of high end keyboards and mice with lots of extra features, and of various USB devices. I have even heard of cases in which USB devices would cause the reboot problem if they were plugged directly into the system’s USB port, but the problem would go away if the devices were plugged into a USB hub instead.

Unfortunately there is no quick fix to minor hardware compatibility issues. If you think that your system’s hardware may be to blame then you will have to use trial and error to locate the offending device (or devices).

I recommend starting by unplugging any external devices. If you have a high end keyboard or mouse, then temporarily replace your keyboard and mouse with a generic set. Now boot the computer up and try to shut it down. If the system shuts down properly, then one of the devices that you disconnected was causing the problem. If the system does not shut down properly, then I recommend leaving those devices disconnected during the rest of the testing for the purpose of simplifying the system’s configuration.

The next thing that I recommend doing is to open the device manager and make note of the make and model of your system’s major hardware components. Specifically, you should pay attention to things like network cards, video cards, sound cards, and modems. After you have documented the make and model of each device, then turn off and unplug your computer. At this point, you should remove the computer’s case and verify that the hardware listed in the device manager is what’s actually in your system. Windows XP is notorious for misidentifying hardware devices. For example, I recently helped a friend install Windows onto a new computer. Windows identified his system as having a D-Link network card. When I couldn’t get the card to function, I removed the case and realized that his system actually had a Net Gear card instead.

After you have verified that the hardware listed in the device manager is what’s actually in your system, then I recommend putting your computer back together and going online. I recommend visiting each hardware manufacturer’s Web site and downloading the latest driver for the corresponding hardware device. Hardware manufacturers frequently revise drivers when bugs are discovered. While you are at it, try visiting the Web site for your system’s motherboard manufacturer. It could be that an updated BIOS is available.

Extremely Slow Shutdown

Probably the second most common shut down problem for Windows XP is that the shut down takes an excessive amount of time to complete. To understand why this happens, you must remember that the Windows operating system is not a single program, but rather a collection of individual services. Each of these services must be stopped during shut down. Therefore, a glitch related to any one of the services may prolong the shut down process or cause the shut down process to fail completely.

Many people have claimed that the Nvidia Driver Helper Service (used with Nvidia video cards) causes extremely slow shut downs. However, this is one of those cases in which an updated video driver usually solves the problem. Other people have mentioned that disabling the terminal services greatly expedites the shut down process. The Terminal Services are used for remote assistance, remote desktop, and fast user switching. If you do not use any of these features, then the Terminal Services can be safely disabled. You can access the services console by entering the SERVICES.MSC command at the Run prompt.

Another potential cause of slow system shut downs is that Windows contains an option to erase the system’s virtual memory and system hibernation cache at shut down. These security features are disabled by default because they take a long time to complete, and cause the system shutdown to look like it has frozen. Although these features are disabled by default, some privacy software will enable it.

To determine whether or not these features are enabled on your PC, enter the GPEDIT.MSC command at the Run prompt to load the Group Policy Editor. Now, navigate through the console tree to Computer Configuration | Windows Settings | Security Settings | Local Policies | Security Options. At this point, locate the Shutdown: Clear Virtual Memory Pagefile option in the column to the right and verify that it is disabled, as shown in Figure C. If this option is enabled, you can disable it by double clicking on the setting and choosing the Disabled option.


Figure C: Clearing the virtual memory file during shut down takes a lot of time.

Conclusion

In this article, I have explained that the two most common types of shut down problems are shut down reboots and shutdowns that take a long time to complete. I then went on to demonstrate various troubleshooting methods.

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