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Is your PC acting a little strange? Try a hard reset.

Life has gotten busy and I haven’t been able to write much! Things have yet to settle down, but I thought I’d splurge on some time to write about PC hard resets.

It is a simple but quirky little troubleshooting step that came in handy multiple times for me in the past few years, mainly to resuscitate a malfunctioning USB C port (i.e. not working) on my ageing ASUS gaming laptop, and to remove a pesky startup warning from a backup Dell PC I purchased from a second hand website.

What is a hard reset?

As of the writing of this blog post, if you look for “hard reset” on Google, the top search results would tell you to format and reboot OR to factory reset your device. Reformatting / factory resetting is very time consuming, and it is generally used as a last resort to (hopefully) restore a malfunctioning computer or mobile device.

It is also NOT what we are looking for. Just another testament to the ever declining quality of Google’s search capabilities.

If you scroll further down the search results, however, you will begin to see articles from computer manufacturers like Dell and HP, with very specific instructions to:

  1. Turn off your computer.
  2. Unplug the power supply or AC adapter from the computer and remove all external peripherals (e.g. USB drives, printers, scanners, webcams, microSD cards, etc). You might also need to remove the battery if the computer is a laptop, although this may vary between different brands and models.
  3. Press and hold the computer’s power button for an extended amount of time, typically between 15 to 40 seconds.
  4. Reconnect the power supply or AC adapter (and battery if it has been removed) and turn on the computer.

This is known as a hard reset, power reset, or Embedded Controller reset (EC reset) depending on where you look.

What does a hard reset do exactly?

To be honest, I don’t quite understand it myself.

However, I do know that long pressing the power button when a device is ON will eventually cut off power and thereby forcing it to shut down, even when the software interface is frozen solid. So we can assume that long pressing the power button when a device is OFF will do something of a similar vein.

From what I can gather online (mainly from Dell’s article), certain electronic components in a computer’s circuitry (e.g. capacitors) can retain residual or static electricity (also referred to as “flea power” by Dell), which can prevent other, more sensitive components from working correctly.

Apparently, long pressing the power button with everything unplugged will help drain off residual power lurking in the circuits, allowing for a clean restart for all components.

Asus’ article on EC reset also explains that the Embedded Controller (EC) is a chip on the motherboard that controls various hardware components and power management functions of the system. Executing an EC reset or hard reset can help restore the hardware in your device to its default state.

And old instructional video from HP also claims that a hard reset “clears the memory and reestablishes the software connections between the BIOS and the hardware, which might restore functionality”.

When should you perform a hard reset?

Hard resets are fairly straightforward to perform, and can be attempted when your computer has a certain malfunctioning component (e.g. a USB C port or an unresponsive laptop touchpad), but everything else appears to be working fine.

In my case, I have observed that

  • the single USB C port on my ASUS gaming laptop (ROG Zephyrus G15, G512LU-AL022T) will stop working when I plug my phone into the port before starting up the laptop. Simply rebooting the laptop does not help, but an EC reset will get the port back up and running in a few minutes.
  • my Dell backup computer (Optiplex 7090 Ultra) will sometimes fail to recognize its own original 90W Dell charger, and proceed to show me a warning on startup that says “Alert! A 0 W AC Power Adapter has been detected”. The computer will still boot up just fine after selecting the option to continue, but the pesky warning will reappear every time the computer restarts until I performed a hard reset.

Asus’ article mentions that hard resets may help resolve hardware or power-related issues, such as battery, keyboard, touchpad, or system startup problems.

HP’s old video also states that hard resets may help when

  • Windows stops responding
  • the display suddenly goes blank and stays blank
  • the computer does not return from sleep or suspend mode
  • the software freezes

Though I have my doubts with HP’s claims.

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