How to make Windows 8.1 shutdown faster

There are a few ways to grab Windows 8.1 by the shoulders and literally force it to turn off faster.  Technically, yanking the power plug is the fastest way to “shutdown” your computer but I don’t recommend it because you’ll lose unsaved documents and possibly corrupt files on the hard disk.

Forcibly cutting your PC power was actually a bigger issue with traditional hard drives because of the way these hard drives work.

How hard drives work

Inside a traditional hard drive are a series of platters divided into billions of tiny sections.  If you’ve ever cracked open a hard drive you know what I mean; the platters look like glossy thick CDs.

Image credit Jeff Kubina via Flickr

When your computer is running, the platters spin at a super fast speed (usually 3,600 or 7,200 revolutions per minute) and a mechanical arm with a read/write head darts over each platter at an equally fast velocity (up to 50 times per second).

The read/write head is basically a tiny magnet that stores and retrieves information on the platters.  Image credit Jeff Kubina via Flickr

If a platter section is magnetized it represents a 1 and if it’s demagnetized it represents a 0.  This is how we can get zeros and ones (binary) and then translate that into useful information.

For example, you could set a standard so that the letter A is represented by 01100001.  Every computer that subscribes to this standard will know that 01100001 is an A.

So here’s the deal, when you yank the power to a legacy spinning disk, the read/write head literally crashes into the platter.  Under normal operation, there is a infinitesimal gap between the head and the platter.  This gap is colloquially known as the flying height is usually about 3 nanometers.  A nanometer is tough thing to envision because it’s so small.  But think about it like this: something as tiny as a smoke particle could block the head and cause data corruption.

Cutting the power abruptly removes the cushion of air the head floats on.  When the head crashes into the platter it corrupts data because it bounces off the platter damaging the magnetic material and randomly magnetizing different sections of the disk.

Today “head crash” isn’t much of an issue because even during sudden power loss the platter is still spinning under its own inertia.  Also, many modern hard drives will “self-park” the heads away from the platters during a power failure to prevent a crash.

If you’re using a solid state drive (SSD) you might think you’re immune to drive crashes.  On the one hand, you are because there are no moving parts in a SSD  but this doesn’t mean you can abruptly pull the plug.  Unceremoniously dropping the power to a SSD can still cause data corruption and errors.  In some cases the drive can be rendered completely unusable (called “bricking” the device because it’s only as a good as brick).  The reasons for this are way outside the scope of this post, but you can read a 14 page whitepaper related to this subject on the advanced computing systems association’s website.

Shutting down the old fashioned way

Here’s a tip: most people don’t realize that you can safely shutdown a Windows 8.1 computer by pressing and holding the power button.

I know that sounds silly, but think about all the ways you can power down your Windows 8.1 PC:

  • Pressing Windows Key + xuu
  • Clicking the Power icon on the Start Screen
  • Clicking an empty area of the desktop and pressing Alt + F4 to bring up the shutdown box.

By the way, if you’re still trying to shutdown in Windows 8, please do yourself a favor and upgrade to Windows 8.1.

Some people think you have to click a shutdown button to safely turn off your computer.  It’s a myth.  In fact, you can specifically configure what happens when you press the power button.

Mash the Windows logo key and type:

change what the power buttons do

Change what the power buttons do

Then change the power button setting.

You’ll see the System Settings box with your power options.

Windows 8.1 System Settings

By default, Windows 8.1 should be configured to start up and shutdown fast (you can confirm Fast Startup\Shutdown is enabled by scrolling down the System Settings box) but if it’s still not shutting down to your standards you can do a few things:

The fastest way to shutdown your computer, without pulling the plug, is to press the Windows Key + r and type:

shutdown /s /t 0

shutdown.exe /s /t 0

This will immediately shutdown your PC so make sure you’ve saved all your stuff before pulling this bed red switch.

Speaking of big red switch, we can turn this command into a shortcut and pin it to the taskbar.

That way when we want to force Windows to shutdown we can click the red switch.

Right click the desktop and go to New and choose Shortcut.

Enter this:

C:\Windows\System32\shutdown.exe /s /t 0

Create shutdown shortcut

The “/s” thing tells Windows to shutdown and the “/t” says wait 0 seconds in time to do it.  In other words, do it now!

Click Next and name the shortcut something cool like “Power Shutdown”.

Make it look good

Now go to http://www.iconarchive.com, find a fun power off icon and download the .ICO image to your computer.

Icon archive icons

Now right click the shortcut you created earlier.

In the Properties screen you’ll see a Change Icon… button.

Click and browse to your ICO and click OK to exit all the windows.

Now just drag it to your taskbar.  Whenever you need to shutdown in a pinch, click your beautiful power button and you’ll be off in no time!

Hacking up the registry

You can also make your computer shutdown faster by editing the registry and telling it to automatically end tasks.  In other words, you shouldn’t see the “End Task” button for unresponsive applications on shutdown anymore.

Remember if you change this value, you’re going to need to be extra cautious when you shutdown because Windows won’t give you a chance to tidy up your work before shutting down.

Open the Registry by pressing the Windows Key + r and typing:

regedit

The first thing we want to do is backup the registry.

Now click the folders (technically called “keys”) in the left pane until you get here:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop

Next, in the right pane, right click an empty part of the window and choose New.  We want to select String value from the menu.

New string value in Registry

Select the new string and name it “AutoEndTasks” then double click it to set the value to 1.

Adding AutoEndTasks to registry

Click OK and you’re done.

Incidentally, if you Google around for speeding up your shutdown time you might see tutorials about editing a registry key called WaitToKillServiceTimeout.

I strongly discourage messing with this value.  Windows already optimizes it to the recommended value of 5000.  If you change it to anything less than that you’ll probably run into stability issues.

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