There is a little-known emergency restart option built into Windows, which is a last resort button before a cold restart. The emergency restart is a functionality that has been in Microsoft’s operating systems since Windows Vista, although it is not widely talked about. The feature is designed to help users get out of a situation where an application or a bit of software has frozen their machine, and a warm reboot is not going to do the job.

How the Emergency Restart Works

A warm reboot will aim to shut down programs before it tries to restart, but if one of those programs is irredeemably broken, then the PC may still freeze. The emergency restart, on the other hand, will immediately shut down the computer with no further warnings and then restart. Although the system needs to be functioning in some way, and not completely locked down, users need access to the CTRL + ALT + DEL menu for it to work. If the computer has hung entirely and not even the keyboard is responding, then it is probably time to reach for the power button and hold it down.

How to Access the Emergency Restart Button

Users can try the classic CTRL + ALT + DEL combo first and see if they get taken to the screen with the options for either Lock, Switch User, Sign Out, or Task Manager. Down in the bottom right corner of that screen, there are icons for the network and accessibility options, as well as a power icon. As standard, clicking the power icon gives users the normal Sleep, Shutdown, and Restart options, which basically require the system to be functional. However, by holding down the CTRL key and pressing the power button, another screen appears. This is the emergency restart screen, and it states bluntly: “Click OK to immediately restart. Any unsaved data will be lost. Use this only as a last resort.”

Other Windows Shortcuts

In addition to the emergency restart button, there are other Windows shortcuts that users can use to help with a bricked PC. These shortcuts include:

– Reset graphics driver – WIN + CTRL + SHIFT + B: If a user’s computer has frozen, and they think it could be a GPU issue, such as one of their monitors not responding, resetting the graphics driver can wake things up without the need for a restart.
– Screen grab – WIN + SHIFT + S: This shortcut is the simplest way to take a snapshot of just a portion of the screen and both automatically stick it into the clipboard, as well as save it to the Screenshots folder.
– Desktop grab – WIN + PRTSC: This shortcut grabs the entire desktop, puts the image into the clipboard, and saves it to the system, which is useful if the user only has one monitor. However, on a dual-screen setup, it captures everything, which may be less handy.
– Emojis panel – WIN + . or WIN + ;: The Emojis window is not just for sticking thinking faces or thumbs up into emails; it is also a good method of getting hold of awkward symbols that might otherwise be hidden, such as currency or mathematical symbols or Latin symbols.
– Lock your PC – WIN + L: If a user is stepping away from their PC for a moment and wants to make sure they are not the target of any computer-based pranks, locking the system before they head off to make a cup of tea or go to the bathroom is a good shout.
– Switch language and keyboard layout – WIN + SPACE: This shortcut is handy for someone who works across different locales and slightly different languages. Being able to instantly flip between keyboard layouts makes it easier to access specific symbols that might not be available on other layouts.

Windows’ emergency restart button is a useful little tool to add to the Windows shortcut arsenal and gives users another method of getting their system back up and running after Microsoft’s operating system does what it does and falls over.


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