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What Firmware or Hardware Mechanisms Enable Forced Shutdowns?


By Akemi Iwaya on April 4th, 2017

At one time or another, all of us have had to force our computers to shut down by pushing and holding the power button down until they powered off. Is this mechanism hardware-based, firmware-based, or both? Today’s SuperUser Q&A post has the answer to a curious reader’s question.

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

The Question

SuperUser reader user4493605 wants to know what firmware or hardware mechanisms enable forced shutdowns:

Although I am not entirely certain about this, I am pretty sure that pushing and holding the power button down on all computers will force them to shut down after varying lengths of time. This is particularly useful if the computer freezes or some other error necessitates a total reboot.

What I am interested in is whether this forced shutdown mechanism is hardcoded into the computer’s underlying firmware or built into the computer on a hardware level. If the mechanism is firmware-based, then it is logical to assume that a CPU-level error would prevent this mechanism from properly triggering, which leads me to believe that this is a hardware function.

To summarise, is the universal forced shutdown mechanism built in at the hardware or firmware level? Can someone elaborate on the mechanism’s nature, variants, and general history.

What firmware or hardware mechanisms enable forced shutdowns?

The Answer

SuperUser contributor DavidPostill has the answer for us:

Is the universal forced shutdown mechanism built in at the hardware or firmware level?

Both the motherboard (hardware) and the BIOS (firmware) are involved in the process.

Source: How Does the Power Button Work?

Source: How Do These Modern Power Buttons on Devices Work? (Answer by Olin Lathrop)


Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion thread here.

Image Credit: Josh Swannack (Flickr)

Akemi Iwaya is a devoted Mozilla Firefox user who enjoys working with multiple browsers and occasionally dabbling with Linux. She also loves reading fantasy and sci-fi stories as well as playing “old school” role-playing games. You can visit her on Twitter and .


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