Sometimes, when the screen freezes up or something crashes, the only possible solution is a hard reset (holding your power button until your PC shuts down). But I always cringe when I do it. It feels like putting down my loyal and innocent dog. So my question: Can this really cause problems, if done too often? Thanks and greetings from Germany. —Christoph
Hallo, Christoph! My advice is not only to hit the power button, but to laugh as you do it and shout "I am the lord of electricity" at your PC. It needs to know you're in charge or it won't respect you.
I guess that latter stuff is optional, but my point is not to worry too much. You don't want to make a habit of hard shutdowns, but if your PC locks up (which is your bigger problem), what other option do you have? Sometimes it's the only way, and it's very unlikely to damage your hardware.
All the reading I've done on the topic suggests that the worst thing that may happen is that you'll mash the power button while Windows is busy writing delicate data, which can corrupt the OS and require you to repair or reinstall Windows. If you habitually bypass Windows' shutdown routine while programs are busy tinkering with the registry, it wouldn't be a surprising result, but it sounds like hard resets are a last resort for you. With the amount I mess around with PCs, reinstalling Windows has become fairly commonplace for me, though I'm sure you want to avoid it.
As for hardware damage, I wouldn't worry. A few sources say that hard shutdowns will cause the hard drive's read-write head to stop on or crash into the platter, potentially causing irreversible damage. I don't know what kind of ancient PCs they're using, but modern hard drives automatically park the head after a power loss. From Scott Mueller's Upgrading and Repairing PCs 16th Edition: "On a drive with a voice coil actuator, you activate the parking mechanism by turning off the computer; you do not need to run a program to park or retract the heads, as was necessary with early hard disk designs. In the event of a power outage, the heads park themselves automatically."
The only way I've destroyed a hard disk is by dropping the thing. I am very clumsy. Don't be like me. And much more dangerous than power loss are power fluctuations, which can occur during a blackout or electrical storm or for other reasons, so be sure you're using a good surge protector. And also, try to figure out why your PC is freezing in the first place. It could be an existing hardware problem.