Computer Freezing: Steps to Fix It

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Most "freezes" are just software lockups, often limited to just one program, although they can cause the entire system seemingly to hang. The remainder are caused by hardware. Failing power supplies can cause all sorts of trouble, for example, including freezes. Memory is also a frequent culprit. Reseating the memory module fixes memory-related problems one-third of the time on desktop systems and one-quarter of the time on laptop systems, according to studies done by Microsoft.

Is the Whole System Freezing?

  • Press "Alt" and "F4." This may close the program without any further problems.

  • Press the "Alt" and "Tab" keys together to switch to another program. If you are unable to see any change when you press "Alt" and "Tab," then try to bring up the Task Manager by pressing the left "Control" key, the left "Shift" key and "Escape." If that key combination doesn't open the Task Manager, press "Ctrl," "Alt" and "Del," then press the down arrow on the keyboard four times to highlight "Start Task Manager." Press "Enter."

  • Determine the problem area. If your mouse cursor moves freely, then you have a locked up program and you need to find the process that's hogging the CPU. If the whole system seems jerky, and you can hear or see your hard drive being continuously active, then you are facing memory exhaustion.

  • Go to the "Processes" tab. Sort by CPU or Memory as determined. If your mouse is functional, click the headers to sort the appropriate column. Otherwise press "Tab" to move forward or "Shift" and "Tab" to move back through the controls until you get to the header. Then use the arrow keys to select the header you want to sort by and press "Enter."

  • Select the item at the top of the list, which should be the problem program. If your mouse doesn't work, use "Tab" or "Shift" and "Tab" to navigate to the list.

  • Click the "End Process" button, or press "Alt" and "E." Then click "End Process" in the confirmation box or press "Spacebar" on the keyboard. If none of this worked, your computer may be totally frozen due to a component problem.

Component Problems

  • Power down the computer and unplug it from the power source.

    For a desktop computer, open up the computer case, consulting your owner's manual as necessary, to locate and reseat the memory modules. Pull the retaining clip back from the memory module and pull the module upward out of its socket. Push the memory into the slot while pulling the retaining clips gently toward the memory until it is fully seated. To reseat it, make sure the notch is aligned with the memory slot.

    For laptops, locate your memory, which is usually found behind a labeled door on the underside. Unscrew the door. Pull the retaining clips back from the memory module and pull the module toward you to a 45-degree angle. Then pull the module straight out of its socket. Push the memory into the slot at a 45-degree angle. Rotate the module gently until the retaining clips are securely fastened, and the module is fully seated. To reseat it, make sure the notch is aligned with the memory slot.

  • Unscrew the retaining screw on the faceplate of the video memory card, if present in your desktop computer, and push the latch at the rear of the card toward the slot. Pull the card straight out, then push the card straight into the slot until the latch reengages. Screw the faceplate into the case. This does not apply to laptops.

  • Reseat any other add-in cards present in the desktop computer.

Overheating Problems

  • Check the temperature. If your computer supports temperature monitoring, use the vendor-supplied utility to check temperatures. Anything above 140 degrees Fahrenheit should be considered suspect.

  • Identify faulty fans. Any fans not moving under load with high heat showing should be immediately replaced in desktops. If your laptop has a faulty fan, you need to have it professionally serviced.

  • Add more cooling fans to your desktop computer. Fan width is measured in millimeters. Common sizes are 80, 92 and 120 millimeters. You need to purchase fans that fit into your computer case's fan mounts. If your computer came with a jumper diagram for the motherboard, locate the fan connectors, usually labeled "FAN1" to "FAN4." Determine if the fan connectors have three pins or four pins. Buy additional fans with the same number of pins as those already in your case have. If you can't determine the number of pins, get fans that include "Molex" adapters to connect to your power supply.

    Start by mounting fans into the front of the case, blowing toward the back. If the problem persists, add more fans to the rear of the case, blowing outward.

    Laptop users can purchase a cooling pad that comes with extra cooling fans and typically connects via USB.

  • Add a heat spreader to the memory modules in your desktop. This does not apply to laptop users. Open up the computer case, consulting your owner's manual as necessary, to locate the memory modules. Pull the retaining clip back from the memory module and pull the module upward out of its socket. If the heat spreader's manufacturer provided directions, follow them. Otherwise, remove the adhesive backing from one-half of the heat spreader. Apply the heat spreader to the memory module. Apply the other half of the heat spreader, ensuring that the screw holes or the clip slots are aligned. Screw or clip it together. Return the module to your computer case, as when reseating it in Section 2, Step 1.

Power Problems

  • Ensure your computer is plugged into a high-quality surge suppressor, not just a power strip.

  • Try the computer in different outlets around the house, especially those on another electrical circuit.

  • Plug the computer into an uninterruptible power supply, or UPS.

  • Connect your desktop's internal components to different power supply cables. The internal power supply has several power converters in it, so connecting your computer's internal components to different cables or cable bundles can spread the power load to help avoid under-voltage problems.

Tips & Warnings

  • Failures caused by mechanical or electrical problems inside the case often lead to random computer freezes and reboots. This class of problems is almost always caused by vibrations. If hitting your desk makes your computer lock up, this is probably the problem.
  • Modern CPUs have a thermal cut-off inside them that turns off the computer to prevent critical damage, but other components do not. Video cards, memory and the motherboard control chips, often called the north bridge, can all cause computer freezes. Signs are freezes that occur only when your computer is under high load or during heavy 3-D or video decoding.
  • Low voltage, unclean power, and overloaded circuits can all cause temporary, sporadic problems with your computer. Unclean power and overloaded circuits will seem random. Low voltage is usually be tied to specific actions like starting to play games or watch movies. With these problems, your power supply may not be functioning properly. You may need to replace the power supply.
  • Never open the computer's power supply. It presents a serious risk of personal injury due to high voltage.
  • Do not work inside a computer without protection from static electricity. Get an ESD wrist strap if possible and wear it while repairing your computer. If not, touch the unpainted metal of your case, usually on the rear, while performing the repair. Avoid wearing clothing that attracts static, such as wool, and stand up while working on the computer.
  • Wait one minute after turning off the power supply before unplugging the computer to give the capacitors time to drain.
  • Hold components by their edges and avoid touching the gold contacts.

References

  • Photo Credit Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
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