Computers can freeze for a number of reasons, making trouble-shooting a sometimes difficult and painstaking process. However, if you don’t eliminate the problem, freezing will likely be repeated. This article focuses mainly on computers running Microsoft® Windows® operating systems, as the problem arises most frequently on Windows computers. This doesn’t necessarily speak ill of Windows, but points to the fact that the majority of consumers use Windows and most malicious software is written to attack Windows operating systems.
However, it isn’t always software that causes computer freezes. Often it’s a hardware problem. This is easiest to diagnose when the computer was working fine until new hardware was added. Sometimes it’s a matter of simply installing the correct driver for the hardware, which might require surfing to the appropriate website to download a newer driver than the one that came packaged with the product. Faulty or incorrect drivers can cause computer freezes by trying to access computer resources that are already in use by the operating system.
Bad random access memory (RAM) modules can also cause freezes, though RAM usually doesn’t “go bad” once installed unless damaged by overheating. A damaged or badly fragmented hard drive can cause problems, including computer freezes, so hard drives should be regularly defragmented. Improperly adjusting BIOS clock settings for overclocking can also cause problems, including freezing.
Third party software, or software not written by Microsoft®, can cause computer freezes by conflicting with other programs or with the operating system itself. Sometimes a patch file is available from the third party website to fix the problem. Other times a little search on the Internet will reveal that a certain popular program doesn’t get along with another popular program, and one should be eliminated. Certainly there should only be one anti-virus program installed at any given time, but other times the offenders are less obvious.
Unfortunately, some programs do not uninstall correctly, leaving bits of themselves behind to wreak havoc even when you think you’ve gotten rid of it. Anti-virus and firewall programs have reputations for being tricky to uninstall, sometimes requiring one to hunt down individual files manually and delete them after going through the standard uninstall procedure using Windows’ built-in utility.
Finally, secretly installed malicious software like viruses, spyware, Trojans, rootkits and keyloggers can cause computers to freeze by interfering with the operating system’s normal processes. If this is the case you might have noticed the computer slowing in recent days or weeks. You might have also had other problems, like spontaneous reboots or the dreaded “blue screen of death (BSOD).” In any case, when the computer freezes and nothing has changed in terms of hardware or software, you might very well be looking at a problem caused by an infection. When you get past the freeze (options for this just ahead), run a full scan of your system at the first opportunity.
Sometimes when a computer freezes, neither the keyboard nor mouse is responsive and there is no way out but to do a hard reboot. This means cutting the power to the computer forcing a shutdown, waiting a moment, then powering it back up. It is very possible that unsaved data will be lost in this process, but there isn’t a way to engage a proper shutdown when the keyboard and mouse are both unresponsive. When Windows starts back up it might ask to inspect one or more drives for consistency — allow it to do this. Normally nothing is found amiss but Windows might perform a minor repair or two in the file system before serving up the desktop.
If you are a bit luckier when the computer freezes, the mouse will move but won’t be clickable. In this case the keyboard is normally responsive. Hold down Ctrl and Alt keys, then press the Del key to bring up the Task Manager. Use the Tab key to highlight the Applications tab, and press Enter. Here you will see a list of programs running. Look for the message, “this program not responding.” Use the arrow keys to navigate to the problematic program so that it is highlighted. Then use the Tab key again to jump to the bottom button labeled “End Task” and press Enter.
Closing the offending program should release the freeze and allow you to continue your work. However, if the same program keeps causing computer freezes check for an update or patch at the appropriate website. If no patches or updates are available, you might try re-installing the program, defragging your hard drive, or running a reputable registry optimizer to make sure there are not problems in the registry. You can also Google "[progam-name-here] +freeze" without the brackets and quotes, to see if others are having the same problem and how they solved it.