What To Do If Your Laptop Freezes
If your computer has slowed to a near-crawl or become unresponsive entirely, here’s how to see if it’s an easy fix or something that needs more attention.
It feels like your computer only freezes in the middle of the most important tasks, doesn’t it? If your computer has slowed to a near-crawl—or become unresponsive entirely—here’s how to recover from the problem, and prevent it from happening in the future.
Give It a Minute to Catch Up
If you’re performing a particularly CPU-intensive task, sometimes things will hang for a moment, making you think your laptop is permanently frozen even if it’s not. If it seems like your computer has completely locked up, give it a few minutes to catch up and finish what it’s doing.
You’d be surprised how many times this actually works, especially if it’s a random occurrence (and not a chronic problem). Similarly, make sure your mouse is working properly-it could be that your mouse just got disconnected or ran out of batteries, which can give the illusion of your computer freezing.
Kill the Offending Program
If Windows doesn’t recover (or it starts freezing again after it recovers), it’s time to break out old faithful: Ctrl + Alt + Delete. Strike this combo on your keyboard and choose the Task Manager option from the resulting screen to see a list of running programs.
If any of them are not responding, select them and click the End Task button. If you’re dealing with an isolated incident, that should be all you need. Windows should snap back to attention as soon as you’ve closed the program, and you can restart the program to continue your work.
If your PC always seems to freeze when that program is running, though, you may need to uninstall it and find an alternative. You may even need to upgrade your hardware, if the program is so intensive that it’s running out of resources.
Check Your Browser’s Task Manager
Sometimes, your computer is running fine, but your browser gets stuck on a certain page. And when so much of what we do on computers is confined to the browser, this feels like your whole computer is freezing, when it might just be the page you’re on. In those scenarios, Windows’ task manager might tell you your browser isn’t responding, but if you want more info on why, you might have to dig deeper.
In Chrome, press Shift+Esc to see Chrome’s own task manager. In Firefox, you can click the menu button and go to More > Task Manager. This will show you the different processes running within your browser, potentially giving you some information on what page or extension might be frozen, or using lots of CPU and memory.
You may also have a run-of-the-mill conflict with an extension—for example, I recently had issues with the Grammarly extension freezing Google Docs all the time-so try disabling some browser extensions to see if that solves the problem. Hopefully, the developers will issue a fix, as Grammarly seems to have done.
Reboot and Try Again
If Ctrl + Alt + Delete doesn’t work, then your computer is truly locked up, and the only way to get it moving again is a hard reset. Press and hold down on the power button until your computer turns off, then press the power button again to boot back up from scratch.
If you were working on something important when the freeze happened, you may be able to recover it, depending on the program and how it handles unsaved documents. For example, Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint auto-save backups as you work, and you can often recover them the next time you open the program.
Or navigate to File > Info > Manage Document(s) > Recover Unsaved Document. It won’t necessarily work every time, but it’s worth a shot—do some digging on whatever program crashed to see if it has a similar feature. If it doesn’t, you might be unfortunately stuck doing some of that work over again.
Check the Reliability Monitor
If you still can’t pinpoint the cause of your lockups, you’ll have to do some extra troubleshooting. In these situations, I recommend checking Windows’ Reliability Monitor—it’s a lesser-known error-reporting tool buried in Windows’ settings. Open the Start menu, search for “reliability,” and click the “View reliability history” option that appears.
You’ll see a graph of your PC’s reliability over time, with crash logs and other issues alongside updates and newly installed applications. If you can find an error listed around the same time as your freezing problem began, Reliability Monitor will give you the option to view technical details or check Microsoft’s database for a solution to the problem. These details may have some error codes you can Google for more information. Microsoft’s database, meanwhile, rarely ever works, but it’s something to try.
If those don’t help, you might also use the graph to find out what applications or updates were installed before the freezing started happening. If a new program or update looks to be the cause, try using System Restore to revert your computer to a state before it was installed.
Learn More About Your Blue Screen of Death
If your computer’s freezing is eventually followed by a crash and the sad-face Blue Screen of Death, you may be able to find more information about the cause of your problems. The QR code and “Stop Code” on the blue screen are decent starting points for your research, but they rarely tell you everything.
That’s why I recommend also checking BlueScreenView, a free tool that reads the “dump file” your computer creates during a crash and presents it in a slightly more user-friendly way. (Download links are at the bottom of that page; they’re a bit tough to find). It’s still fairly technical, but you can scroll horizontally to see what driver or device caused the crash, as well as other codes you can Google to try and find the culprit.
The makers of BlueScreenView have a number of other freeze- and crash-diagnosing tools as well, like WhatIsHang and AppCrashView, which might be worth trying. Again, System Restore may be helpful here in attempting to solve the problem.
Reinstall Any Recent Drivers
While System Restore should be able to fix a lot of issues, I’ve found it isn’t always able to repair certain harder-to-pin-down quirks. For example, my computer recently started freezing constantly after I upgraded my graphics card. It turned out it was likely due to some leftover components from the old driver that were conflicting, and running Display Driver Uninstaller (DDU) in safe mode was enough to clean up the problem.
If you installed any new hardware recently, try uninstalling its drivers—or uninstalling the drivers from the hardware that preceded it—and see if you can’t fix the problem. DDU in particular is a great tool for graphics and audio drivers that are interfering with each other.
Do a Malware Scan
As with all computer glitches, it never hurts to do a malware scan and see if something nefarious is causing your problems, especially if you haven’t done so in a while. Grab a free scanner like Malwarebytes, let it comb through your hard drive, and see if anything pops up. If you run into trouble, check out our guide to ridding your computer of malware.
Give Your Hard Drive a Checkup
A failing hard drive could cause hangups and other similar issues, so while you’re running scans, check your hard drive’s health, too. You can do this by running wmic diskdrive get model,status in a Command Prompt, but for more detailed health information, I recommend running CrystalDiskInfo for Windows (free) or DriveDx for macOS ($20 with a free trial). If that tool shows your drive as anything other than “OK,” it could be the cause of your problems, and you’ll want to replace that drive posthaste.
Watch for Overheating
Excess heat can often cause your computer to (ironically-freeze) so if you see this problem pop up again and again, maybe your cooling is to blame. Install a temperature monitor like Core Temp, configure its options to show temperature in the Notification Area, and drag that icon out of the pop-up tray and onto the taskbar so it’s always visible.
The next time your computer freezes, you can take a quick glance at the Core Temp icon to see if heat might be your problem. If the temperature is 90 degrees Celsius or above, it’s almost certain your computer is overheating.
Clean any dust out of the computer with a high-pressure duster and check the fans—if any of them aren’t spinning, you may have a failed bearing and need to replace the fan.
Test Your RAM
Bad memory can also be a culprit of locked-up machines, so if you suspect you might have a failing RAM stick, it’s time to run some tests. Pop open the Start menu and search for the Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool; it’ll reboot your computer and test your memory, notifying you if it finds any issues. You might also try Memtest86+, an open-source boot disk that performs more thorough testing.
If all the tests come out okay, it may just be that you don’t have enough RAM. Press Ctrl + Shift + Esc to bring up the Task Manager the next time you experience problems, and click the Performance Tab. If your memory is maxed out, it may be time to upgrade.
Google your model of laptop to figure out what kind of RAM you need to buy, and how to replace it. (If your RAM is soldered onto the motherboard—as is the case with many new thin and light laptops—you may have to buy a new laptop altogether.)
If All Else Fails, Call in the Pros
If nothing else seems to solve the problem, you may have a hardware problem not so easily fixed on your own. If your laptop is still under warranty, contact the manufacturer for service. If your motherboard (or some other part) is indeed failing, they’ll likely replace it for free.
If your warranty has long expired, find a good repair shop in your area and see if they can diagnose the problem further. You may have to pay for that repair, or—if it’s too costly—replace the laptop entirely. It’s a bummer on the wallet, but at least you’ll be able to get work done again.
Originally published at https://www.pcmag.com.