With modern technology, laptops are great when they work, but useless when they don’t. The frustration of a frozen laptop is one of those headache-inducing, pulling-out-your- hair sort of things that we come to deal with from time to time.
But what causes a laptop to freeze and what do you do when it happens? More importantly, what steps can be taken to prevent freezing in the future?
WHAT CAUSES THE COMMON FREEZE?
There could be a number of reasons why your laptop would freeze, however, there are three that are most common, and account for the huge majority of freezes. Many of these are the easiest for the average user to address.
- Physical—laptops will often freeze when overheated. Whether it’s dust built up in the chassis and vents or a blanket preventing airflow.
- Memory – A laptop’s RAM is like the working memory of the brain, used to hold data short term. Run out of RAM and you’ll find yourself running into issues, including slow performance, stuttering during processor-intensive tasks and even full blown lockups and blue screens.
- Software – This is a big umbrella that encompasses everything from BIOS changes to software bugs to malware and viruses.
Whatever the root cause may be, when you’re staring down at a frozen laptop, the initial steps to take are the same. First, try to dose the offending program. If only one program is having issues, closing it will often temporarily solve the problem. Usually closing the program is more difficult than just clicking the X in the corner.
If a program is not responding, use the Task Manager to end the program. You probably already know that you can access this by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Del but for a quicker route, you can also use Ctrl+Shift+Esc.
In some cases you won’t be able to that, so it’s time for a hard reset. On most laptops, you can do this by pressing and holding the power button for a few seconds longer than usual—just hold the button until the device powers off. If this does not work, then you have no choice but to do it the hard way—by disconnecting the AC connection and removing the battery.
Check the temperature of the laptop. A touch test is usually sufficient. Feel the laptop chassis but be careful, because it may be hot to the touch or even hot enough to burn. Hotspots are common around the vents and hinge and on the underside of the system. Also do a visual inspection of the vents. If there is anything obstructing airflow, the heat build-up may be causing the problem.
Heat problems can often be addressed simply by cleaning out any dust with a can of compressed air and keeping the vents unobstructed. In other instances, however, you may have a bigger problem, such as a broken cooling fan or a heat sink that needs re-seating.
To deal with memory problems, start by finding out where memory is being used. In the task manager, click the Processes tab. You’ll then see a list of all the various processes running on the machine at any given moment. Without opening any programs, take a look at the percentage of physical memory being used. If a large percentage is already in use with no programs running, you’ve likely found your problem. If your physical memory is mostly free, try opening the last program used and then open one program at a time to see if any of your frequently used apps are hogging all the memory.
You can also run a memory test using the Windows Memory Diagnostics Tool, found by opening the Start Menu and searching ‘memory! Run the diagnostic, which will involve an automatic reboot.
If your memory is mostly full, you’ll want to free up some space. While freeing up RAM could easily be its own series of articles, the essence of it is this: unnecessary files, programs and background processes will eat up your available RAM, leaving you prone to slowdowns and freezes. To fix this, shift files to the hard drive, uninstall programs that aren’t needed or used and turn off any programs running in the background. To prevent future problems, make the most of your memory by cleaning up and defragging your hard drive and consider upgrading with more RAM.
The problem may be with software, be it a malicious program, a buggy software update or corrupted driver. For example, if there is an issue that exists with your video drivers a computer could lock up while using a particular program or displaying any other video. First make sure no errors exist in the Windows Device Manager. This can be done by opening the Device Manager and verifying that no Other Devices are listed and no device has any exclamation mark or red X. Next, make sure you have the latest drivers for all major devices in your computer (video, sound, modem, and network).
You can also revert your PC to a previous state using System Restore, also found in the System Tools folder. If you can pinpoint the date that your performance issues began, you can simply roll back your system to a prior date.
Once you’ve reverted to a more stable version of your system, head off future problems by updating your drivers and running a virus scan.
If these simple steps aren’t enough to alleviate your frozen laptop, you have two options. You can diagnose a lot of problems just by knowing the symptoms and the make and model of your laptop. Don’t hesitate to contact the manufacturer’s tech support, either. Many problems will pop up due to system specific issues, such as a known software bug or flawed component and they will be able to not only help you determine what the problem is, they will also be equipped to help you fix it (assuming of course that the laptop is still under warranty).
The second option is to approach a local repair shop or technician. There are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of potential freeze-including problems that can arise in one laptop and a bit of knowledge will go a long way toward figuring out what that problem is and how to fix it