Computer Unresponsive? What to Do if Your Laptop Freezes
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There are many problems your computer can face. Your laptop can have trouble charging, the screen can stop showing a picture, or it could flat-out not turn on. But it feels like your computer only freezes when you’re right in the middle of the most important tasks, doesn’t it?
If your computer has slowed to a near-crawl—or become unresponsive entirely—there are a number of possible issues. Here’s how to recover from the problem, and prevent it from happening in the future.
1. Wait: 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.
Sometimes certain action can use up all the computer’s available RAM, and it takes a second for the machine to clear these tasks. As long as this isn’t a common occurrence, everything should be fine after a few minutes.
2. Check Your Peripherals
Are you sure the computer is really frozen? Make sure the connected peripherals are actually functioning properly. Something could have gotten disconnected or run out of batteries. This will give the illusion that your computer is freezing up, but the input isn’t going through as expected.
Investigate everything connected to your computer, making sure the mouse, keyboard, and trackpad are all working properly. You may even want to investigate the health of your USB ports if you think everything else is fine.
3. Kill the Offending Program
(Credit: Whitson Gordon / Microsoft)
If Windows doesn’t recover (or it starts freezing again after it recovers), hit Ctrl + Shift + Esc on your keyboard to open the Task Manager and see a list of running programs. If any of them are not responding, select them and click the End Task button.
Mac users can go to Launchpad > Other > Activity Monitor to view a similar menu. Click on a program and press the X button at the top of the window to close it. Another option is to hit Command + Option + Escape on the keyboard, select the program that isn’t working, and click Force Quit to close it.
If you’re dealing with an isolated incident, that should be all you need. Your OS should snap back to attention as soon as you’ve closed the program, and you can restart it to continue your work. If your computer always seems to freeze when that program is running, though, you may need to uninstall it and find an alternative. If the program is so intensive that it’s running out of resources, you may even need to upgrade your hardware.
4. Check Your Browser’s Task Manager
(Credit: PCMag / Google)
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 have to dig deeper.
In Chrome and Edge, press Shift + Esc to see the browser’s Task Manager. In Firefox, you can click the menu button and go to More Tools > 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 conflict with an extension—for example, I once had issues with the Grammarly extension freezing Google Docs all the time—so try disabling any browser extensions to see if that solves the problem. Hopefully, the developers will issue a fix, as Grammarly seems to have done.
5. Reboot and Try Again
If you can’t even open the Task Manager, 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. You can also 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.
6. Check the Reliability Monitor
(Credit: Whitson Gordon / Microsoft)
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 look up 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 reverting the computer back to a state before it was installed. You can do this by uninstalling a recent update or using a Restore Point in Windows.
While macOS doesn’t have a similar interface, you can view crash logs by opening your Mac’s hidden files. Do this by opening the Go menu in the top menu bar, then holding down the Option key. Click the hidden Library option that appears and open Logs > DiagnosticReports to see files connected to specific incident reports. If you can find an issue with a recently-installed program, you might be able to uninstall it or restore your Mac with a Time Machine backup.
7. Learn More About Your Blue Screen of Death
(Credit: Theerakit / Getty Images)
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 look up 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.
By default, macOS does not create similar dump files when a crash occurs. Developers have found a way to enable what the system calls “core dumps” in the Mac Terminal, but the process is complicated.
8. Reinstall Any Recent Drivers
Display Driver Uninstaller (Credit: The Guru of 3D)
While System Restore should be able to fix a lot of issues, I’ve found it isn’t always able to repair certain quirks that may be harder to pin down. 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.
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 old hardware you just replaced—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.
9. 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.
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10. Give Your Hard Drive a Checkup
A failing hard drive could cause hang-ups 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 the 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. If you have a Windows PC, you’ll want to replace that drive posthaste. You can’t replace the drive in modern Macs, so you’ll have to take it in for repair.
11. Watch for Overheating
Core Temp (Credit: Whitson Gordon)
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. Mac users can do something similar with Fanny.
The next time your computer freezes, you can take a quick glance at the program to see if heat might be your problem. If the temperature is 90 degrees Celsius/194 degrees Fahrenheit or above, it’s almost certain your computer is overheating.
Watch out for a loud fan, which could tell you the computer is overheating. Clean any dust out of the computer with a high-pressure duster. Make sure your fans are actually working—if any of them aren’t spinning, you may have a failed bearing and need to replace the fan.
12. Test Your RAM
(Credit: Whitson Gordon)
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. Windows users can open the Start menu and search “Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool.” It will 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.
Apple Diagnostics (Credit: Apple)
macOS has its own tool called Apple Diagnostics, which can test for internal hardware issues. How you run the test depends on if you have an Intel processor or Apple Silicon. Run the test, then use the references codes that appear to narrow down the issue.
Mac users can also open Launchpad > Other > Activity Monitor, then click the Memory tab to see how much memory is being used by each program. The Memory Pressure graph at the bottom of the window will show if your computer is using memory efficiently—green shows that it is, yellow warns that you might need more RAM, and red says you need more RAM.
Look up how much RAM you have, then do a search for your computer model to figure out what you need to buy and how to replace it. Unfortunately, many new lightweight laptops and all modern Macs have their RAM soldered onto the motherboard, which makes replacement impossible. In this case, you may have to buy a new computer altogether.
13. 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. They’ll likely replace it for free if your motherboard (or some other part) is indeed failing.
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, but at least you’ll be able to get work done again.
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