The first thing I’d say when encountering a frozen computer is, don’t panic! It happens more often than people think. We will show you the steps to take after it happens so you can rest assured that you have taken the best actions.
To fix a frozen computer, follow these steps to get to the bottom of the problem:
- Check to see precisely how frozen it is.
- If the operating system is responsive, back up your files.
- Shut it down.
- Feel for overheating components (once turned off).
- Clean the RAM contacts.
- Test for overheating components.
- Run health checks on your drives.
- Reset the BIOS and remove overclocking.
- Make sure the latest drivers are installed for your hardware.
- Run antivirus scans.
- If all fails, begin to isolate the faulty hardware component.
I will review everything you need to inspect to solve freezing problems for your desktop or laptop computer.
Tip: When trying to establish the cause of the freezing, removing all extra peripherals connected to your computer is highly advised.
What causes a frozen computer?
The causes for a computer that has frozen can be divided into two main groups. Either it was caused by a software problem or by faulty hardware.
Possible software-related causes:
- A software program or app that is outdated or buggy.
- Corrupted operating system files.
- Incompatible or outdated device drivers.
- A virus or other malware.
- A Windows update that has gone wrong.
Possible hardware-related causes:
- Overheating: Overheating can be caused by insufficient airflow through the system unit or from an individual component.
- A bad power supply unit: When a power supply becomes old and delivers unstable power, it can cause freezing.
Check to see if the computer is responsive
Sometimes a computer appears frozen, but the operating system is still running fine.
This sometimes happens with software or apps that have bugs or are outdated, which causes freezing.
A quick and easy way to check is by pressing Ctrl + Alt + Del on your keyboard and seeing if the Task Manager opens up.
Another way is to press and hold the Alt key and tap the Tab key on your keyboard.
Either way, it will allow you to close the frozen application and update it to fix any problems, hopefully.
If an update doesn’t fix the program, it will be best to find a better-quality alternative to do the same thing.
If you don’t have a response from the computer, move on to the Shut it down step further down the article and continue with the troubleshooting information provided here.
Backup your files where possible
If you are fortunate enough to close a frozen program and find the operating system is still running fine, it might pay to back up everything you need from the computer just in case.
If the computer wasn’t responsive, get your files backed up as quickly as possible the next time the computer is running.
After the backing up is complete, move on to cleaning the RAM step further down in this article.
Shut it down
If your computer isn’t responsive and is completely frozen, shut it down by pressing and holding the power button on the laptop or desktop computer until it powers off.
This will be the only way to get a laptop to turn off at this stage.
If holding down the power button doesn’t work for a desktop computer, you can turn it off at the wall.
Feel for any hot components
Now that the computer is turned off unplug it from the mains power.
For a desktop computer, open the case lid and feel around all the components for something that’s out of the ordinary hot.
Be careful not to hold your finger on one spot too long in case the surface is very hot. An infrared thermometer is the safest; everything should be under 95°F (35°C) after about one minute of rest.
If you feel a very hot component, it’s most likely getting too hot, and you should look at a way to improve cooling by either replacing the thermal paste or upgrading its cooler.
For a laptop, feel around the whole area of the keyboard and the underside of it.
If either the keyboard or the underside of the laptop feels hot, it will be best to get it looked at by a professional so they can open the machine up, remove dust build-up, and apply some new thermal paste for you.
Once thermal paste reaches two to three in age, it is best to get some new compound applied.
It would be best if you didn’t use the laptop until you have it looked at.
Clean the RAM contacts
I see this often when it comes to computers freezing or randomly restarting. The same holds for laptops and desktop computers.
After removing the RAM modules, carefully run a good-quality eraser over the edge connector contacts on both sides of the RAM modules.
Continue to do this until their’s no more blackened deposits left on the eraser from the contacts.
After that, remove any rubber filings with a lint-free cloth. Repeat this process on several areas of clean cloth until all rubber deposits are gone.
Take some compressed air, and blow any fine dust or stray particles from the eraser anywhere on the RAM modules to ensure it is properly clean before plugging them back into the motherboard.
You can apply the same process to the SSD edge connector contacts and all expansion cards, like graphics cards.
Please read how to clean RAM contacts for more information.
Make sure the hardware isn’t overheating
Once all that has been taken care of, you want to start the computer and install some software to monitor the temperatures of your computer’s vital components.
Use a program like Core Temp, which is a free software program to help you keep an eye on the temperatures of all your key components.
Keep it running while you use your computer as you normally would before freezing, and see which internal component rises to a high temperature.
You can also use a stress test application like Prime95 to subject a good load onto your CPU or GPU to check the temperatures with Core Temp under a heavy workload.
If something is getting too hot, this testing method will reveal issues quickly.
Please refer to my article on how to check if a CPU is working properly as a thorough guide to testing a CPU.
Run health checks on your drives
Download and install the free CrystalDiskInfo to examine the status of all your drives. Look out for any drives that aren’t green and pass all the tests.
If you have a drive that gives anything but a Good result, you will need to back that drive up and replace it as soon as possible.
You cannot trust it with your valuable data and to run your computer reliably in the future.
It is only a matter of some time, and it will fail completely.
If a drive is reported to have an abnormally high temperature, it could mean that you have insufficient cooling inside your computer case, or the drive is old and is starting to produce too much heat.
Reset the BIOS and remove any overclocking
To eliminate any poorly configured settings in the BIOS, resetting all the settings back to default is recommended.
Caution: If you aren’t confident that you can do this yourself, rather get your computer looked at by a professional.
Before doing this, take note of your drive settings related to RAID, AHCI, or boot drive priority.
You can reset the BIOS in two ways:
- Shut down the computer, unplug it, and remove the BIOS battery for a few minutes. This is a great time to replace it if it’s over two years old. Just make sure that the new one reads 3 Volts or better using a multimeter. I have found far too many new batteries reading 2.8 Volts or less straight out of the pack.
- Enter your BIOS and select the reset back to factory defaults option or something similarly worded from the options listed with the F keys. Quite often, it will be F9.
After resetting the BIOS back to the default settings, restore your drive settings back to the way they were so you can ensure that your computer boots up again from the proper drive.
Once you have successfully booted back into the operating system, ensure that you don’t have any software overclocking tools running.
It will be best to reset all the clock settings back to default in these types of applications.
Download and install manufacturer device drivers
We have discussed updating the hardware drivers from the Device Manager in past articles.
But it’s a good idea to find out the make and model of all the hardware inside your computer and visit the specific manufacturer’s website and find the model you have in their support area.
Once you have found it, download the drivers for as many of the hardware components as you can find for it and install each one.
This way, you can ensure that you have the latest set of drivers straight from the company that makes your computer’s hardware.
Here are some of the important ones to go and find:
- Motherboard drivers: The latest chipset, network, IO controller, and audio drivers.
- Graphics drivers: If you are using a graphics card inside your desktop computer, find the latest driver for it and install it. Otherwise, find the relevant GPU drivers for your machine, whether it might be an APU or integrated graphics.
- Other cards: If you have other expansion cards installed in your system, finding out their model number of them and getting the latest driver for them would be beneficial.
Recommended System Optimizing Utility
This is the software that I always install on my personal machines. It keeps your system clean and all your software and drivers up to date.
Run an antivirus scan
When I talk about running an antivirus scan, I’m not only referring to the scheduled scan that antivirus programs do for you from time to time.
In addition to a regular scan with a good free antivirus like Avast, for example, a boot time scan that delivers a better quality scan without the intrusions of a virus during a scan is a good idea.
Additionally, an antimalware scan is also a good idea. Download and install a program like Malwarebytes and perform a scan.
You can remove the program afterward to avoid unnecessary software using resources on your computer that you don’t need.
BitDefender Antivirus Plus
If you are looking for a good antivirus program, I recommend BitDefender Antivirus Plus. I like it for the wide array of security features and the effectiveness of the antivirus.
Find the hardware component causing freezing
If all your attempts have failed, it would likely be a scenario whereby a hardware component is faulty and is causing the problem.
If you aren’t a hands-on tech kind of person (or don’t have access to spare parts), it is best to take your computer to a store and get them to fix the problem for you.
Otherwise, you could start diagnosing the hardware problem yourself by replacing components one at a time and testing the results.
Before you begin, try and use the onboard GPU instead of a graphics card if possible to eliminate the possibility of a faulty graphics card right out the gate.
Next, start with the PSU. The power supply is responsible for delivering reliable power to the parts inside your machine.
When it becomes unstable, you can expect a bad result for a computer in terms of stability, and freezing is a real possibility.
The same holds true for external laptop power supplies. Owning a spare power supply is handy and a good test component for times like these.
If a replacement power supply doesn’t trick, try swapping out the graphics card.
Just make sure that the graphics card fans are running at higher speeds as load is increased, before condemning the card.
If the graphics card didn’t solve the issue, the problem would probably be caused by faulty RAM or motherboard. The CPU would be last on my list to test unless it has experienced bad overheating at some stage in its life.
Once again, you will have to test each component to determine which of the two is the culprit.
And that’s how you handle a frozen computer. Shutting it down and getting as much of your important data backed up is your priority.
After that, it’s a simple matter of elimination, and you will get rid of the pesky problem with a little investigation and testing.