Having your computer freeze in the middle of an important project or a game can be equally frustrating and concerning. Freezes can cause you to lose information, corrupt files, and make running your computer nearly impossible.
Freezing can be due to issues with drivers, software, and hardware. Some freezing issues can be quickly diagnosed with built-in scans and information menus and resolved by addressing updates, corruption, and other problems.
Luckily, there are a few ways to identify and solve common freezing problems in Windows 10.
Causes of freezing in Windows 10
When we say that a computer is “frozen,” we mean that the software has stopped responding to our inputs and rendered the device unusable. Freezes can last anywhere from a few seconds to permanently, depending on the severity and the cause.
The causes for random freezing in Windows 10 fall into three main categories: driver issues, software issues, and hardware issues. Driver issues tend to be the easiest to fix, while hardware issues can potentially be more expensive.
Your drivers are, as the name implies, what “drives” certain hardware to run properly. They act as a go-between for your computer and the other pieces or devices, such as a video card, printer, or disk drive.
Because of this, out-of-date or buggy drivers can cause freezes on nearly any operating system. Basically, your computer is getting the wrong information about devices, and so it’s responding incorrectly or not responding at all.
You may experience freezing if your C drive is too full or if you have not updated Windows completely.
Since the C drive is where most of the core system files are stored on a computer, it’s generally the place where temporary running files and old Windows installations are stored, which can pile up over time without purging.
If you don’t regularly clear out your C drive of junk files, you might run into this error.
It may also be a case of too many applications vying for processing power, RAM, and disk access all at once.
Some applications that run in the background take up so much space that your computer cannot run anything else. This is especially true of graphically-intense games and huge program files.
Some applications are simply incompatible with Windows 10 in their current state. This might be due to the program’s size, loading inefficiency, or tendency to run automatically on startup. The Microsoft team identifies McAfee, the Office Hub App, Speccy, and Acronis True Image as common culprits.
Viruses and malware can cause serious issues, including freezing. Malware is any kind of dangerous software, and viruses are the most common kind of malware.
They work similarly to biological viruses: they drop themselves into other programs and self-replicate to cause a problem by deleting or encrypting files, changing applications, or even completely disabling certain functions.
Hardware problems can range from relatively easy environmental fixes to the most severe issues to cause freezing. Damaged, faulty, or old hardware can cause your computer to malfunction.
Although uncommon, hard drive damage can cause performance issues, not only in the form of freezes but also in full blue screening and shutdowns.
Another cause of hardware failure and damage is electrostatic discharge. This happens when you’re installing new hardware without properly grounding yourself.
Small electrical charges that build up (such as when you rub socked feet over the carpet) are released when you touch the device’s metal. This can overload the circuits in the hardware and damage them.
Another more common and easier problem to fix that causes freezing is overheating. This can be caused by either the location or the ventilation of your computer.
If your computer is in direct sunlight or a hot room, it may not be able to regulate its temperature. This can be amplified by a poor ventilation system, blocked by location, or clogged by dust and debris.
Running diagnostics on Windows 10
To start fixing your freezing problem, you’ll need to know what’s causing it.
Consider when the freezes are happening (do they happen every time you run a certain program or perform a certain action?), how often they happen and if they happen regularly, and if it’s a problem with just your computer or a network.
If it’s a problem with a network of computers, you might consider checking your connections.
Once you’ve identified as much as you can about the freezes (and have that information on hand), you can start running some basic diagnostic tests on both your software and your hardware.
Check your running programs
If you’ve never encountered freezing problems with your computer, start simple. Open your Task Manager (search “Task Manager” in your Start menu or hit the control, alt, and delete keys simultaneously) and look at the Processes tab.
This will tell you what’s currently running in your computer’s foreground and background and how much space it’s taking up.
You can also look at the Performance tab to see how much of your CPU and memory is being used, as well as your disk space. You can also look at the App History section for more information on applications that have been running recently.
Check your drivers
If you don’t find any problems there, you can check your drivers, as miscommunication caused by these files is relatively easy to identify.
Usually, your drivers will update automatically through the built-in library and Windows Update service. This is a courtesy feature meant to make updates easier to keep up with due to their frequency but may cause issues if the updates are incompatible with the currently running software.
Check your drivers to see when they were most recently updated by going to the Device Manager’s settings and selecting the device whose driver you want to check.
Go to Properties to see details (you’ll have to do this individually, so it may take quite some time).
You can check en masse to see if multiple drivers need updating. Go to Microsoft’s website and check for any potential updates.
You’ll also want to check your network adapter manufacturer’s site for driver updates and your motherboard manufacturer’s site for potential chipset drivers.
There may also be problems with your drivers being incompatible with a new operating system update. To check compatibility, you might want to run a driver management software like OneSafe, which analyses the drivers installed on a computer to find out-of-date or malfunctioning software that might be causing the issues.
Scan for viruses
If your drivers don’t seem to be the issue, or your computer started freezing after a specific download or site visit, you should start checking for malware.
This can be done with the preinstalled antivirus software or with one of your choice. PC Mag recommends a few different programs to check for and remove viruses on your computer; they compare and contrast them based on price, efficiency, and specifications.
Here’s what they recommend:
- Kaspersky. Kaspersky is well-tested and proved through various vetting agencies. They have an excellent support network and include bonus scans for privacy and performance, which can help diagnose freeze problems. Unfortunately, these bonus scans tend to overlap and not provide very much extra information. The software starts at $59.99.
- Bitdefender. Bitdefender, specifically the Bitdefender Antivirus Plus software, also achieved fantastic scores in independent testing. They’ve got Active Do Not Track software and offer a VPN, as well as other security features. These do come at an additional cost but might be worth it for the added security online. Their least expensive software starts at $29.99.
- Webroot. This system got a perfect score on PC Mag’s protection tests, the only high-rated program to do so. They offer fast scans that are light on your system, which may miss deeper-seated issues and work well for a system dealing with simple malware. They’re also remarkably affordable at $18.88 for the cheapest version of the software.
- Malwarebytes. Malwarebytes Premium includes exploit and ransomware protection, as well as behavior-based detection. It’s not particularly effective against phishing protection but seems relatively effective against other kinds of malware. The cheapest version of the software is $39.99, but they offer a 14-day free trial if you only need it (or can only afford it) for a one-off check.
McAfee is also highly rated but, as mentioned above, has been found to cause serious issues with Windows 10, so it’s not the best option to run to avoid freezing.
My personal recommendation is the free version of Avast Anti Virus. I have used it for many years on a lot of systems. This, alongside Malwarebytes, which is also free, will do a good job in removing most infections.
Once you have run Malwarebytes through a full system scan, you have the option to uninstall it until the next time you need your system checked.
But I do recommend keeping Avast installed so it can offer real time protection to help avoid new infections.
If you suspect that your computer is sending automated queries, please refer to an article I wrote about stopping your computer from sending automated queries.
Check your startup settings
If your drivers look fine and you’re unable to find any malware, you’ll want to go to the Startup settings for each app.
This controls what runs when your computer is first turned on. Some apps are set to run automatically, which might be causing problems.
Look for apps that are set to open and run on startup, and if you have Hibernation enabled.
Ostensibly designed to help your computer run faster and easier, Hibernation Mode (sometimes in the past referred to as Fast Startup) prevents it from completely shutting down, instead of putting it into a state of hibernation from which it can be booted back up quickly.
This might cause problems due to pending processes that can’t complete without a full shut down.
To disable it, open the Command Prompt (by right-clicking the Start Menu button and select Powershell (Admin) or Command Prompt (Admin) )and type in: powercfg.exe -h off and press enter.
To check what’s running when your computer boots up, go to the Settings App and select Apps, then Startup.
This will give you a list of everything running automatically and options to shut down and block applications that might be clogging up your computer in the background.
If you manage to get an opportunity after a freeze, you’ll want to check the System and Application logs for important error information. Gather a System Diagnostics report if you can.
You’ll want to gather data from a memory dump file or a data sanity check. You can also run a performance diagnostic using the Microsoft Support Diagnostics Self-Help Portal and searching “Performance Diagnostic.”
Check your hardware
At this point, if nothing else seems to be the source of the issues, you’ll also want to check in on your hardware.
Check to see if everything is running at a normal temperature using a program like Core Temp. Also, check for any dust or buildup inside the computer, or if anything has been moved out of place or damaged.
If you find that the computer is operating at too high of a temperature, you can try moving it to a cooler environment or cooling the room you keep it in and make sure it’s completely out of direct sunlight.
If this doesn’t seem to help, consider cleaning your computer case and cooling system to rid it of potentially blocking buildup.
If you find that any components are damaged and you’re confident in being able to fix it yourself, unplug and disassemble your computer, replace or repair the damaged parts, and reassemble and plug it in.
Make sure that you discharge any potential static before working on your computer and that you remain static-free throughout the process to prevent further damage.
If you aren’t confident that you can repair your computer yourself, you can find trustworthy professionals online.
Troubleshooting freezing in Windows 10
Once you’ve diagnosed the issue with the computer, you can start troubleshooting it.
These steps often involve multiple restarts of the machine, so expect your computer to be out of commission for work and play for at least the rest of the day.
Before trying any troubleshooting steps, you’ll want to backup your important files and information externally.
This can be in cloud storage or an external hard drive. Then, depending on what you’ve diagnosed as the issue, you have a few options for troubleshooting.
Restart your computer
There’s a reason for the cliched “did you try turning it off and back on again” advice; sometimes, it really is that simple.
If your device doesn’t have a history of freezing and you’re encountering the problem for the first time, it may just be that your computer had a once-off hiccup.
If possible, shut down all of your applications, either by closing them internally (with the “X” button or similar), using the task manager, or with alt+F4.
Then, shut down your computer as you would normally, making sure it’s not just going into sleep mode. Please wait for it to shut down completely and restart.
If you can’t get your applications to shut down, you can try a hard shutdown. This should generally be avoided, however, as it may cause some file damage or loss.
This can be done simply by pressing your power button until the computer shuts down completely, waiting a few seconds, and then pushing the power button to turn it on again. This should allow for a clean startup.
Caution: I only recommend doing this if your system is completely unresponsive for over ten minutes and you have no other choice.
Update your drivers
If restarting doesn’t work, or if you found that any of your drivers were out of date, update them through Microsoft, your network adapter manufacturer’s site, or your motherboard manufacturer’s site, then restart your computer.
This will ensure your drivers function on the new updates, preventing freezes associated with old software.
If this doesn’t work, or you’ve identified that a recently updated driver was the cause of the freezing, you might consider reinstalling your drivers.
Go to the Device Manager, select the driver you think is causing the issue, and uninstall it. Then restart your computer.
Windows will automatically attempt to reinstall, potentially fixing any corrupted or incorrectly downloaded files from the previous installation.
Run a System File Checker scan
You may also run a System File Checker scan. This basic tool lets you check for corrupted system files.
The process can often look more complicated than it actually is, but if you follow it in order, you shouldn’t have any issues.
1. Open and run the inbox Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM) tool.
- Open the Start Menu.
- Search for Command Prompt and right-click the top result.
- Select Run as Administrator.
- Type “DISM /Online /Cleanup-Image /CheckHealth” into the command prompt and press Enter.
2. Open and run your System File Checker scan
- Open Command Prompt as before.
- Type “sfc/scannow” and hit Enter.
3. Check the details from the scans
- Open Command Prompt as before.
- Type “findstr /c:”[SR]” %windir%\Logs\CBS\CBS.log >”%userprofile%\Desktop\sfcdetails.txt” and hit Enter.
- Open sfcdetails.txt (the text file with the information from the scans) on your desktop.
4. Manually replace the files
- Open Command Prompt as before.
- Type “takeown /f [insert path and file name here]” and hit Enter. An example of a file path and name would be “C:\windows\system32\jscript.dll” (a file in the system32 folder on your C drive that is named jscript.dll).
- Grant administrator access to the file by typing “icacls [insert path and file name here] /GRANT ADMINISTRATORS:F” and hitting Enter.
- Copy a known good copy of the file (such as one obtained from a working computer or the Windows Support team) by typing “Copy [insert good file name here] [inster bad file name here]” and hitting Enter.
Again, it may look complicated, but really, it’s a matter of doing the same steps several times, just with different prompts. For more details, see the Microsoft Support website guide.
Run your antivirus software
If your antivirus picks up on any problems, you can run the software to try and isolate and eliminate the file.
This means keeping the corrupted or malicious file away from the programs it’s trying to disrupt and getting rid of the file completely instead of just dumping it into your recycling bin.
Depending on your software, you may need to restart your computer after the scan to get the best results. This can be referred to as a boot time scan.
You may also consider setting up regular scans to maintain the security of your computer in the long term. These will help to catch any malware files before they can cause problems or, ideally, before they are downloaded at all.
It may help you to learn to manually identify certain kinds of malware files so that you know when you’ve run across them and can avoid them even if they don’t register on your particular software.
Ask yourself a few questions, courtesy of ESMISoft, to determine legitimacy.
- Where is this file from? Never download files from unfamiliar and unverifiable websites, and never click links in messages from unfamiliar senders on any platform.
- Where is the file located? If the file is already on your computer, check to make sure it’s loading in the proper location. Normal Windows files will default to the system32 folder. If it’s anywhere else, you’ll want to consider running it through antivirus software.
- What is the file name? A legitimate file name will tell you exactly what is running and how it’s running. A random string of numbers and letters is always suspect.
- What is the file type? If you’re looking at the Startup folder (the most common load point for malware), you should expect to see .lnk files (shortcuts) rather than .exe files (executables).
Turn off Hibernation and remove problematic software
If there are no viruses or malware on your computer, you might try changing your startup settings. This might mean turning off Hibernation if it’s enabled or disabling or removing applications that cause problems.
Save your changes and shut down your computer. This will cause it to shut down completely rather than going into sleep mode, meaning you can restart it cleanly. If this doesn’t work, try removing any software that might be causing issues.
If you’ve already got Hibernation disabled or disabling it doesn’t help, try monitoring what can and can’t run on startup. Open your Task Manager and go to the Startup tab.
Right-click on any application that is listed as “Enabled” that you think might be causing a problem (Steam and other gaming programs like to start automatically by default to download updates) and select “Disable.” Then restart your computer.
If that doesn’t work, try removing any programs that are known to cause issues. Open your system settings, go to Apps and Features, and delete any common problem apps (listed above).
Once you’ve done that, restart your computer. Your computer will boot up with far fewer background applications running, leaving more RAM free. This should hopefully solve your freezing issues.
Rollback to a previous version
If all else fails, rolling back your computer to a previous version of Windows might solve the issue.
If you work quickly, you might be able to revert to the version of Windows immediately before the latest update, meaning you’ll get to keep all your personal information.
To do this, you’ll need to go to your Update and Security settings and select Recovery.
From there, select the option, “Go back to the previous version of Windows 10.” This will revert your operating system by removing the latest updates, but it will only be an available option within ten days of the latest update.
If you miss this window or your problems start after ten days, you may have to resort to a full reinstallation. This will likely solve certain freeze issues, but it will delete any personal files and apps from your system and reset everything to the factory default.
If you have to do this, be absolutely certain you have all of your important data backed up, and be prepared to spend quite a lot of time reinstalling your apps.
Getting additional help
If you have a lot of problems with freezing and these methods don’t seem to be fixing it, reach out to Microsoft’s support desk and file a report of the issue.
This is the best way to get help if it’s beyond your control, and it keeps them up to date on problems with the software in case there needs to be a patch.
If you need to see step-by-step guides, there are plenty of community-run forums and YouTube channels that will be more than willing to offer their help and support.
Consider visiting the TechNet forums, officially run by Microsoft or CNet’s Windows 10 forum, which are full of experts and hobbyists. You can also see Best Buy’s “Tech Tips: How to unfreeze a computer” for simple and quick instructions.
You can also contact your computer manufacturer about any hardware defects. Make sure that you have the computer’s make, model, and serial number on hand, if possible, as well as the specifications for any custom parts you have in it.
Computer freezes are unfortunate but fairly common. Don’t panic; stay calm, look for answers, and you should be able to solve it.
Generally, Windows 10 is a good operating system that rarely encounters issues if you are careful about how your hardware is built and how well you maintain the operating system.
With some applied experience, Windows 10 can offer great reliability contrary to what many people say about it.
Here are some final tips:
- Avoid modifying system files as much as possible: Leave system files alone. Never delete or manually add files in the Program Files, Windows, or other hidden folders.
- Keep your hardware well-maintained: Make sure the fans are kept clean, and the inside of your computer remains as dust-free as possible. Also, check that airflow isn’t obstructed anywhere inside the system. Keep your power supply from exceeding 5 years of age. Also, watch the temperatures of the components from time to time.
- Use only carefully selected compatible hardware components: When building a computer, make sure you have done your research by looking at the manufacturer’s website for a list of tested hardware. For example, motherboard manufacturers have a list of compatible RAM modules that have been tested with it and produced reliable results. Performance isn’t always everything. System stability is king in my book.
- Keep the system clean from infections: Always run an up-to-date anti-virus program and perform regular scans of your files on your drives.
- Don’t install any software you don’t need: only install essential software. Stay away from the website’s recommended software telling you what software you need to keep your computer running better or remove infections.
- Update, update, update: Make sure you check for Windows updates every day or whenever you turn your system on if it’s longer intervals. It is also important that hardware device drivers are kept up to date. Software applications don’t always update on their own either, so make sure that you check them manually from time to time.
I’ve stuck with these principles for many years. My personal computer has never frozen on me unless it was caused by a specific game or piece of software that contained critical bugs or wasn’t configured properly.