How do I force my computer to unfreeze?

A frozen or unresponsive computer can be incredibly frustrating. When your computer freezes, it stops responding to your mouse clicks and keyboard presses, often displaying the spinning wheel or hourglass cursor. The computer is still running, but the operating system has stopped processing inputs or updates. Forcing a computer to unfreeze can allow you to regain control and avoid having to fully reboot the system.

What causes a computer to freeze?

There are several potential causes of a frozen computer:

  • Too many programs running – Having many resource-intensive programs open at once can overload the computer’s RAM and CPU, causing freezes.
  • Insufficient RAM/CPU – An older computer with too little RAM or a slow CPU may freeze when multitasking or running complex programs.
  • Software bugs – Bugs, glitches or errors in a software program may cause it to hang or freeze.
  • Overheating – Dust buildup causing overheating can result in freezes, especially for laptops.
  • Malware/virus infection – Malicious software often causes system slowdowns and freezes.
  • Hardware failure – Failing hardware like a hard drive, motherboard component or graphics card can lead to freezing.
  • Too many startup programs – Having too many programs set to auto-start when booting can overload the system and cause hangs.

Freezing happens when the computer is unable to handle all the instructions it is receiving, causing the processing to bottleneck and stall. Identifying the specific cause can help troubleshoot the issue.

Force quitting frozen programs

If just one program is frozen, you may be able to force quit it without restarting the entire computer. This allows you to regain control of the system while letting other running programs continue unaffected.

Force quit on Windows

On Windows 10 and 11:

  1. Press Ctrl + Alt + Delete to open the Task Manager.
  2. Select the frozen program under the Processes tab.
  3. Click “End task” to force quit the program.

On older Windows versions:

  1. Press Ctrl + Alt + Delete and select “Start Task Manager”.
  2. Go to the Applications tab and select the frozen program.
  3. Click “End task” to force quit.

Force quit on Mac

On Mac OS:

  1. Press Command + Option + Esc to open the Force Quit window.
  2. Select the unresponsive program.
  3. Click Force Quit to terminate the program.

Force quitting can free up any resources being used by the frozen program, allowing your computer to unfreeze. However, you may lose any unsaved work in that program.

Ending frozen processes

You may find that force quitting a single program does not resolve a system-wide freeze. In that case, you will need to identify and end any frozen processes causing the issue.

End processes on Windows

  1. Press Ctrl + Shift + Esc to open the full Task Manager.
  2. Go to the Processes tab.
  3. Look for processes using high CPU or memory that are not responding.
  4. Select the frozen processes and click “End task”.

Critical system processes like System Idle Process or System should not be ended to avoid instability.

End processes on Mac

  1. Open the Activity Monitor located in /Applications/Utilities.
  2. Click CPU to sort processes by CPU usage.
  3. Identify busy, non-responsive processes.
  4. Select the process and click the “X” icon to end it.

Ending stuck processes can clear up resources being hogged, allowing your computer to regain responsiveness. However, you may need to restart any ended programs.

Start your computer in Safe Mode

Booting your computer into Safe Mode loads only the essential drivers and processes required to run Windows or macOS. This can isolate whether frozen processes or startup programs are causing the issue.

Access Safe Mode on Windows

  1. Open the Start menu and hold the Shift key while clicking the Power button.
  2. Select “Troubleshoot”.
  3. Click “Advanced options”.
  4. Select “Startup Settings” and click “Restart”.
  5. After your PC restarts, press 5 or F5 to boot into Safe Mode with Networking.

Access Safe Mode on Mac

  1. Restart your Mac and immediately press and hold the Shift key.
  2. Let go of Shift when you see the login window.
  3. Log in to your Mac in Safe Mode.

If your computer unfreezes in Safe Mode, you can troubleshoot startup programs or drivers causing issues in normal mode. Be sure to exit Safe Mode after resolving any problems.

Check for malware and viruses

Frozen computers are often a symptom of malware infection. Viruses, worms, Trojans and other threats can slow down and freeze your system when they perform malicious activities.

Run a full system scan using antivirus software like Windows Security or Malwarebytes on Windows, or malware removal tools like Malwarebytes for Mac. Remove any infections or suspicious programs found. Clearing malware can resolve freezing issues caused by malicious software.

Update your drivers and software

Outdated drivers and software can sometimes cause freezing and crashing issues. Updating them can resolve incompatibilities and bugs:

  • Update Windows using Windows Update or the Settings app.
  • Update Mac OS software through the App Store.
  • Update device drivers from the manufacturer’s website.
  • Update individual programs through their check for updates function.

Prioritize updating graphics card drivers, as outdated GPU drivers are a common source of freezing. Restart your computer after updating for changes to take effect.

Check for overheating issues

An overheating computer can start freezing or shutting down to protect components from heat damage. Overheating can be caused by:

  • Blocked air vents – Ensure fans and vents are not obstructed by dust buildup.
  • Failing fans – Check that cooling fans spin properly at startup.
  • Thermal paste issues – The CPU may need new thermal paste applied.
  • Laptop used on beds/couches – This can block airflow.

Download a system temperature monitor like Core Temp or iStat Menus to check for abnormal temperatures over 100°C/212°F. Resolve any overheating to prevent frozen computers.

Check your RAM

Insufficient or failing RAM is a common source of random computer freezes. To troubleshoot RAM issues:

  • Check total RAM meets your computer’s requirements.
  • Test RAM for errors using Windows Memory Diagnostic or Apple Hardware Test.
  • Try removing and reseating RAM modules.
  • Test freezing issues with each RAM stick individually.

If you have no RAM errors, try increasing your total RAM. If a specific RAM stick causes freezing, it likely needs replacement.

Test your hard drives

Faulty hard drives can also lead to freezing. To test for hard drive issues:

  • Check for hard drive errors in Disk Utility on Mac or Chkdsk in Windows.
  • Monitor SMART status using a tool like DiskCheckup or DriveDX.
  • Try freezing issues with each hard drive individually.
  • Back up data and reformat failing drives.

If freezing only occurs when a specific hard drive is connected, that unit likely needs replacement.

Check power supply and battery issues

For desktop computers, a failing power supply can cause random shutdowns and freezing. Test with another PSU if available or replace if faulty.

For laptops, an old battery may not hold sufficient charge. Check battery health in system power options and consider replacing if below 80% capacity.

Rule out hardware component failure

Faulty hardware like the motherboard, CPU or graphics card can manifest as freezing. To isolate a hardware fault:

  • Remove extra components like sound cards and test.
  • Try known working components like GPUs from another system.
  • Listen for any unusual noises like grinding fans.

If freezing persists after testing components individually, the motherboard likely needs repair or replacement.

Reset your operating system

Resetting your OS clears out potential software issues while preserving your personal files:

  • Windows – Go to Settings > Update & Security > Recovery and select Reset.
  • macOS – Boot to Recovery OS and select Reinstall macOS from the Utilities menu.

If resetting fixes freezing, a software problem is likely. If not, continue troubleshooting hardware.

Perform a clean OS reinstall

A clean install with a fresh OS can determine if freezing stems from software corruption:

  • Windows – Boot from installation media and select Custom install.
  • Mac – Boot to Recovery then erase the startup disk and reinstall macOS.

Back up any personal data first. If a clean OS eliminates freezing, try selectively transferring data back while testing to isolate the problematic software.

When to seek professional help

If you have tried all of the above steps with no resolution, your computer may have a serious hardware defect requiring professional service. Consider seeking help in these cases:

  • Freezing starts suddenly on previously normal computer.
  • Freezing occurs outside of operating system like during BIOS/EFI boot.
  • Computer freezes during OS installation.
  • Problem persists after OS reinstallation.
  • Unusual noises, burning smell, visible damage points to hardware.

A computer technician can run diagnostics, test components with known working parts, and perform microsoldering or motherboard repairs beyond DIY options.


Computer freezing can often be frustrating and disruptive. However, there are many techniques you can try yourself to troubleshoot and unfreeze a stubborn, unresponsive system:

  • Force quit applications.
  • End frozen processes.
  • Boot into Safe Mode.
  • Scan for malware.
  • Update drivers and software.
  • Check for overheating.
  • Test RAM and hard drives.
  • Isolate faulty hardware.
  • Reset or reinstall OS.

Following methodical troubleshooting steps can identify the root cause, whether it stems from software, thermal issues, insufficient resources or failing components. Getting to the source of the problem is key toward resolving computer freezes for good.