What should I do when a computer freezes or locks up?

Try waiting it out

If your computer freezes or locks up, the first thing to try is waiting. Oftentimes, the computer is simply working on something in the background and needs a few minutes to complete the task. Give it 5-10 minutes before taking any further action. The computer may unfreeze itself during that time.

Check for software issues

If waiting doesn’t resolve the issue, the next step is to check for any software problems. Make sure all your software, drivers, and operating system are up to date. Outdated software can sometimes cause freezes and lockups. Also check for malware, spyware, or viruses that may be infecting your system. Run a full system scan with your antivirus software to detect and remove any malicious programs.

Investigate hardware problems

If software isn’t the culprit, faulty hardware may be to blame. Issues with RAM, the hard drive, graphics card, or other components can prevent the computer from responding. Listen and feel around the computer case and hard drive to check for any unusual sounds or vibrations that may indicate a failing component.

Open the case and ensure all connections are secure. Reseat RAM modules and expansion cards by removing them and reinserting them into their slots. If the hardware is malfunctioning, you may need to replace the damaged component.

Check CPU and memory usage

Excessive strain on system resources like the CPU and RAM can sometimes cause temporary lockups as the computer struggles to handle the demand. Use Task Manager (Ctrl+Alt+Del) to view current CPU and memory usage. If either is consistently at or near 100% even when idle, troubleshoot running processes and programs that may be hogging resources.

Upgrade to more RAM or a better CPU if needed to provide adequate capabilities for your usage requirements. This will reduce the chance of choking system resources.

Diagnose overheating issues

Today’s computers are designed to shut down if they overheat, but sometimes they freeze first. Dust buildup inside the case can cause overheating by preventing proper airflow. Use compressed air to thoroughly clean dust from fans, vents, and heatsinks. Replace the thermal paste between the CPU and heatsink if it’s dried out.

Make sure the computer isn’t confined in too small a space. Allow at least a few inches of clearance on all vented sides for proper circulation. Room temperatures over 75°F can also contribute to overheating in some cases.

Check peripheral connections

Faulty connections with external devices can prevent the computer from booting up properly. Detach all peripherals such as printers, scanners, and USB devices. Try rebooting with just the monitor, keyboard, and mouse attached. If the computer unfreezes, plug peripherals back in one at a time until you identify the problem device. Replace cables or devices as needed.

Test with a fresh user profile

Corrupted settings in your user profile may be the culprit if the computer locks up during the loading process. Restart the computer and log into a different user account, create a new one if needed. If the computer loads normally, the original profile has become corrupted. You can reset the old profile or delete it and start fresh with new account settings.

Reset the operating system

For Windows machines, use the Reset feature to reinstall Windows while retaining personal files, apps, and settings (optional). This will resolve software-related causes like registry errors. Backup important data first, as Reset will delete any programs and drivers.

On Macs, reboot into Recovery Mode and use Disk Utility to repair disk errors. Reinstall the operating system as a last resort if needed through Internet Recovery or external media. Backups are essential before reinstalling.

Check the hard drive

A failing hard drive can lead to lockups and crashes. Use your operating system’s built-in tool like CHKDSK or First Aid to scan for and repair disk errors. Backup any important data immediately if bad sectors are detected. Consider replacing the drive if it’s deteriorating, as disk failures can happen rapidly.

Reset the CMOS

Resetting the CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) clears any corrupted BIOS settings that may be interfering with startup. Locate the CMOS battery or jumper pins on the motherboard, power down, and remove/reset them for a few minutes. Replace the battery or set the jumper back to default. This will reset BIOS to default settings.


Computer lockups and freezes can stem from software and hardware issues, as well as environmental factors like overheating. Start troubleshooting by waiting in case it’s temporary, then methodically check for software problems, hardware failures, resource strain, connections, profiles, operating systems, hard drive failures, and CMOS settings. Don’t hesitate to consult a repair technician if the problem proves difficult to diagnose. Regular backups are crucial to minimize data loss. With patience and persistence, you can get to the bottom of a stubborn computer freeze and get back to normal operation.

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Diagnosing the exact cause of a computer freeze or lockup can be tricky. There are many potential hardware and software issues that can lead to temporary or permanent freezing. The key is to troubleshoot systematically and avoid jumping to conclusions. Patience is essential, as is taking notes on when the freezes occur and what you’ve tried so far.

Start by asking yourself some basic diagnostic questions:

  • Did the computer freeze during bootup or when running a program?
  • Was there a distinct pattern like freezing when starting a browser or using a specific app?
  • Have you installed any new hardware or software recently?
  • Has the computer been moved or exposed to increased temperature, dust or moisture?

Your answers can help narrow down root causes. Maintain a log as you work through different fixes, detailing what you tried and the result. This provides a helpful record if you need to consult tech support later.

Common Causes of Computer Freezing

Here are some of the most frequent culprits behind system lockups:

Cause Description
Software conflict Incompatible or buggy software can clash with each other or the OS, causing freezes. Often occurs after an update or new install.
Heat Insufficient cooling and ventilation leads to overheating which affects performance.
Failing hardware Defective components like RAM, hard drives, and video cards can freeze the computer intermittently or permanently.
Viruses and malware Malicious programs hijack system resources, corrupting software and impairing functionality.
Power issues A faulty or inadequate power supply can cause instability and freezing.
Driver problems Outdated or missing drivers prevent hardware components from interacting properly with the OS.
Registry errors Corrupted registry settings in Windows machines interfere with operation and ability to load software.

Preventing Computer Freezes

You can be proactive and reduce system lockups by:

  • Keeping software updated with latest patches
  • Only installing software from trusted sources
  • Running regular antivirus scans
  • Cleaning internal components annually
  • Checking for overheating issues
  • Using surge protectors
  • Defragmenting hard drives
  • Backing up data regularly

Freezes will still happen on occasion, but preventative maintenance makes them less frequent and easier to resolve when they do occur.

When to Seek Professional Help

While many computer lockups can be fixed with home troubleshooting, some may require taking your device into professional repair services. Seek assistance if:

  • Freezes are persistent and solutions online aren’t helping
  • You lack the technical knowledge for advanced diagnostics
  • System files, registries or settings become corrupted
  • There are physical damages or component failures
  • OS reinstalls and resets fail to resolve the issue
  • Data recovery services are needed

Computer repair technicians have specialized tools, software and expertise for handling stubborn freezing issues and hardware malfunctions. They can recover data from damaged drives and potentially fix problems that stump the average user. Expect to pay $100-$400+ for computer freezing-related repairs depending on labor time and parts needed.

When to Buy a New Computer

At a certain point, freezing and lockups indicate your computer is near or beyond its usable lifespan. It’s typically most cost-effective to buy a new system if:

  • Your computer is over 5 years old
  • Freezes stem from multiple aged components failing
  • Repair costs exceed 50% of a replacement computer
  • You need capabilities beyond your hardware’s specifications

New computers provide faster performance, longer reliability, modern features and technical support. Just be sure to backup your old data and files before switching to a new system.

Tips for Preventing Data Loss

Frequent computer lockups risk data loss or corruption. Here are some backup strategies to employ:

1. Use cloud storage

Cloud services like Google Drive, Dropbox and OneDrive provide offsite backup of files.Documents synchronize across devices and changes save in real-time.

2. Back up to external drives

Portable hard drives and USB flash drives offer high-capacity storage for local backups. Store these safely offsite in case of theft or disaster.

3. Enable automatic backup

Windows and MacOS have built-in backup tools to automatically save copies of important files periodically. Use external storage for best protection.

4. Burn DVDs or Blu-Rays

For maxiumum redundancy, burn data to high-capacity discs stored offsite. This protects against both physical loss and cyberattack.

5. Consider backup services

Services like Carbonite automatically back up entire hard drives for continuous, hands-free protection against data loss.

Troubleshooting Specific Freezing Issues

During Startup

If the computer freezes right after BIOS and before loading Windows:

  • Press F8 during boot to enter Safe Mode
  • If successful, uninstall recently added hardware/software
  • Try system restore to undo recent changes
  • Scan for malware and viruses that modify system files
  • Repair or replace damaged hard drives
  • Refresh or reset Windows to fix corrupted files

During Normal Use

For random lockups when using programs and apps:

  • Check memory usage for potential leak or overload
  • Update graphics and other hardware drivers
  • End background processes hogging CPU usage
  • Turn off visual effects like transparency
  • Uninstall and reinstall affected applications
  • Roll back changes with System Restore

With New Software

If freezes coincide with new software or updates:

  • Uninstall software and delete associated files
  • Research conflicts known to affect the software
  • Scan for malware that was installed along with software
  • Update Windows and other applications
  • Roll back software updates via Control Panel

With New Hardware

For hardware-related freezing issues:

  • Uninstall drivers and uninstall hardware
  • Reseat cables, cards, and memory modules
  • Check manufacturer’s website for driver updates
  • Disable less crucial hardware like sound cards
  • Roll back to previous working configuration

From Overheating

If computer is hot and before freezing or shutting down:

  • Clean dust buildup from internal components
  • Ensure proper ventilation around computer case
  • Replace CPU thermal paste if dried or worn out
  • Lower CPU intensive settings in software
  • Use a laptop cooling pad or stand
  • Check for and replace any failed fans

After Virus Attack

For freezes after recent malware or ransomware infection:

  • Boot into Safe Mode and run antivirus scans
  • Use System Restore to roll back before infection
  • Repair Windows system files using SFC and DISM tools
  • Wipe and reformat the hard drive if necessary
  • Reinstall critical software damaged by the attack
  • Restore encrypted files from backup if infected by ransomware

With Power Fluctuations

If freezes coincide with power spikes, surges or outages:

  • Use a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) for temporary stable power
  • Plug devices into surge protector power strips
  • Confirm computer, router, modem are grounded properly
  • Check that power supply can handle load during peak usage
  • Replace power supply if it’s intermittently cutting out

With Mobile Devices

For tablet or phone freezes:

  • Close all apps and tabs not currently needed
  • Check for and delete unnecessary apps
  • Update device OS, apps, and browser
  • Disable animations and visual effects
  • Reset device to factory settings
  • Check for hardware damage or defective components

Best Practices Going Forward

Once you’ve resolved an underlying computer freeze, implement these practices to optimize stability:

  • Keep software updated – Install patches, service packs and new versions of programs promptly
  • Only install trusted software – Vet download sources carefully to avoid malware
  • Clean components yearly – Compressed air and new thermal paste keep things cool
  • Monitor CPU and RAM usage – Close unneeded programs hogging resources
  • Keep backups current – Backup data at least weekly to external and cloud storage
  • Use surge protection – Protect components from power fluctuations that can corrupt files
  • Scan for viruses regularly – Quarantine or wipe any malware found

No computer is freeze-proof, but disciplined maintenance and smart computing habits give you the best chance of smooth, uninterrupted performance.