It feels like your computer only freezes in the middle of the most important tasks, doesn’t it? If your computer has slowed to a near-crawl—or become unresponsive entirely—here’s how to recover from the problem, and prevent it from happening in the future.
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.
You’d be surprised how many times this actually works, especially if it’s a random occurrence (and not a chronic problem). Similarly, make sure your mouse is working properly—it could be that your mouse just got disconnected or ran out of batteries, which can give the illusion of your computer freezing (even if it’s working just fine).
If Windows doesn’t recover (or it starts freezing again after it recovers), it’s time to break out old faithful: Ctrl + Alt + Delete. Strike this combo on your keyboard and choose the Task Manager option from the resulting screen to see a list of running programs.
If any of them are not responding, select them and click the End Task button. If you’re dealing with an isolated incident, that should be all you need. Windows should snap back to attention as soon as you’ve closed the program, and you can restart the program to continue your work.
If your PC always seems to freeze when that program is running, though, you may need to uninstall it and find an alternative (or possibly upgrade your hardware, if the program is so intensive that it’s running out of resources).
If Ctrl + Alt + Delete doesn’t work, 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. Or 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.
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 (which may have some error codes you can Google for more information) or to check Microsoft’s database for a solution to the problem (which…rarely works in my experience, but it’s something).
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 using system restore to revert your computer to a state before it was installed.
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.
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.
The next time your computer freezes, you can take a quick glance at the Core Temp icon to see if heat might be your problem. If the temperature is 90 degrees Celsius or above, it’s almost certain your computer is overheating.
Clean any dust out of the computer with a high-pressure duster and check the fans—if any of them aren’t spinning, you may have a failed bearing and need to replace the fan.
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. Pop open the Start menu and search for the Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool—it’ll 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.
Google your model of laptop to figure out what kind of RAM you need to buy, and how to replace it. (If your RAM is soldered onto the motherboard—as is the case with many new thin and light laptops—you may have to buy a new laptop altogether.)
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. If your motherboard (or some other part) is indeed failing, they’ll likely replace it for free.
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 on the wallet, but at least you’ll be able to get work done again.