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How to Fix Freezing on a Windows PC

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Support.com Tech Pro Team
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Introduction

Computers can freeze or "hang" for a variety of reasons. Sometimes freezing can be caused by a simple software issue, and can be easily resolved. Unfortunately, freezing can also be caused by much more serious issues such as Operating System failure, hardware failure, or insufficient cooling.

While diagnosing a hardware issue is very difficult to do without a professional taking a look at your machine, resolving a software issue is far easier to do and does not require a professional, so long as your machine cooperates.

In this guide, we'll help you figure out how to get your machine unfrozen. From there, we'll help to get your machine optimized to prevent it from freezing again.
Task manager

What is causing your computer to freeze?

As stated above, there are a number of reasons why your computer might freeze or "hang" during operation. 

Most commonly in older machines, system resources could simply be depleted. Meaning, your computer is being asked to do more things at a given than it has the resources to accommodate. Most times, slow computer operation or freezing is due to the machine trying to juggle all of these requests at once. When this is taking place, your computer will appear to be completely unusable. Sometimes the machine will recover and allow you to resume use, but other times it may remain unresponsive altogether. This is typically when further action must be taken.

Bugs or incompatibilities of software is another common reason that a computer can "hang" up. A program that is incompatible with your machine's version of Windows, or a program that can't coexist on your machine with another particular program can cause major issues. It doesn't always have to be software you've voluntarily installed, either. Sometimes, Windows updates that introduce new drivers can cause this sort of issue as well.

Hardware complications are another possibility. These are far more difficult to diagnose without getting a professional involved. If there is a fan issue, or the CPU (central processing unit) is getting too hot, your machine may lock up or become unresponsive. Other hardware such as a bad stick of RAM, or a hard drive that's beginning to fail can also cause your machine to freeze or "hang" during normal operation.

If your computer freezes repeatedly even after following this guide's instructions, we recommend getting your machine properly diagnosed by a professional to determine the source of the issues.

1 Attempt to Open the Task Manager

In order to proceed properly, we need to determine is if your machine is actually frozen, or just being inundated with too many tasks, making it unresponsive. The easiest way to do this is by using the CTRL + ALT + DEL method. If your machine is responsive, this key combination will trigger the Windows Security screen to appear. If nothing happens when this key combination is pressed, your machine is frozen and must be rebooted.

  1. Press the CTRL + ALT + DEL keys on your keyboard at the same time.
    PC Desktop Keyboard with Ctrl-Alt-Del highlighted.
  2. The Windows Security screen should appear. Select Task Manager.
    GINA screen with Task Manager highlighted.

? Were you able to open the Task Manager?

  1. Yes, the Task manager is open on my screen
  2. No, the computer is completely unresponsive

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Computers can freeze or "hang" for a variety of reasons. Sometimes freezing can be caused by a simple software issue, and can be easily resolved. Unfortunately, freezing can also be caused by much more serious issues such as Operating System failure, hardware failure, or insufficient cooling.

While diagnosing a hardware issue is very difficult to do without a professional taking a look at your machine, resolving a software issue is far easier to do and does not require a professional, so long as your machine cooperates.

In this guide, we'll help you figure out how to get your machine unfrozen. From there, we'll help to get your machine optimized to prevent it from freezing again.
Task manager

What is causing your computer to freeze?

As stated above, there are a number of reasons why your computer might freeze or "hang" during operation. 

Most commonly in older machines, system resources could simply be depleted. Meaning, your computer is being asked to do more things at a given than it has the resources to accommodate. Most times, slow computer operation or freezing is due to the machine trying to juggle all of these requests at once. When this is taking place, your computer will appear to be completely unusable. Sometimes the machine will recover and allow you to resume use, but other times it may remain unresponsive altogether. This is typically when further action must be taken.

Bugs or incompatibilities of software is another common reason that a computer can "hang" up. A program that is incompatible with your machine's version of Windows, or a program that can't coexist on your machine with another particular program can cause major issues. It doesn't always have to be software you've voluntarily installed, either. Sometimes, Windows updates that introduce new drivers can cause this sort of issue as well.

Hardware complications are another possibility. These are far more difficult to diagnose without getting a professional involved. If there is a fan issue, or the CPU (central processing unit) is getting too hot, your machine may lock up or become unresponsive. Other hardware such as a bad stick of RAM, or a hard drive that's beginning to fail can also cause your machine to freeze or "hang" during normal operation.

If your computer freezes repeatedly even after following this guide's instructions, we recommend getting your machine properly diagnosed by a professional to determine the source of the issues.

In order to proceed properly, we need to determine is if your machine is actually frozen, or just being inundated with too many tasks, making it unresponsive. The easiest way to do this is by using the CTRL + ALT + DEL method. If your machine is responsive, this key combination will trigger the Windows Security screen to appear. If nothing happens when this key combination is pressed, your machine is frozen and must be rebooted.

  1. Press the CTRL + ALT + DEL keys on your keyboard at the same time.
    PC Desktop Keyboard with Ctrl-Alt-Del highlighted.
  2. The Windows Security screen should appear. Select Task Manager.
    GINA screen with Task Manager highlighted.

Using the Task Manager, we can identify what programs or processes are slowing your machine down to a crawl, and terminate them. Terminating these problematic programs or processes immediately frees up the resources your machine needs to function, much like unkinking a water hose immediately allows water to flow freely through it.

  1. Select More Details at the bottom.
    Task Manager with More Details highlighted.
  2. Select the Processes tab, then select CPU to sort the process list by how much CPU they use.
    Task Manager with Processes tab and CPU field highlighted.
  3. Look through the top five or ten entries for programs you recognize.

    There will be many you don't recognize in the list; this is normal. Windows has a lot of processes, some with odd names, to allow it to run properly.

  4. If you see a program you know about and it's using a lot of CPU, select it, then select End task.
    Task Manager with program and End Task highlighted.

Following these steps should help your computer become usable again for the time being. However, optimizing your computer is necessary, as the next time it boots up, it will attempt to run all the same processes that were causing it to perform poorly in the first place.

Optimize your computer for better performance.

If your computer continues to freeze or lock up during this process, we recommend that you have a professional take a look at your computer to properly diagnose it. There may be more than a simple optimization issue causing problems.

If your computer did not respond to the CTRL + ALT + DEL method, it is well and truly frozen. To un-freeze your machine, it must be hard rebooted.

Hard rebooting a computer works nearly the same on any modern Windows machine. The only difference is the location of the power button. This will vary depending on the brand and model of your computer, and whether you're working with a desktop or a laptop.

  1. Hold down the Power button on the computer until it abruptly shuts off. This can take 5-10 seconds or so.
    A desktop power button
  2. Once the computer is off, wait a few moments, then press the Power button again.
    Power button on a laptop
  3. The computer will boot itself back up. Allow it to fully boot up, log in if necessary, and test its operation.

If your computer continues to freeze or lock up, we recommend that you have a professional properly diagnose it. There may be something serious happening that optimization will not solve. However, if the computer is responsive, we recommend that you attempt to optimize it. If software is the only issue, this can get your computer back to operating normally once again.

Optimize your computer for better performance.