What causes computers to freeze up?

Especially mine. I’ve had three computers in the past four years and they have always had a habit of freezing up on me for no reason at all. With every computer, I think, “This one will be better.” We have a Dell. At first I was thinking that it was because of Internet Explorer, because usually the only time it freezes on me is when I’m on the internet. When I go to some sites, the screen totally blacks out at times. But on the computer we have two user accounts, and sometimes it’ll freeze when getting to my account. I tried removing files. I’ve tried taking away my desktop wallpaper. I’ve tried shutting the computer down when I’m not using it. I’ve tried leaving the computer on all night. I’ve tried everything I can think of, which probably isn’t much because I’m not THAT great with computers (I know just enough to get by without too much help from others). I’m at my wits end, though. Does anyone else have these problems, especially with Windows or Internet Explorer? And if so, what are the remedies? I’m desperate here.

Many, many things can cause a computer to freeze up (I’m assuming you’re talking about Win9x, but in my experience, Macs also do this).

The primary reason is a software conflict – two programs are trying to access the same bit of memory. It often happens because of some software you have installed, but the only way to be sure is to uninstall the software and see if that fixes it. It’s usually the stuff running in the background and that load when your computer boots. Try disabling these one by one to see if anything fixes the problem.

With Windows, memory leak causes a lot of crashes . This is caused by programs not giving back memory after it uses it.

I’d say number one is heat. The computer gets too hot or the room is too hot. Or puter doesn’t have enough fans. When there is a software conflict you usually get a blue screen.

turn it off at night, not on.

Any number of reasons could be responsible. Conflicts could be the cause, and heat as well. But three computers in 4 years? That’s quite a few. Personally, I can appreciate a powerful machine and I happen to loathe pieces of shit, but I can’t afford to buy a whole new box every year. 3 comps in 4 years seems pretty strange, are you buying inexpensive and hence underpowered comps? My suggestion is to find out how much RAM you have, and if it’s less than 128 megs put another 128 in. If you bought a dell, call them up and find out what kind you need. 128mb dimm (dual inline memory module- it’s the card that holds the ram chips) will cost you more no than 60 bucks and takes two seconds to install (anyone can do it, and dell will walk you through it over the phone if you need them to), It may save you worlds of trouble. Oh, and you might want to delete your temporary files (use ‘Disk Cleanup’ in your system tools in the accessories folder in the win98 start menu / or run a search for “*.tmp” on your primary hard drive and select all the found files and hit delete on the keyboard)

Unless you live in the middle of an unventilated building in the middle of the desert (in which case I’d recommend that you move), I agree with RC and disagree with handy.

The reason for the latter is the fact that you a) note that the computer mainly freezes when you’re on the Internet and b) that it sometimes freezes “getting to” your account (which I took to mean loading your Windows setting upon boot up). The latter is a factor when considering handy theory because your computer simply should not be able to generate enough heat to lock itself up in the time it takes to boot (unless you have it next to the furnace or something). Similarly, neither your processor or video cards work all that hard when you’re on the Internet, and therefore should not generate enough heat to lock up your comp as these two items are generally the hottest items in any PC.

As RC said, it’s likely a combination of software programs trying to use the same resources. Try disabling as much “startup” software (stuff that loads when you boot into your OS) as possible. In Windows 9x, this means clearing out the ‘startup’ folder in the start menu and then using ‘msconfig’ (start -> run -> msconfig) to disable the rest. With luck, this’ll take care of your boot up problems.

There’s also the kneejerk response of defragging your hard drive that has some validity. If files are fragmented enough, your computer can lock up trying to access them (this is often an extreme case, however, fragged files usually just slows your system down). And though this shouldn’t be an issue while web browsing, it couldn’t hurt.

Oh yeah, just to throw another unlikely scenario in there, tinkering with BIOS settings and adding hardware can also mess up a good computer.

As far as the BIOS thing goes, I’m thinking of overclocking one’s processor (which I seriously doubt you’re doing, but still). If you OC too far, you may have to up the voltage to your CPU to keep things stable.

As for the hardware thing, adding extra components (CD writers, hard drives, etc.) can put too much of a strain on weaker power supplies. The figure I’ve heard on most ‘pre-built’ computers’ power supplies is 235 watts, which isn’t a whole lot.

One last piece of advice - if you or someone you know is confident enough, the typical geek solution is to reformat your hard drive (back up everything you need beforehand, of course) and reinstall your OS. I did this this past weekend and though it was a pain in the ass, my OSes are running more smoothly than ever before.

My third computer in two years stops in the sense that the little arrow won’t move when I move the mouse, but everyting that was on the screen is still there in a frozen state. Pressing control-alt-delete or any other key brings no response. I just turn the computer off and turn it on again and all is well. The computer does this three times a day. It also when I follow the proper procedure to turn it off at the end of the day usually won’t turn off. It says your computer is now shutting and then it doesn’t shut, so I turn off the button. Then the next day (and three times a day as well when it turns on) it says something or other was exited illegally or something so it sends a strange green square across the bottom of the screen. It takes forever to finally bring up the tabletop or whatever you call the thing with the icons on it. The freezes happen on any program I am on, not just the internet. Usually it saves whatever I was in the middle of, but not always. In short, again computers conform to my theory that everyone pooh-poohs that computers develop a mind of their own in the sense of circuitry developing or electromagnetic waves generated for no good reason, just extra, much as much of human behavior is merely the result of excess brainwaves (not needed for regular functioning).Computers don’t freeze deliberately, just meaninglessly, since when they are fixed they still don’t work, just like humans going to therapy. But I feel I have hijacked this now and must close. Signed, F. Rustrated

In my experience the Win 9x OSes have a habit of degenerating over time. Unfortunately this is normal. As you use your computer files and settings get constantly written and re-written to your machine and resgistry. After awhile little errors creep in and things slowly get worse. This ‘feature’ of the Windows OS is prominent enough that you can find guides on the internet to help avoid having to do this (via Registry tweaks and the like) and you can find third party software products (such as some of Symantec’s stuff) that try and hold your machine together against this sort of entropy. Personally I’ve found neither to be terribly helpful but that’s just me…your mileage may vary.

In general a complete rebuild of your system isn’t a bad idea about once a year (as KKBattousai mentioned). If you’re like me and constantly installing and un-installing and otherwise messing with your computer then once every 6 months might even be in order.

Of course, for those reading this and considering what I wrote remember that if it ain’t broke…don’t fix it. Just because I said once a year doesn’t mean that some people’s PC’s can’t manage 5 years without a problem (although I bet Microsoft would be willing to hire you for advertising purposes since you would indeed be a rare commodity).

Finally, as a general tune-up before you go blowing away your machine:

  1. Backup any files that are remotely important to you before proceeding. Nothing below should trash anything but this is always a wise precaution.


  3. Delete unnecessary programs. (START, CONTROL PANEL, ADD/REMOVE PROGRAMS). Scroll throught the list and uninstall anyting you no longer use.

  4. Run Scandisk (START, PROGRAMS, ACCESSORIES, SYSTEM TOOLS, SCANDISK)with the ‘Thorough’ option checked. This can take awhile to complete depending on your machine and size of your harddisk.

  5. Run Disk Defragmenter (START, PROGRAMS, ACCESSORIES, SYSTEM TOOLS, DISK DEFRAGMENTER). Be sure to disable any screen saver programs and any other programs that run on a schedule. The defragmenting process can take several hours to complete so no need to hang around.

  6. Go to Microsoft and check for updates. Of particular importance are the critical and recommended updates. Depending on your internet connection and what files you need this step may take 10 minutes or 12 hours.

  7. If your machine still hangs then reboot it. Once your machine has settled down hit CTRL-ALT-DEL and End Task anything you see in the list except for Explorer and Systray. You’ll have to hit CTRL-ALT-DEL after each time you want to End Task something.

If, after all of that, your machine is still hanging then a complete OS rebuild is almost certainly in order.

Ironic: a computer “freezes” when it gets too hot. :D:D

No, that will not cause a freeze. That will cause one, or both, programs to terminate on a memory protection error. Every common modern operating system uses hardware memory protection to prevent one program from accessing another’s memory; any attempt to do so will result in the processor going “whoa, you can’t do that”. This is what causes the infamous “This program has performed an illegal operation” dialog in Windows. On Win9x and WinME, when this occurs in the kernel, you get a bluescreen (if you’re lucky) or a hard lockup (if you’re not).

The most common cause of freeze-ups is buggy software. Usually, but not always, buggy device drivers or operating system modules. Partial freeze-ups (when one program stops responding but the rest of the computer continues to work) occur when a program is stuck in a computation loop (which is almost always a bug) or is waiting for a resource (not likely to be memory; much more likely to be a file or an input-output device) that never becomes available (either a bug or a conflict). A very common cause of lockup in Windows applications occurs when a program is waiting for a message from another thread within that program, another program, or the operating system, but that other thread or program has crashed, or doesn’t know that it’s supposed to be sending a message. This is, of course, a software bug. If the programmer used the “lazy” way of waiting for messages (which most programmers do), the user interface (which is implemented by the operating system sending messages to the program) will be entirely nonresponsive. The only way to recover from this situation is for the operating system to forcibly terminate the application. If the operating system itself gets stuck waiting like this, then all hope is lost.

Defragging your hard drive will not prevent lockups, although it may improve performance (so slow becomes not quite as slow). Uninstalling programs may help, especially if they add device drivers or OS modules (which many things do in Windows). But most applications that install such modules fail to remove them completely on uninstall and uninstalling may actually make things worse. The “tight integration” of Internet Explorer in Windows 98 and Windows Me (a concept pursued primarily for legal reasons; as it has no technical merit at all) also made those products considerably less stable.

I don’t think handy’s heat theory has anything going for it. I don’t ever turn off my computers (except to move them or to change hardware). One of them even runs a bit hot sometimes, and it’s never locked up on me. While an overheated computer will tend to fail in random ways, I don’t think this can be used to explain more than a tiny fraction of system crashes and lockups, at least in Windows.

The true geek solution, by the way, is to replace Windows with Linux. In six years of running Linux I have had it lock up exactly once, and that’s because I had an IDE drive completely fail while in use. I generally only have to reboot my Linux machines after power interruptions or occasionally to upgrade the OS kernel. I’ve never had to “reinstall” Linux to fix anything, not even the time I accidentially mkswap’d my /var partition. Redundant superblocks are your friend.

If you must run Windows, run Windows 2000. If you can’t use 2000, use 98SE. Do not, under any circumstance, use Windows Me; Me is the largest pile of steaming donkey dung to come out of Redmond since Microsoft’s appellate filing in U.S. v. Microsoft. But if you don’t absolutely have to run Windows, don’t; there are plenty of other good operating systems out there that don’t crash nearly as often.


There are lots of reasons; but heat is number one. Why would I say heat? Any type of computer does it e.g.:
a N64 game freezes up when the n64 gets too hot. Often My computer temperature rises when Im on the Internet.

I suppose unlike you guys, I have a thermometer on my board that tells me what my chip, board & chassis temperatures are & controls the fans for each of them, so the computer never freezes up.

There are of course, dozens of other reasons but the OP has this happen with three computers, so Im going with heat.

Ok, since you insist on it…

What happens when a chip gets too hot is the transistors on it stop behaving the way they’re supposed to. This can cause All Sorts Of Random Behavior. I don’t deny that this can cause an N64 to lock up. However, the most common result of overheating an Intel machine is to cause random bus errors. These usually cause bluescreens on Windows machines. While it is possible for the machine to just unexplainedly lock up, it’s unlikely; you’re far more likely to get error messages first. The usual problem is that the clock starts running faster because it’s hot, which causes memory errors because the memory can’t go that fast. Chips will run faster when hot, but if they get too hot they die. So you have to keep them cool, but not too cool. The timings are very sensitive and being too hot or too cold will make things not work right.

The N64 doesn’t have error recovery built into its operating system the way most general purpose computers do. The N64 is not a GPC, after all.

BTW, being on the Internet doesn’t significantly strain your computer and should not cause its temperature to rise. Running computationally-intensive or graphics-intensive applications, such as most games, will. Some websites do fall into this latter category.


Actually almost all newer computers have this; it’s called ACPI. Most newer systems will also shut down if they get too hot to prevent damage to the chip.

You are correct about the defragmenting not preventing lockups for the most part but a fragmented drive can cause what seems to be a lockup. When your drive is badly fragmented and your swap file has become tiny your computer will bust its ass swapping info in and out of the harddrive’s swap file. This disk thrashing can make a PC seem as if it is locked up since it will barely respond, if at all, to inputs while it is busy wailing on your harddrive. In addition, this added time spent thrashing the swap file can cause timeouts which, as KellyM mentioned, causes some flaky programs to freak because they haven’t received a response they were expecting in the time they expected it.

Also, I have seen some very poorly written programs lock because they don’t think there is enough memory in the system. Deleting files and then defragging your drive can make it appear to the system as if you have more memory and allow some flaky programs to run.

As a result the steps I mentioned are worthwhile. Running disk cleanup will free space on your PC. Deleting programs will also free space on your PC. Getting rid of extraneous files that confuse things is a side benefit but as KellyM mentioned that rarely gets rid of everything (there are third party utilities that will clean much of this junk for you). Since doing these steps are relatively easy and with very little risk I recommend them even if there is only a 10% chance it will actually fix anything.

At the very least your computer is somewhat better off for having this work done anyway.

Sorry handy but I agree with everyone else that heat is probably not the problem. A computer bought from Dell or Gateway or the like simply don’t see this issue for one simple reason:

These companies HATE support calls. It costs them all money and anything they can do to minimize the calls they will do. Something as simple as heat management they are all over because they are well aware of the threat it poses to a PC. Given that heat related problems are difficult to diagnose over the phone Dell and its bretheren engineer their boxes so as to not worry about heat. Open a Dell box and you will see baffles and conduits to aid airflow towards the hot areas.

You see heat as a problem more often now given newer GHz+ processors combined with 7,200 or 10,000 RPM harddrives and video cards with processors bigger than a Pentium chip (ala Nvidia). Smack all of these things in one box and things get toasty real fast. Some less respectable manufacturers won’t realize and/or care about this and those PC’s may have trouble.

It sounds as if the PC in the OP is a Dell. Dell only sells Intel based computers so…

  • The P-III just makes the 1 GHz mark but there aren’t many of these around.

  • The P-IV clocks well above 1 GHz but it will actually cut its speed in half if it starts to overheat. This is a feature and a good thing since the alternative could be a dead CPU.

  • Intel chips run cooler than Athlon chips. They both need active cooling but Athlon REALLY needs it. I read an article where they unplugged the fan on a 1 GHz Athlon chip and it permanently destroyed itself 7 seconds later (it won’t protect itself like a P-IV will).

All things considered I doubt heat is an issue here unless the PC has been modified, is very poorly ventilated or in some unusually hot spot (i.e. next to a radiator or something).

That said I will back handy up and say that heat is a real threat to a computer and is becoming more so every day. On the whole as computers become faster they consume more power and generate more heat. It really is something people should be aware of…especially if they make their own modifications to their system.

FTR: I do have active temperature monitoring and fan RPM monitoring in my system. My motherboard will protect my Athlon chip since the CPU won’t do it itself. If the fan stops or the temperature rises too high the system will shutdown on the spot.

“When I go to some sites, the screen
totally blacks out at times. But on the computer we have two user accounts, and sometimes it’ll
freeze when getting to my account.”
What do you mean by ‘freeze’? Does the mouse still work? Sometimes it’ll freeze until a page completes its loads & that can take three minutes sometimes, but when that happens to me the mouse always continues to work.

I have a new Dell computer, and there are so many goddamn fans on that freakin’ thing that I have to turn it off to sleep – and it’s in the next room. I’ve counted at least 5 fans, and a dedicated plastic “wind tunnel” from the CPU to the outside world. To make things worse, they make an annoying clicking sound. Add that to the video card clicky-fan and it runs about as loud as my microwave (when its’ on :slight_smile: ).

My K6/233 system had big problems. Windows 2000 and Linux didn’t seem to be affected much, but Windows 95 would crash hourly. After I reformatted to give the computer away, Windows wouldn’t install - the installer would freeze before it finished halfway, or it wouldn’t start at all.

The culprit? A bad CPU fan… got a new one for $20 and it works fine. I should have known that the chainsaw-like sound coming from the computer was bad.

I wouldn’t discount heat entirely, especially if you have a fast CPU or graphics card.

Just when I think (about once a week) that I need to reinstall my operating system, I’m on very late at night, like now, and it’s running normally and I don’t have time to learn a new language while it’s accessing a web page. So, does this mean, as it seems to, that the network is just busy during the day and it’s slowing my computer down to a crawl? Plus the fact that it freezes 2-3 times during the day, but hardly ever during the wee hours? I have a server that has been sold four times now. If I changed to a new, smaller server, would this help?

Correct, my pointer stops moving, and I cannot fix it unless I shut off the computer and turn it back on.

Thanks for all the tips! I did most of the suggestions yesterday, backing up my files and running scandisk etc. But I’m still curious about the black-outs when I go to some sites. I’ll go to a site and suddenly the screen turns black. Would it be because of my computer or because of the site itself?

Which parts did you skip?

I only ask because the harder/longer parts are the more important parts.

Specifically, doing the updates from this site are the most likely to help. Of particular use, given your problems, would be updating Internet Explorer to version 5.5. If you can include as many bells and whistles as you can (via the Custom setup option the setup routine offers you).

The other thing is the CTRL-ALT-DEL trick I mentioned in an earlier post. By End Tasking everything in that list (except for Explorer and Systray) you can see if another program is causing you trouble.

Update the drivers on your computer. Get the latest video card driver, soundcard driver and maybe even mouse driver. Also consider updating your BIOS.

Finally, and I neglected to mention this before as well, run a virus scan if you can. You can download trial versions from McAfee or Symantec to do this once of you want. I have no idea if you have a computer virus but you never know and it pays to be thorough.

If all of that fails then re-installing your OS is probably your best option.