Do you remember that time when you were finishing an unsaved project due the next day when the mouse became unresponsive and the computer lost all signs of activity? Sadly, a similar incident happened to me during an online job interview.
Here’s the sad truth: You will find your PC unresponsive when you least expect it. The question is how to fix hangs or freezes on Windows computers without adding further damage.
Don’t panic and reinstall Windows right away, or you will risk losing important files.
In this article, I will walk you through some steps to find the likely causes for this erratic behaviour. I will also teach you how to troubleshoot or fix it. The usual suspects include Windows Update installations, Windows configuration, hardware issues, malware or antivirus software, faulty hardware drivers, poor performance and app-specific freezes.
Identifying Computer Hangs or Freezes
Before troubleshooting, you have to identify which category the behaviour falls under.
Microsoft states four behaviours of unresponsive PCs: hangs, random hangs, generic freezes and single-app freezes.
- Hangs– The PC stops responding after a specific set of steps. You must restart to recover.
- Random Hangs– The PC is randomly unresponsive. You must restart to recover.
- Generic Freezes– The PC stops responding for a few seconds or longer, seemingly affecting all apps, and starts responding again without user intervention. You don’t need to restart to recover.
- Single-app Freezes– The PC is unresponsive for a few seconds or longer when running a specific app and starts responding again without user activity. It commonly happens when Web browsing or playing games.
Now that we’ve defined the behaviours of unresponsive PCs, let’s troubleshoot!
Hangs at Startup
External devices and drivers often cause hangs at startup. If you have external devices plugged in, unplug it and try starting the computer. If the PC starts, reconnect one device and restart the PC. You have to repeat these steps for each device until you have isolated the device causing the hang.
Another reason for hangs at startup is a recent hardware or software change to your computer. This is where the Windows system recovery tools come in handy, especially System Restore. Bottom line is to try all the recommended recovery options. And remember to always create a Windows system image backup.
Hangs at Shutdown
Faulty hardware, drivers or Windows components often cause hangs at shutdown. Here are steps on how to resolve it:
- Install all available drivers and firmware from your PC maker’s website.
- Install all recommended updates under Windows Update.
- Unplug unnecessary peripherals, such as USB devices.
- Boot up in Safe Mode to load basic Windows drivers. If the problem persists, uninstall unnecessary software.
- Run an anti-malware or antivirus software.
Sometimes Windows will make your life easier by flashing an onscreen message that shows the cause of the hang at shutdown.
Hangs When Installing Windows Updates
Windows Updates are infamous for crippling PCs during or right after installs. Here are steps on how to troubleshoot it:
- Right-click the Wi-Fi or LAN icon in the notification area, choose Troubleshoot problems, follow the wizard and run Windows Update again.
- Run the Windows Update Troubleshooter, follow the wizard and run Windows update again.
- Reset or reinstall Windows when all else fails.
Faulty hardware, software compatibility and damaged system files due to malware – are all possible causes for random hangs. And its randomness makes it especially hard to troubleshoot and fix.
Here are tips that will help identify the cause and the next action plan:
- Windows runs a Chkdsk tool during startup when it detects a faulty hard disk. It can also take more than a day for Chkdsk to find and fix problems for large hard drives. The mere presence of these problems means the hard drive is failing.
Action Plan: Consider replacing the drive or other faulty hardware, or seek help from your PC maker if needed.
- Malicious software reduces Windows performance and often leads to random hangs.
Action Plan: Use more than two updated anti-malware tools from trusted antivirus companies if you see signs of an infection. But please avoid running multiple antivirus software in the background at the same time. AV programs are memory hogs and heuristics analysis will conflict with each other.
Like the other PC behaviours, a generic freeze often implies degraded performance due to faulty hardware or bad Windows configuration.
Windows freezes sporadically when it detects a faulty system driver. Possible causes are display drivers, network drivers, motherboard drivers and Bluetooth drivers.
- Update firmware and drivers from the PC maker’s website or thru Windows Update.
- Optimise Windows for better performance.
A specific app may conflict with another app in your computer and temporarily freeze it.
Here are steps to troubleshoot the issue:
- Update to the latest firmware or drivers from the PC maker’s website
- Install all recommended Windows updates.
- Optimise Windows for better performance.
- Install specific updates for the app
- Toggle the Internet connection to monitor changes in app behaviour. It will help isolate trouble to a slow network.
- Uninstall and reinstall the app to fix damaged files or bad app configuration.
If it still doesn’t work, after you tried these steps to fix hangs or freezes on Windows, contact us and we’ll help make it easier with our managed IT services.