Random Freezing

By Deane Barker on April 12, 2004

Is there no worse problem in all of computer-dom than random freezing? You know, when the computer just freezes — hard-drive light goes out, mouse stops moving, keyboard is unresponsive, etc. The screen is just frozen in time.

Talk about frustration. There’s no error message to Google, no log file to review, no rhyme or reason to how or when it happens. It just happens.

How many geeks at help desks around the world shudder at the words, “It just locks up for no reason.” You hope that “locks up” means it’s just slow or the hard drive cycles for a while. But, with a sinking heart, you realize that “locks up” means just that.

There’s no…crack in the bug into which you can dig your fingers to pry out a solution. The bug is as solid and impenetrable as a hunk of aluminum. It’s like trying to attack a Borg cube.

So, what do you do? You start looking for change you just made. Well, you just reloaded an OS from scratch, so that’s no real help. You start reloading drivers. You know it can’t be a hardware incompatibility because it worked fine before with the same hardware. You run Windows Update, you tweak BIOS, etc.

Still locks. What do you do? Do you start replacing parts? But what a money hole that can be. Taking an educated guess, these things happen a lot with bad video cards. But what if you buy one and that’s not it? Do you just keep replacing parts until you find the one that makes it go away?

I have a machine to which this problem happened about 18 months ago. All the debugging I had to offer was no use. It still sits there, with a ghost in the machine that renders it useless for about anything. It’s just waiting to be parted out since the sum of the parts contains a phantom bent on destroying the whole.

Random freezing is the single worst desktop computer problem in the world. Vent over. Thanks.



  1. I agree, but finding it with nothing to go on — no pattern, no symptoms, no error message, no log file — is next to impossible.

  2. Ah, I certainly recognize this :-s I have a computer which has been having this problem for ages; no matter if I am using Win98 or Win2K (fresh install), it often just hangs, most often when browsing the internet (with IE, Moz, Opera, everything). I’ve done a memory check — nothing. Reinstalled everything a dozen times — nothing. Switched to Linux — Mandrake’s installer crashed for no apparent reason; though when I was finally up & running the problem seemed to be less bad. Maybe it’s just too slow; or maybe it’s the video card (it’s an ATI on-board thingummy). Yeah, I think I’ll check that video card… Apparently, video cards are known to cause problems, and it’s just about the only thing I haven’t tried… :o) Hmm, thanks!

  3. I just realized how the title of this page is going to work out in a few weeks. Google is going to pick it up and we’re going to have dozens of posts from people wanting us to debug their system hangs.

  4. There is always a culprit, but there are seldom enough clues to tell you who it is. I work at a helpdesk, and yes I dread those words. We have this one user who just can’t do anything right, not matter what system and she always finds SOME way to make it “just lock up”.

  5. The most common reason for a complete screen freeze, in my experience, has been that the processor gets too hot. Try leaving the case off, make sure the heatsync is there, make sure the fan is working, and make sure it’s not overclocked. If it’s an older board, check the jumpers.

  6. “The most common reason for a complete screen freeze, in my experience, has been that the processor gets too hot…”

    And you would know, Captain Overclock. :-)

    I checked, and the processor runs at about 88 degrees (31C) at idle. I wrote a three-line script that looped endlessly and pegged the CPU at 100%.

    After 15 minutes of this, the CPU had climbed to 111 degrees. It touched 113 once, but never went over this.

    The motherboard core temp and the video processor temp were both 20 or 30 degrees cooler. The fan stayed under 5,000 RPM the entire time.

    I did a little searching, and I found that system freezes from overheating happen somewhere north of 200 degrees. What’s been your experience on the temperature required to overheat a CPU?

    Incidentally, my son plays EverQuest regularly, and it has yet to lock during that. If it was going to lock because the CPU was overheating, I’m guessing that a four-hour EQ session would be the time to do it.

  7. Did not have any problems until a new screen was installed. Have just bought a bigger 17inch Flat pro. And from the first day it started freezing for a few seconds. It is getting worse. Have downloaded drives to see if that solves the problem, was okay for a couple of days and now it has started again. The longer it is on the worse it gets. Has any body experienced this after adding anything. I am putting my old monitor back on and see what happens.

  8. I have been Playing everquest for quite someime and now and i have never had Freezing issues. But about a month ago it just started completely Freezing up ( i had to completely turn off my PC.) I have chatted with many CSR’s seen many websites and Nothing has helped.
    I have disabled Everything associated with the sound card, I have modified and Deleted items in the eq.client i have forwarded a port for everquest on my router, Updated all the possible drivers, and cleaned the whole inside of the PC. I have 3 fans in my computer so i know that this problem is not heat related. No viruses in my pc either. I have windows 2k pro. Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 graphics card Which was recently purchased and installed into my computer.
    If anyone can help me out with this i would be so grateful.

    Thank you.

  9. Yeah, based on this, I’m closing the comments. For the record, it’s still happening on my box, but much less often these days — perhaps once every two weeks. Still no pattern except that it hasn’t happened to my wife or son — just me.

  10. Well, last night I stripped the computer down to its birthday suit, removing every piece of hardware I’ve added over the years. Wireless card, gone. Firewire card, gone. Modem (don’t ask), gone. Various USB peripherals, gone.

    I installed a new hard drive, then loaded Windows from scratch. It didn’t even get through the initial Windows Update before it locked again.

    Right now, all that’s really left is the CPU, motherboard, and memory. There’s a video card, but I replaced that already with a new one and it still locked (I returned that and put the old one back in). There’s a network card, but the odds of that being a problem are slim. CD-ROM? CD-RW? No idea.

    What’s strange is that it smells like a standard hardware problem. However, it didn’t start until I formatted and reloaded Windows one fateful night. The computer ran on a stable hardware platform for literally years before that night. So it’s a software bug…but it’s persisted through three format-and-reload sessions now.

    I have two memory slots, and I’m going to pull the DIMMs one at a time and run on a single for a while. If the locking stops, then there must be a problem with the DIMM that was pulled. (Although, I’ve already run a memory tester that returned no problems.)

    After that, who knows? Perhaps I’ll replace the CPU since it’s getting a little long in the tooth anyway. I think my motherboard can support 1.8 GHz which would be a nice improvement over the 1 GHz I have now, whether or not it fixes my problem.

    The saga continues.

    P.S. — Those Macs are looking pretty friggin’ good right now…

  11. If you think there’s a chance it may be software (I doubt it), throw a KNOPPIX disk in it and run under Linux for a few hours to see if you have the same problem.

    I wouldn’t start over-idolizing the Macs as the panacea for this sort of thing. Rob tells me that they are pickier on memory than most PC boards.

    That said, Tara and I discussed it, and we’ll probably be getting one later this year…

  12. “That said, Tara and I discussed it, and we’ll probably be getting one later this year…”

    I hear you. That visit to the Apple Store left me a somewhat changed man. I want a Mac, but then I want a lot of other things I can’t cost justify either.

  13. I got a new CPU fan this morning. The CPU is running about 10 degrees cooler than before, but I didn’t really think that was the problem anyway.

    I replaced the fan simply because the old one was so friggin’ loud. I think a bearing was going out or something — it whined more than my three-year-old.

    Good investment for $16, but the search for the problem continues. I found a 2.0 GHz Athlon for $80. That may be the next purchase.

  14. “Your time is worth something too.”

    Well, I agree, but the implication there is that this sort of thing would NEVER happen on a Mac, which I think is patently ridiculous. I’ll concede that Macs are probably more reliable than PCs, but hardware problems will crop up on either platform.

    Case in point:


  15. “the implication there is that this sort of thing would NEVER happen on a Mac, which I think is patently ridiculous.”

    I think you’re reading a bit more into what I said than was intended. Apple has its share of problems with hardware and software — just read through http://www.macintouch.com for a taste — but troubleshooting any given problem on a Mac is much less of an ordeal than on a PC. Anyone who has spent any time at all dealing with both platforms will tell you that.

    Apple gets knocked pretty regularly for not opening its OS to run on other hardware, but keeping things close like they do does have its benefits.

  16. http://www.gadgetopia.com/2004/06/30/DocMemory.html

    Ran this for three hours with no problems. It didn’t find any memory problems, and it didn’t lock during the time it was running.

    I may try a longer test later, but I’m suspecting more and more than I don’t have an overtly malfunctioning piece of hardware, just something that disagrees with an aspect of Windows at certain states of operation, like a driver incompatibility or something.

    Essentially the hardest possible thing in the world to diagnose.

  17. I have booted my machine into Knoppix Linux. I’ve opened Mozilla, shut off the browser cache, and brought up CNN’s home page which forces a refresh every 30 minutes. I’m going to leave this thing running all night. If it doesn’t freeze up, then either I got very lucky, or the problem is clearly within Windows.

  18. Well, I think we have it licked. Right when I had given up and thought the problem was insurmountable, it gave itself away: the machine starting spontaneously rebooting. This is a sure sign of either bad memory or a bad power supply.

    Since the memory had been checked already, I spent $30 on a new power supply. It’s been a full week, and the machine is running fine. My fingers are crossings, but I think I got it.

  19. Did it work, Deane? The new PSU? I have the same ghost-in-the-machine and replacing the PSU is about the last thing left to try…

  20. I have the very same problem… about 18 months ago my desktop computer began freezing for no reason at all… for months I thought it was a faulty hdd but after replacing it I soon realized how clueless I actually was. I personally chouse the more expensive root to fixing my problem and so far I’ve replaced to no avail: The motherboard, ram, hdd, cables, power supply, keyboard, mouse, graphics card and monitor (the monitor was for kicks). The only thing else that I can replace before it becomes entirely a new computer is my 3.2ghz p4 HT… I’m guessing that’ll be my next purchase — because what the heck I’ve already lost enough money not to, just go for it… I guess all I’ve really learned is that replacing parts on hunches and educated guess don’t really help

  21. Hi, I am facing this problem too. My pc hangs up randomly for no apparant reason at all Btw mostly my HDD light is ON throughout the hang. I cant keep Pc on for more than 2hours w/o expecting it to hang!!! One peculiar thing i noticed was tht, my pc freezed for abt a millisecond (while i was working) and then unfreezed (phew) and then after a second or so, it Frooze again (for eternity).this happened a couple of times, so i can assume tht b4 freezin, thre is a “warning” freeze for a milisecond or so

    No event log, nothing can tell me the reason. My system works on an XP ghosted copy which i have mirrored on a DVD. as i have restored my ghost a couple of times from both my HDD and DVD copy (which ran fine previously), I am pretty sure now its a H/W issue The phantom lies somewhre …… I am really desperate to resolve this (else i have to sell my xp box :(( Please help me)

  22. on a more personal note, my pc remains open > Extreme rare chances of heating !! i checked all combinations of the three RAMs i have, So:

    1. Its not an overheating problem
    2. Its not a RAM problem (trival)

    btw pc frooze DURING scandisk too !!! got a few bad sectors now :((

    My config (not for the faint hearted): Intel celeron 1100Mhz 1.09 Ghz 384 Mb RAM I have an NVdia gforce4 MX4000 card.

    Life sucks!! pc sucks too !!! PLEASE HELP ME !!!!!!

  23. Had similar problems. Turns out the ram timings set by default by the bios was the cause. Just change it according to the ram specification and done. Almost went crazy fight this problem for about a month

  24. I had similar problem with random freezes on Vista 64bit. I check everything – buy new mainboard, check RAM, get new hardrive, replace graphic card, update BIOS, install Windows 7 and nothing solve my problem. At last, I found the cause of my random freezes….it was AVG Antivirus !!! No shit !! I replaced it with Avast and everything works fine !

  25. I am glad that I am not the only one with this problem, but for those who rejoice in the solution of 4dik, I am using Avast since ages and still have the same problem. If I believed in ghosts I would gladly believe he or she is targetting me. The system runs fine for a couple of weeks and then it will freeze 2 or 3 times in a row. Mouse, kb and hd stop, power and monitor image stay on. All I can do is cut the power and start again which windows will do fine without problem. Nothing in the logs, so maybe a ghost after all.

  26. @ will – same/similar issue here (random freezing).. in my case i feel its down to gpu (9800gtx+) as the freezing occurs when gpu has been tested in each 2 systems/builds although i’m thinking possibly some hp printer (c3180) software (installed in both systems when tested) is causing pc to randomly freeze.. ..now uninstalled all hp software and so will see if random freezing still occurs within a given time period.

  27. ..within 4 days pc randomly froze. event viewer/logs do not give anything of any relevance. 9800gtx+ gfx card is due to be returned.

  28. For everyone here: Phoenix Awardstation BIOS does not set its timing to RAM chips properly (expecially with DDR2 and later). Go to the BIOS setup and change it based on your RAM chips timing setting (can be found with google… no duh). Btw i am a hacker and theres nothing like a good old frezzing while fooling around with bank software to ruin an otherwizely good day. XD Anyway hope this helped. -P.S. Sorry if im a little late. -P.S.S. Im bored and want to train hackers so click my link and shoot me an email k? — REDX

  29. For everyone here: Phoenix Awardstation BIOS does not set its timing to RAM chips properly (expecially with DDR2 and later). Go to the BIOS setup and change it based on your RAM chips timing setting (can be found with google… no duh). Btw i am a hacker and theres nothing like a good old frezzing while fooling around with bank software to ruin an otherwizely good day. XD Anyway hope this helped. -P.S. Sorry if im a little late. -P.S.S. Im bored and want to train hackers so click my link and shoot me an email k? — REDX

  30. F**k what i said earlier k? Let me guess: youre running windows 7? Microsoft says it’s “a deadlock condition between the Lsass.exe process, the Redirected Drive Buffering Subsystem (Rdbss.sys) driver, and the Winsock kernel.” A simple hotfix download will fix this problem. Link: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2265716/en-us

    If you arent running win7: s**t out of luck.

    P.S. Still training hackers…. redx2dth@live.com …. O.o …. lol

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