The dreaded system ‘freeze’

August 24, 2011 

We have all seen it. The cursor will move, but clicking doesn’t do a thing, progress bars just stay where they are, nothing will let you get out of the frozen box on your screen. And the annoying “not responding” appears in your program bar. It’s where our patience wears thin.

System freeze is a common symptom that can have many causes. Software conflicts are the usual culprit in a computer lock-up. Less frequently, failing hardware can lead to frozen applications and slow systems. Figuring out what caused it and why, can be a challenge.

The unfortunate issue in a system freeze is that the method most often required to “unfreeze” your system can put your computer at even more risk. Often to get beyond a frozen screen, a “hard shut-down” must be performed by holding down the power button for 5 to 10 seconds until the machine powers down. This is a bad practice for the computer, and you will usually see a warning screen at the next power-up. Hard shut-down can cause damage to the hard drive by interrupting its mechanical operation. Most times you will not see evidence of damage, but the cumulative effect could be detrimental. For this reason, chronic system freezes should be addressed quickly.

The dreaded system freeze does not discriminate. Both old and new computers can freeze up. If your computer is not more than four years old and suddenly begins to lock up, possible causes could be viruses, excessive processes running simultaneously, or hardware issues.

In order to resolve these issues, technical assistance may be required. A tech would most likely check for hard drive or memory problems. A memory upgrade is a cost-effective and simple improvement that may help. Hard drive replacements are more complicated. In regard to software, it may be helpful to remove viruses and unneeded applications.

A more comprehensive option would be an operating system reload, which is a computer’s “spring cleaning.”

These tasks should be performed by a technician or very knowledgeable user. Some things a home user can do include allowing the computer to process one request before starting another. Avoid starting a new process when the progress bar or hour glass symbol appears. Keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware programs updated and run regular scans.

If your computer is 5 years old or older, it may make sense to consider replacing it for a newer model. A computer more than five years old cannot always keep up with today’s demands. Fortunately prices have dropped in the past several years; so you might be pleasantly surprised with the cost of a replacement.

New or used, the system freeze will be a part of a computer user’s life. Remember when working on documents, spreadsheets or any project to save often. As mentioned, it is also important to regularly maintain your computer keeping it updated, running hard drive defragmentation and cleaning up old unused files. Be prepared for the unexpected and keep your trusted computer advisers name handy. Freezes can happen, so have a little patience.

Michael Shaffer, of Computer Renaissance of Bradenton, can be reached at (941) 753-8277 or at

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