Knowledge Base

Troubleshooting System Lock Ups or Freezes


Table of Contents

  1. System Lock Ups
  2. Run a Computer Diagnostic
  3. Check Air Vents
  4. Check Safe Mode for Symptoms
  5. Check for Malware
  6. Perform a Clean Boot in Windows
  7. Update BIOS and Drivers
  8. Update Windows
  9. Uninstall, Reinstall, Update Software
  10. Run Routine Maintenance
  11. Use System Restore
  12. Reinstall Operating System

This article provides troubleshooting steps to assist with identifying the root cause of system lock ups.


System Lock Ups

If your computer suddenly stops responding while in Windows, you may be experiencing a system lock up issue. For system lock ups, there are steps you can take to attempt to discover the root cause.

Note: If the issue recently started, please note any recent hardware or software changes before beginning troubleshooting, as reversing those recent changes may quickly identify the issue.

A piece of hardware may be causing the lock up. Try unplugging all devices from your computer, including:

  • Printers
  • Scanners
  • Media Card Readers
  • Small Media cradles (iPod, PDA, MP3 player, etc.)
  • Digital Cameras and Video Recorders
  • USB storage devices
  • CDs or DVDs from all optical drives

For troubleshooting purposes on desktop systems, the only items that need to be connected to the system are a keyboard, mouse and monitor.

If you are unable to identify the issue by reverting recent changes or unplugging external devices, you can troubleshoot using the steps listed below.

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Run a Computer Diagnostic

To determine if your computer is experiencing a hardware problem, run the Dell Preboot System Assessment (PSA) Diagnostics. For information on how to run Diagnostics, and to determine the issue, refer to Dell Knowledge Base Article:

If the onboard diagnostics and other troubleshooting have not identified the root cause of the lock ups, you may wish to consider running the Quick Test or Full Scan at Dell PC Diagnostics. You can locate these diagnostics at the link below:

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Check Air Vents

Blocked air vents can cause performance issues, as the system may not be receiving the proper air flow and the processor may overheat. To protect itself from overheating, the processor will slow itself down and this performance decrease can be interpreted as a lock up. To ensure that this is not the root cause of the lock up issue, please complete the following steps:

  1. Check the vents on the computer to see if they are covered with dust and not allowing heat and air to pass through. See example shown in Figure-1 for a laptop vent and example shown in Figure-2 for a desktop vent.


    Figure-1 Vent on the bottom of the Laptop with dust.



    Figure-2 Vent on the front of a desktop with dust.
  2. Turn off the System
  3. Remove all power sources: Unplug the AC Adapter and Remove the Battery, or Unplug the Desktop Power Cord.
  4. Use a compressed air can to blow the dust out of the vents. Be sure to hold the can at an upright (near 90 degree angle) and hold it 15-20 centimeters (6-8 inches) away from the target.
Notice: Do not use your mouth to blow the dust out of a laptop. The moisture from your mouth can cause permanent damage.

When using a can of compressed air, use according to the directions on the side of the can, as you can cause damage to the computer if used incorrectly.

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Check Safe Mode for Symptoms

Safe mode prevents non-crucial applications and drivers from loading. This allows us to eliminate the software as a possible root cause of the lock ups or freezes.

Note: When using safe mode, the video resolution will be 800 X 600 and may make your icons and text appear larger than normal. Additionally, your desktop background will not be present in this mode. These are normal behaviors and will not require troubleshooting to repair, as they will return to normal when you log back into regular mode.
Notice: Please note that when you log into Safe Mode, your anti-virus program will be disabled. Please use caution when connected to a network or the internet while your anti-virus is disabled.

To boot into safe mode, please follow the instructions below:

  1. Start the computer
  2. Tap 'F8' on the keyboard immediately and every one second until the Dell logo screen disappears. From there you will see the Windows Advanced Options Menu on the screen. (If the Windows Advanced Options Menu does not appear, restart the system and try again.)
  3. Select Safe mode with Networking and press Enter
  4. Log on as the administrator or as a user with administrative access

For instructions on booting into Safe Mode in Windows 8/8.1, reference the following article at Dell's Support Website: How to boot into Safe Mode on Windows 8 on your Dell PC.

Open applications and test the computer in safe mode. If the symptoms exist in safe mode, please continue the troubleshooting steps in this article. If the symptoms do not exist in safe mode, the issue is likely related to a driver or software and you may wish to complete steps 6 and 7 to see if you are able to resolve the lock ups or freezing.

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Check for Malware

Malware (Virus, Spyware, etc.) can definitely cause a Windows system to lock up or appear to hang. To check for malware on your system and to ensure that your computer is up to date on security software, visit Dell Knowledge Base Article:

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Perform a Clean Boot in Windows

A program or application may be interfering with the normal processes of Windows. Microsoft has created a detailed process for isolating a startup program that is causing potential issues. Click the link below to begin the troubleshooting process:

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Update BIOS and Drivers

In many cases slow performance can be caused by outdated drivers or BIOS settings. Be sure to regularly update your drivers to take full advantage of your hardware and software. Generally speaking, you should update your drivers and BIOS in the following order:

  1. BIOS
  2. Chipset Driver
  3. Video Driver
  4. Audio Driver
  5. Network Driver
  6. Hard Drive Firmware
  7. Other drivers

Try updating each of these drivers individually and then retest the system to see if the problem continues.

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Update Windows

Be sure that your computer is running with the latest updates for Windows. Visit the Windows Update website to be sure your computer is fully updated.

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Uninstall, Reinstall, Update Software

If your computer is hanging while using a particular application, try uninstalling the application completely from the computer, then reinstall it and visit the software vendor's website to update the software to the latest version.

Notice: Before uninstalling any application, please be sure to back up any critical data. Additionally, please be sure you have the required media and product key to reinstall the software. If you are in doubt, please check with the software vendor before uninstalling.

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Run Routine Maintenance

Be sure to regularly run maintenance tasks on your computer to keep it at peak performance. Refer to Dell's Optimization and Maintenance of Microsoft Windows articles for more information - VISTA, XP, WIN 7 or WIN 8/8.1 (Microsoft link)

Also, use the System File Checker to verify the system files and folders on your computer.

To run System File Checker:

  1. Click Start
  2. For Windows XP click Run... and then type sfc /scannow in the box provided and press Enter
  3. For Windows Vista and Windows 7, type sfc /scannow in the Start Search box in the Start menu and press Enter

Additionally, you can use Check Disk (Chkdsk) to scan your hard disk for errors to be corrected.

You can locate instructions on how to use this feature by using the Dell KB article below:

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Use System Restore

Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8/8.1 contain a feature known as System Restore to roll back changes to the computer based on "restore points" that are commonly scheduled by Windows.

Note: The System Restore feature is enabled in Windows by default; however, please know that this feature may have been disabled by your IT department during system configuration.

To access and use this feature, refer to the link below and select the System Restore option:

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Reinstall Operating System

If you are still experiencing lockups in Windows, and the troubleshooting steps above have not resolved the problem, there is likely an underlying issue with the operating system.

Notice: Reinstalling the operating system will result in a loss of all data on the system. Dell recommends that you back up all data prior to reinstalling the operating system.

To restore Microsoft Windows to the original factory configuration, refer to Dell Knowledge Base Article:

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Quick Tips content is self-published by the Dell Support Professionals who resolve issues daily. In order to achieve a speedy publication, Quick Tips may represent only partial solutions or work-arounds that are still in development or pending further proof of successfully resolving an issue. As such Quick Tips have not been reviewed, validated or approved by Dell and should be used with appropriate caution. Dell shall not be liable for any loss, including but not limited to loss of data, loss of profit or loss of revenue, which customers may incur by following any procedure or advice set out in the Quick Tips.

Article ID: SLN265689

Last Date Modified: 08/08/2018 12:25 PM


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