Your laptop suddenly shutting down is an alarming experience. Aside from concerns about losing data – open documents or perhaps game saves – there’s the looming possibility of a physical problem with your machine. In this article I’ll cover some possible diagnoses and suggest some solutions.
The first thing you should check is the power situation. It may seem obvious, but check over your charger for any signs of damage. If everything is in good condition, try taking the battery out of the laptop (assuming your model has a removable battery), before plugging it in and firing it up. If the laptop runs fine without shutting down, your problem is probably to do with the battery. If it won’t run at all or performance is very poor, reinsert the battery and leave it for a while before trying again. After this, the laptop running alright for a while before suffering performance issues and shutting down again, your charger might not be providing enough power – if you can, try it with another charger.
Batteries wear out over time – particularly on older models. As the battery wears, the software tracking how much charge you have left will slowly get less accurate. If you think your problem is in the battery, before you resort to replacing it you should try recalibration. The basic process is the same for most models of laptop:
- Fully charge the battery to 100%.
- Wait for two hours – this is to allow the battery to cool from the charging process. You can still use the laptop, just avoid doing anything intensive that will stress the system.
- Set up your power management so that your laptop will only sleep or hibernate after reaching 5% power.
- Unplug the laptop and run it until it sleeps or hibernates.
- Leave it for around 5 hours before charging it again. The battery should now be calibrated.
There are a couple of other things you can try to iron out battery issues. For Macbooks, you can try resetting the SMC. Making sure your BIOS is up to date on Windows machines is also worthwhile, as that can have some effect on the power management.
Corrupted or damaged drivers are one common cause behind shutdown problems. It’s easiest to tell if you’ve updated recently, or installed new software – if the problems started immediately after an update, that’s a fairly good indication of the culprit and you should try rolling back to the previous stable release.
Conversely, if you haven’t updated anything in a while it’s a good idea to do so – it might just solve your problem, and if there’s no change you can at least rule the drivers out.
If your laptop is getting hotter than is safe, the CPU will throttle itself in an effort to try and cool down. If the temperature continues to rise, the system may perform an emergency shutdown to try and prevent the components from being damaged by the heat.
To rule out overheating, there are a few symptoms you should look for:
- Parts of the laptop’s case are getting very hot – this one shouldn’t be a surprise!
- The laptop’s fans are running constantly at high speed
- Flickering displays
- Sudden poor performance
The first thing you should check when tackling overheating is if the vents are blocked. If the laptop is sat on a soft surface like a bed, that could cover the intakes or the exhaust vents and stifle the airflow inside the case – stick it on a table!
Next, crack open the case (Carefully! You should take basic precautions when doing this, like grounding yourself using an antistatic wristband). Clear out any dust, paying special attention to any vents and making sure all the fans are clear and able to spin freely. Never let a fan turn backwards! If you spray it out with canned air, use a finger to hold the fan in place. You can use cotton buds and isopropyl alcohol to get into any tight corners.
Consider using a laptop cooler or a cooling pad – an active cooler can help pull heat away from the laptop and may offer a small boost in performance if you’re doing intensive work like video encoding, image editing or gaming. Just be careful if you’re using the type that blows air directly into the case – if you hook it up to an exhaust instead of an intake, you’ll cause more problems than you cause. Used properly though, they can be a big improvement. Good examples of coolers to look at are the Swift or the Wind from KLIM Technologies.
Some malware can force shutdowns, and if you have one of these you’re almost certain to have other problems. An easy way to test for this is to start your laptop in safe mode – if you don’t suffer any shutdowns you can safely assume the problem is software related.
Get hold of a good up-to-date antivirus suite and do a full scan of your system. This can be time consuming, but will hopefully deal with any problems. As with many things, prevention is better than cure, and you can go a long way just by using safe web-browsing practices and not opening attachments from untrustworthy sources.
Another potential issue that can cause sudden shutdowns is hardware failure. A common method for troubleshooting this is to remove all nonessential components and replace those you can’t remove one at a time. On a laptop this is usually limited to the RAM – everything else is probably both essential and impractical to replace.
Before pulling things apart and getting into tedious trial-and-error testing there are software tools you can use to help diagnose your exact issue. In Windows, use the Windows Memory Diagnostic tool – this will write to every sector of the RAM and then read back to check for errors, and should reveal any faults with RAM. Mac users can use Apple Diagnostics (or Apple Hardware Test, depending on the model) to do similar testing – hold down the “D” key whilst restarting your Macbook or Macbook Pro to access these. If you’re a Linux user, look into the open source tool Memtest86+ (depending on your Linux distro this may already be installed).
Hard drive problems are unlikely to cause sudden shutdowns – you’re far more likely to run into a plethora of other errors such as bluescreening or freezing – but you can check the drive’s SMART (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology) data just to make sure. There are third party tools for this, but you probably don’t need them. Windows users can check SMART through the command prompt in two commands: “wmic” followed by “diskdrive get status”. Mac users can use the Disk Utility – select the drive and click the “Info” button.