What to do when your laptop is locking up

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What to do when your laptop is locking up

Things that can cause your laptop to freeze can be roughly divided into two categories: software problems and hardware problems.

Hardware problems

Hardware issues are generally easier to diagnose than their software counterparts. The biggest cause of freezing problems from the hardware side of things is overheating. If your fans are going full blast all of the time it’s a good sign you have an overheating problem. There are a few things you can do to tackle overheating, the first of which is keeping the vents clear from any blockages. This can be as simple as not using the laptop on soft surfaces like beds or sofas. Dust is the greatest enemy here, as it builds up inside the laptop and impedes the airflow through the case.

Clearing out the dust

Periodically running a vacuum cleaner past your vents can help keep them clear of dust. If you’re dealing with a large build up though, it may be better to open the case and clear it out from the inside. There are a few precautions you should take while doing this – use an antistatic wristband, unplug everything and take out the battery (if it’s removable), and keep something handy to put any screws in so you don’t lose them.

Canned air is useful for blasting out dust in bulk, and is great for cleaning the worst build ups. If you’re trying to get stubborn dust of a small niche, using a cotton bud and a little isopropyl alcohol – just leave the case open for a few minutes after you’re done to let the alcohol evaporate.

When you’re removing dust from around your fans, be careful not let them turn backwards, as this can damage them. Pin the fan in place with a finger if you’re going to blast the dust out with canned air. When a fan is clean it should turn smoothly, with very little resistance. A gritty feeling is a sign that either there’s debris getting in the way, or the fan is wearing out and needs replacing.

Reinvigorate your fans

You can try breathing a bit of new life into a fan by carefully oiling it – though this really is a last-ditch measure before finding a replacement. Lift the sticker on the hub of the fan to expose a little rubber bung. If you gently pry that out with a very small flat-bladed screwdriver, you should see the metal end of the fan’s axle. A single drop of oil on this end should be enough to lubricate the entire sleeve bearing assembly inside. 3-in-1 oil is fine, but something light like sewing machine oil is even better. With that done, replace the rubber bung (and the sticker, if it will stay), and your fan should now run quietly and smoothly.

Cooling pads

If overheating is still a problem, look into getting a cooling pad like the KLIM Swift or something similar. These pads bring in extra air and help the laptop to draw heat away from the case through convection. They also in sure is enough airflow around the case for the intakes, and less heat pollution in the air being taken in from the exhaust.

Even if you aren’t having overheating problems, a laptop cooler is a good investment – by helping the laptop to run cooler, it reduces the stress placed on the internal components, helping your machine run more efficiently and increasing its lifespan.

Memory problems

Another cause of freezing is insufficient memory. This somewhat bridges the gap between a hardware and software problem. There are two types of memory to be concerned about when dealing with freezing issues: Storage, and RAM.

Open up some hard drive space

Storage, or hard drive space, is the computer’s long-term memory and is where everything from your files to your programs are kept. If you run completely out of storage your computer doesn’t have the room to move things around, and everything will lock up, causing terrible performance problems.
Thankfully the solution is simple – delete unused files and uninstall any unnecessary programs.
The rule of thumb for how much space you should keep clear is ten percent, but in the age of terabyte hard drives that’s a little excessive. Making sure you have at least five or ten gigabytes free is sufficient to keep everything running smoothly in most cases.

Managing your RAM

RAM (Random Access Memory) is the computer’s short-term memory, where it places anything currently being worked on. If you don’t have enough, the computer will start moving things into long-term storage, which will slow everything down immensely. To see what’s going on with your RAM, open up task manager (ctrl+alt+del) and click on the processes tab. By clicking on the “memory” heading, you can sort the list of active processes by how much of your RAM they’re using. From there you can make decisions about how to proceed.

If your RAM is being eaten up because you have 200 tabs open in Firefox (or your browser of choice), I suggest either installing the TooManyTabs extension or learning to use the bookmarking features. If the programs using up your memory are unimportant or unwanted, then clearing them from your startup programs and performing a clean boot should help.

Clear out unwanted programs

You can find instructions for how to perform a clean boot on Microsoft’s website. If, after a clean boot, your system is running smoothly again, you can use add/remove programs to uninstall any unwanted programs or bloatware. “Bloatware” is software that developers pay the manufacturer to install at the factory, to bring down the cost of the computer.
It’s usually unnecessary, and often it’s set to run on start up, taking up memory and other resources better used for programs you actually want and use. After disabling and uninstalling it, a modest boost in your laptop’s performance wouldn’t be surprising.

Upgrading your RAM

If the programs using up your RAM are important to you, then upgrading your RAM is an easy improvement. You can use a website like Crucial’s to check what type of RAM you need. The actual replacement is a very simple procedure – here is an excellent guide to replacing laptop RAM.

Software issues

If the RAM turns out not to be the problem, then we’re getting into software territory, and things get a little more esoteric. If available, try using system restore and resetting everything to the most recent restore point – this should hopefully reset things to a functioning state, prior to all your freezing issues.

Update all of your drivers – these are the programs that control all the parts of your system and keep it running. Conflicts and clashes between programs are discovered all the time, and newer versions of drivers are bring released constantly to deal with these issues.

Make sure you have a firewall and up-to-date antivirus protection, and do regular scans of your system to deal with any malware issues that may crop up.

Beyond that, it’s hard to give general advice. Google is your friend from this point onwards –carefully worded searches are likely to reveal people who’ve had the same problem, and hopefully the advice they used to fix it. Patience and persistence are important when searching for technical solutions, and you should be as specific as you can.

Experiment with different ways of wording the query as well – knowing the right search terms to find things is a modern art in and of itself.

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