Long-time Terry’s Computer Tips email subscriber Tom Linton wrote to ask:
Reading your article Computer Troubleshooting reminded me that I wanted to pick your brain about a problem I am having with my desktop XP computer. A few months back it started freezing-up unexpectedly. I could be in the middle of any program and it would just freeze – no response from the mouse or keyboard.
I have waited it out (4 hours once) a few times, but the only way to get my PC back is to do a physical shutdown / start using the power-on button.
I did some searching and found the consensus was to check that the CPU, video card, or memory chips were not overheating. I did a thorough cleaning but found very little dust. Because of where the desktop PC sits on my desk I leave the side panel off for extra ventilation. The cleaning did not reduce the frequency of freeze ups (3 – 4 times a day)
Next I reseated all the cards and memory chips. No improvement.
I replaced my Logitech remote mouse and keyboard with a wired mouse and keyboard. This seamed to resolve the problem. I ran that way for a couple weeks. The freeze ups were greatly reduced from 3-4 a day to 1-2 times a week. I could live with this except when it does freeze I am usually in the middle of something important. Sometimes I loose some important work. I know, I preach save often to others, but when work is intense you sometimes forget.
I downloaded new drivers from Logitech and put the remote mouse back. I decided to leave the wired keyboard connected because there is no real benefit to have a remote keyboard. I still have 1-2 freeze-ups a week.
My desktop PC never shuts down, though I do reboot it once a week or so just to reset Windows.
Is there anyway to help pin down what might be causing these lockups?
I wrote back to Tom to commiserate with him, and suggest a number of possibilities.
His "computer hanging" problem could be a power problem, or thermal problem (a piece of hardware getting to hot,) or hardware or drivers or DLL.
CPU fan could be having issues occasionally, probably that may not the source of the problem. An overheating CPU usually causes a hard shutdownbut — a "blackscreen" shutdown problem, not a hang.
I’ve seen hangs that were caused by video cards that were going bad. Sometimes a BSOD, sometimes not. The BSOD indicated the video driver as the culprit — but it was really the card not responding to the driver. Replacing the card solved the problem.
I’ve written about the problem when it was hard drives that were going bad. They apparently hung, but really Windows was trying to read the drive and the drive wasn’t responding.
"DLL Hell" is another issue — WinXP, if I recall correctly, would preferentially load DLL’s from the program’s own folder before looking in C:\Windows\System32. However, if a DLL of that name was already in memory, it would use the one in memory, even if it was the wrong one. I may be confusing XP with 98, though. That’s one reason to reboot more often. (if Windows tried to use the wrong one, it would jump into the code in the DLL at the wrong entry point, usually causing a hang).
Intermittent problems are just a pain, aren’t they.
By the way, Tom’s photo web sites above are fantastic — thanks to Tom for sharing them.