If your computer has slowed to a near-crawl, or become unresponsive entirely, here’s how to see if it’s an easy fix or something that needs more attention.
There are many problems your computer can face. Your laptop can have trouble charging, the screen can stop showing a picture, or it could flat-out not turn on. But it feels like your computer only freezes when you’re right in the middle of the most important tasks, doesn’t it?
If your computer has slowed to a near-crawl—or become unresponsive entirely—there are a number of possible issues. Here’s how to recover from the problem, and prevent it from happening in the future.
1. Wait: Give It a Minute to Catch Up
If you’re performing a particularly CPU-intensive task, sometimes things will hang for a moment, making you think your laptop is permanently frozen even if it’s not. If it seems like your computer has completely locked up, give it a few minutes to catch up and finish what it’s doing.
Sometimes certain action can use up all the computer’s available RAM, and it takes a second for the machine to clear these tasks. As long as this isn’t a common occurrence, everything should be fine after a few minutes.
2. Check Your Peripherals
Are you sure the computer is really frozen? Make sure the connected peripherals are actually functioning properly. Something could have gotten disconnected or run out of batteries. This will give the illusion that your computer is freezing up, but the input isn’t going through as expected.
Investigate everything connected to your computer, making sure the mouse, keyboard, and trackpad are all working properly. You may even want to investigate the health of your USB ports if you think everything else is fine.
3. Kill the Offending Program
If Windows doesn’t recover (or it starts freezing again after it recovers), hit Ctrl + Shift + Esc on your keyboard to open the Task Manager and see a list of running programs. If any of them are not responding, select them and click the End Task button.
Mac users can go to Launchpad > Other > Activity Monitor to view a similar menu. Click on a program and press the X button at the top of the window to close it. Another option is to hit Command + Option + Escape on the keyboard, select the program that isn’t working, and click Force Quit to close it.
If you’re dealing with an isolated incident, that should be all you need. Your OS should snap back to attention as soon as you’ve closed the program, and you can restart it to continue your work. If your computer always seems to freeze when that program is running, though, you may need to uninstall it and find an alternative. If the program is so intensive that it’s running out of resources, you may even need to upgrade your hardware.
4. Check Your Browser’s Task Manager
Sometimes, your computer is running fine, but your browser gets stuck on a certain page. And when so much of what we do on computers is confined to the browser, this feels like your whole computer is freezing, when it might just be the page you’re on. In those scenarios, Windows Task Manager might tell you your browser isn’t responding, but if you want more info on why, you have to dig deeper.
In Chrome and Edge, press Shift + Esc to see the browser’s Task Manager. In Firefox, you can click the menu button and go to More Tools > Task Manager. This will show you the different processes running within your browser, potentially giving you some information on what page or extension might be frozen, or using lots of CPU and memory.
You may also have a conflict with an extension—for example, I once had issues with the Grammarly extension freezing Google Docs all the time—so try disabling any browser extensions to see if that solves the problem. Hopefully, the developers will issue a fix, as Grammarly seems to have done.
5. Reboot and Try Again
If you can’t even open the Task Manager, then your computer is truly locked up and the only way to get it moving again is a hard reset. Press and hold down on the power button until your computer turns off, then press the power button again to boot back up from scratch.
If you were working on something important when the freeze happened, you may be able to recover it, depending on the program and how it handles unsaved documents. For example, Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint auto-save backups as you work, and you can often recover them the next time you open the program. You can also navigate to File > Info > Manage Document(s) > Recover Unsaved Document.
It won’t necessarily work every time, but it’s worth a shot—do some digging on whatever program crashed to see if it has a similar feature. If it doesn’t, you might be unfortunately stuck doing some of that work over again.