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What Is Happening When Your Computer Freezes | Touchstone Words

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What Is Happening When Your Computer Freezes

By Shane Staret on 2018-02-13

Can you think of anything more infuriating than going about your work on the computer when all of a sudden it just completely stops working? It’s funny, because as I was writing the article previous to this one about the blue screen of death, my computer actually froze, inspiring me to create an article about how and why a computer may freeze.

If you have used a computer for quite a while, you may have run into different kinds of “freezes” over time. For example, your computer may freeze up or “lag” for a few seconds but then return to normal. Or, it may freeze up entirely, with your mouse pointer completely frozen on the screen. Or, the entire computer may freeze except for the mouse, which seemingly is still under your control. Or, the computer may freeze and you are able to control the mouse and move different windows you have open around...but it ends up looking something like this:


But what causes these freezes in the first place and why do some require a complete reboot of the computer whereas others only occur for a few seconds?

There are many reasons why your computer may freeze. It may be caused by the CPU being overloaded with information in a short period of time, or it could be caused by a faulty driver for a hardware component. It could also be caused by a specific software program that is running on the computer as well, as it may try to perform certain processes that the operating system does not understand, causing it to freeze as it cannot figure out what to do with the information the software is giving.

So, your computer may freeze up or slow down greatly for a few seconds when loading a new program or when playing a certain section of a game, because at that moment, the CPU has to complete a great amount of processes which takes some time. Thus, if you try to open your web browser at  this time or open up another application, it may take awhile and the computer will effectively become “frozen” because it is handling the other processes before it can open up the new application or update the mouse icon on the monitor. This kind of freeze may be okay, as there is a finite period of time that it takes to complete certain processes, like opening an application.

However, freezes that may be caused by software trying to perform actions that the OS doesn’t understand are another story. If there is no way for the computer to understand the information given to it, it may be infinitely stuck trying to use all of its processing power to figure out how to handle the information. This may cause the computer to indefinitely freeze, forcing a user to reboot it. This can also occur when a driver is corrupted or out-of-date, as drivers are what allow different hardware components to transmit data to one another and the operating system. If an outdated driver sends out information that another component or the operating system cannot understand, it can cause an indefinite freeze.

Another common cause of computer freezing is overheating. Ironic, huh? Obviously, computers are subject to the laws of physics and they are electronic machines. If the CPU or another piece of hardware, like the GPU, become overheated, it can cause literal physical damage of the component, as it may start to deform the hardware, leading to the computer freezing, data corruption, data loss, and most likely a shortening of the lifespan of the hardware. I’ve had issues with my GPU overheating in the past and I was able to confirm that the GPU was overheating because my fan was not working properly by downloading MSI Afterburner. There are plenty of other software programs, like HW Monitor, that can be used to show the temperatures of your CPU and GPU.

Overall, a computer freezes for two broad reasons: either the CPU or the GPU is being bombarded with many different processes and processing all of them takes longer than just a few nanoseconds, or a computer is receiving information from a corrupted driver, a legitimate third-party software program, or a malware program that the operating system does not understand, causing it to get indefinitely stuck. Therefore, if you find your computer freezing a lot, it is imperative that you ensure that all of your drivers are up to date, that you have no malware, that you are not overloading your computer with many different processes at once (like by playing a game that doesn’t meet the minimum specification requirements), and that your computer is not overheating.

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