What do I do when my computer locks up?

If you have never seen your computer locked up, call me at once because you are a rare breed. If you have seen your computer locked up, then you probably have noticed one of these symptoms:

  • Your keyboard or mouse won't respond.
  • You can't open any programs.
  • You can't get the computer out its screen saver mode.
  • You can't close a window.

First, you need to see if a software application (one of your programs) is locked up, or if your computer is "no-kidding locked up". If it is really locked up, there really is nothing you can to to unlock it, except turn it off (note: this is the last resort, and not a good habit). If a software application is locked up, most likely you can 'kill' the program and keep working normally.

Press the Caps Lock key on and off. If the caps-lock indicator light on the keyboard responds, then you know that a software application has your computer locked up. If nothing happens when you press the caps-lock key, then you are stuck, and you might as well shut off the machine and reboot. Try to get back in normally and continue working when your computer comes back up.

Hold down the [Control] & [Alt] keys then tap the [Delete] key. The Close Program dialog box will come up. You will notice that it has all of your open programs listed. Look for one that has [not responding] appended to it. If none of the open programs has this on it, then you need to guess which one is locked up. Select this program, and select End Task. Wait a few seconds, and windows will tell you that this program is not responding, and it will ask you if you want to wait, or end task...select End Task again, and hopefully you can continue normally. You can safely End Task on all programs except Explorer and Systray.

Now let's try to fix the problems. Try the following steps in the order listed:

  • If a single application is locking your computer, UNINSTALL then reinstall the program. It is important to uninstall the program first so that any corrupted files will be removed.
  • Run SCANDISK. If you need help with SCANDISK, check out Scandisk Fundamentals.
  • Turn off any energy saving features for your monitor.
  • Stop any screensavers.
  • Scan your computer for viruses using the virus software loaded on your PC.
  • Open Device Manager (Right-click on My Computer, left-click on Properties, then click the Device Manager tab). Check for any disabled or conflicting devices. Look for red Xs and yellow "splats" (yellow circles w/black exclamation marks in them).
  • If your computer is connected to a network, make
  • Change your video driver to VGA then try to duplicate the lockup. If this fixes the problem, reload the latest video driver for your display adapter.
  • At this point, you should be on the phone with whoever provides you support on your computer. There are other things to be done, but only by very experienced users or under the direction of your technical support representative. Some of these things include running MS Config (Windows98 only), editing the Windows Registry, and in the worst case scenario, formatting your hard drive and reloading all your software.
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