Why is Windows XP freezing and refusing to shut down?
December 12, 2009 5:20 PM   Subscribe

Windows XP freezes, audio has disappeared and returned, system hangs on shutdown...my PC has suddenly taken a turn for the worse, and nothing I've tried seems to be helping. So...help?

I'm running XP Home on a self-built PC (Asus M2A-VM HDMI motherboard, AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000 dual core processor, ATI Radeon HD 3600 graphics), which has been running happily for just over a year. Today it started behaving oddly - Firefox hung while I was opening a new tab, followed by the entire PC freezing so completely that I had to hold down the power button to switch it off. On reboot, my sound had disappeared - subsequent reboots showed that all my audio devices had vanished.

Shutdowns no longer work (I get to the "Windows is shutting down" screen and then it sits there apparently indefinitely). The PC dual-boots Ubuntu, so I tried that - the sound was fine, so it's not a hardware problem, and I can shut down from there with no problems. When I went back into Windows, my audio devices had mysteriously returned, but shutdowns were still broken, and it still hung intermittently.

I dug out the motherboard install CD and reinstalled the chipset, audio and LAN drivers. I then went to Asus's website to look for updated versions - found reasonably new audio drivers, which then crashed halfway through installation. So none of that seems to be helping.

Subsequent hangs seem to have come on gradually - Firefox stops responding, followed by whatever I click on. In one case, I saw Firefox die, then the Start menu, then the whole taskbar, then Google Desktop, then Launchy, then the keyboard (Num Lock stopped switching its LED on and off). Ctrl-Alt-Del added the usual icon to the system tray, but the window didn't appear.

Basically, I'm stumped. I've seen fewer crashes in Firefox since disabling all its extensions, but I doubt that was the initial cause. Any ideas as to which avenues I could try next?
posted by ZsigE to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you tried a repair installation of Windows?
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 5:41 PM on December 12, 2009

Have you run a full virus check on the system?
posted by fluffycreature at 6:56 PM on December 12, 2009

And -- how about going back in time, to when it was working just fine? I've had to do that a few times on this puter, it's easy and fast and it's helped me in problems such as no longer hooking up to the internet, Firefox problems, etc and etc. I think it's called "Restore", not sure, have to have Admin rights on whatever account you're going to use it on....

I'd bet if I had to that you picked up some crud while 'out there' but who knows, if it comes down to it you might have to completely re-install xp, not that daunting a task, just save off all your data and then grab your xp disk and roll.....
posted by dancestoblue at 9:01 PM on December 12, 2009

Very tough to say between hardware or software issue.

Avast has a decent virus scanning algorithm - catches dormant and currently running malware. I've never had a problem with spyware, so the last good program that I know about is SpyBot.

Both, iirc, in their current iteration, can pick up stuff designed to turn these two things off. Using the latest versions of both of these might be able to pick up stuff that is designed to counter either.

I used to really like the TeaTimer aspect of SpyBot because it alerted me whenever anything wanted to make a change in my registry - which is where a lot of these weird 'shutdown problems' originate. Commodo firewall also does a similar thing, but it's a little too stringent.

On the hardware side; physically check to see how dusty the inside of your computer case (and the power supply box) is. Too much dust can lead to overheating and failure/automatic hardware shutoff.

The sound shutoff thing suggests a dust-bunnied case - especially when it's cold out and one turns the indoor heat on a little higher (and closes windows which decreases heat disappation). Since you can name your components (and built it yourself), crack the case open and vacuum/blow the thing out (if blowing out, take it outside and stand upwind).
posted by porpoise at 9:05 PM on December 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the answers, guys. To answer the followup questions - I've done quick spyware and virus scans, but not full ones (so I'll try them later). I did try using a System Restore to go back three days as well, but that didn't seem to help.

The dusty case idea is interesting. I have noticed the cooling fans making a horrible noise on startup - I assumed there was a loose screw or something, but if it's all getting very dusty that might be worth looking at. That said, wouldn't that affect Windows and Ubuntu equally?

The repair installation is another good idea, and I'll try that if it's still giving me problems after the other options. A full reinstall is a possibility, but only as an absolute last resort - I really don't want to have to reinstall all the software I've got on here unless I have no other option. I'll make further updates if and when anything changes...
posted by ZsigE at 6:05 AM on December 13, 2009

Different OSes may work the CPU/GPU/other hardware to different loads - higher load, more wattage, more waste heat.

It's possible that the difference in heat is *just* enough to affect a poor contact on your soundcard. It's trivial to pull it, blow out the slot, and reseat the card.

If you're still having problems, I'd suggest running memtest for faulty RAM. Heat can also affect RAM that might not be completely up to snuff. Pulling and reseating them is another good thing to try, much like the soundcard.

The noisy fan - most likely some dust/grit got inside of the bearing/bearingless axle. Even if the noise goes away, the fan might not be working at 100%. There's usually a sticker over the hub, pull it, and there's usually a small hole. Use a pin to drop in the lightest mineral oil you can get your hands on. Noise usually goes away, but you'll probably have to replace the fan soon-ish. It can also be hard to figure out which fan is faulty - I've used the eraser on the end of a pencil to stop fans by lightly touching the hub with it. If the noise goes away, you know that's the faulty fan. If it's your PSU fan... you can try to blow it out real well with compressed air, but ime, if that's the case, it's usually time for a new PSU.

If your computer is under your desk or in a cabinet or against the wall, after vacuuming/blowing it out, give it at least 6" from the nearest vertical surface, especially around the back. Depending on your case configuration, you could try running it on it's side to give it a different heat dissipation profile. If your cards are really close together, see if you can re-install them further apart from one another especially if you have a weird configuration and your soundcard is pretty much hugging your *really really hot* graphics card.


Oh, missed the shutting down problem - pull up task manager (ctrl-alt-del --> task manager tab) and take a look at the running processes. Look for any that are blank or have obviously stupid names. You can google the names of processes that you aren't familiar with to see if they're legit or not. These are signs of malware (intentional or not) and WinXP might have problems turning them off when its time to shut down. You can either manually remove these bad services under control panel --> services, followed making sure there're not loading through running msconfig through command-line/run-box. If you have XP Ultimate Tweaker, there's a really easy way to tell XP to decrease the time to wait before force-shutting down processes.

If it's just something minor that's wonky, I've had success with Crap Cleaner when I was still running XP. CCleaner also checks your registry for random weirdness and, ime, has done a reasonable job. In fact, this would probably be the first thing I'd try before manually scouring your services.
posted by porpoise at 11:33 AM on December 13, 2009

Definitely reminds me of overheating. Sometimes a simple cleaning helps, if your fans (or power supply--another typical culprit in sudden/strange failure) are failing you may need to replace them.
posted by flug at 8:35 PM on December 21, 2009

It's all working again! Thanks for your answers, everyone!

In the end it turned out to be a software problem after all - I had a horrible little bit of spyware sitting somewhere in Windows that kept redirecting me to a "Chinese Sex Museum" site, along with others. It seems to have progressed with time - before Christmas I'd spotted the odd redirect, but only when visiting Cracked.com, so I thought it was something wrong with their site.

After 2 weeks away for Christmas, I came back and found that it was redirecting every other click, switching Javascript back on whenever I switched it off, and stopping me from getting to antivirus websites. In the end, Combofix sorted it out, and everything seems to be back to normal. Thank goodness I was dual-booting Ubuntu and could use it to download Combofix, that's all I can say.

Incidentally, I did crack open the case too and swept a bit of dust out, which can only have helped. It's nice to have a sensibly-behaving machine again!
posted by ZsigE at 3:00 PM on January 5, 2010

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