Why does my computer keep freezing?
January 12, 2008 4:05 PM   Subscribe

Why does my Windows XP machine freeze every half an hour?

My computer has taken to freezing after about half an hour or so of use, forcing me to switch it off and on to get it working again. When the PC does this, it stops responding to anything I do with the mouse and keyboard, and the CPU fan starts whirring away, but I can't work out what process is causing this major CPU use, and so the freezing problem.

It started at about the same time that I started using a U3 USB stick and installed Acronis True Image 11, but I have removed/uninstalled both these pieces of software and still the problem occurs. Even a system restore roll-back to a point before the problem occurred has done nothing to help.

Any ideas on what might be causing this, or at least how I can begin to find what the culprit might be? I'm running Windows XP SP2 (intermittently, at least).
posted by chorltonmeateater to Computers & Internet (15 answers total)
Obligatory "Have you run a quick scan with anti-virus software on it?" answer.

While a long scan will take longer than half an hour, most anti-virus programs have an option for a quick scan.
posted by InsanePenguin at 4:15 PM on January 12, 2008

Man that sounds frustrating..

When that happened to me it turned out to be a dud nvidia video card driver I had. I don't know why it only suddenly started happening, but going through the drivers definately fixed it. I spent a long time in the device manager identifying any potentially problematic devices. Perhaps the software you installed reverted to a different driver version?

Next is to check the windows event log for error events on the startup/shutdown. The PC may not have logged any due to the nature of the event. It's worth checking out, and there are really easy websites which let you key in an event id and get a simple explanation in return.

Have you tried booting in safe mode? Does it still happen?
posted by kaydo at 4:30 PM on January 12, 2008

Obligatory "Have you run a quick scan with anti-spywear software on it?" answer.
posted by oxford blue at 4:53 PM on January 12, 2008

When mine did that, the motherboard conked out.
posted by dogwelder at 5:36 PM on January 12, 2008

Is windows a legit copy? (Without any evidence that this is a likely possiblity, I would suggest that most virus scans likely wouldn't detect a virtualized rootkit--- and minor system errors from a sloppy virtualized install of windows would likely accumulate over time as you describe.
posted by acro at 5:44 PM on January 12, 2008

AUGUST 1, 2007 | LAS VEGAS -- Still, the researchers admit this type of rootkit isn't a real threat today. "We've seen three VT-type rootkits, and none are in the wild infecting systems," Lawson says.
posted by acro at 5:51 PM on January 12, 2008

Can you see any red x's in your event log? Anything that might indicate

- applications unexpectedly quitting
- disk errors
- application hangs

- any other odd behavior that might indicate what's causing it. My first guess is hardware.
I mean, it could be that the freezeups are a virus or a CPU-hogging process. But I think its more likely its a bad stick of RAM or a dying power supply, or overheating, or a dying mainboard. Your changes - the USB stick and Acronis - are lot more likely to be coincidental to the real issue.

Things to try:

- Run in safe mode. Flex the system fairly hard (open a lot of apps, copy some data around, etc) and see if you can get it to die.
- Disable all startup items and run for a while. Flex the system, see if you can get it to die.
- Disable all non-essential and non-standard external devices - printers, cameras, disk drives, candymakers, whatever - and see if it runs.
posted by disclaimer at 7:57 PM on January 12, 2008

Start your computer and when you've done a few things (check metafilter, mail, etc), open up the task manager. You can do this by right-clicking on the task bar, it'll be in the menu. Click the "processes" tab and take a look at all the things in it. There should be quite a few and you don't need to know what they are, but keep it open and visible - it will display the CPU use of every process and when your computer starts to choke you should be able to see it.

At the very least, you may catch something shady-looking in the processes using a large amount of RAM or multiplying itself. You can look up processes easily on Google, there are sites that index good and bad processes. Anyway, give it a try, this is what I often do when there's weird stuff going on on my computer. Works for macs, too.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 8:54 PM on January 12, 2008

What everyone else said.

I would also try booting from Knoppix CD. That should tell if it's a Windows issue or a hardware problem.

If it doesn't work, and if you have more one stick of RAM installed in your machine, take one out. See the problem goes away. If not, take the other out and put the first back in. See if the problem goes away. For some reason RAM seems to go bad faster then most motherboard components.
posted by exhilaration at 9:47 PM on January 12, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, all.

@InsanePenguin: I have run a virus scan, but got nothing.

@disclaimer, exhiliration: I'll give it a go in safe mode and with my Ubuntu live CD to see if it's the hardware or XP. I hope it's the latter! Having my motherboard break does not sound like something I want to have happened. Unfortunately, the problem is not quite regular enough that it is hard to tell whether it is fixed, or just having one of its lulls.

@BlackLeotardFront: I have been trying something like that with Process Explorer, but so far haven't got a hint of what the problem might be.

@disclaimer, kaydo: I didn't know Windows had an event log! I've found it now though, and found a few red events in there, so I'll see if I can get rid of them and if it helps.

@acro: Windows is legit, yes.

@kaydo: It is very frustrating! My PC has heard quite a few choice phrases from me over the last few days.
posted by chorltonmeateater at 12:13 AM on January 13, 2008

Response by poster: Right, so I'm confused now. I've tried running Windows in safe mode, and running Linux off a live CD, and didn't seem to have the same problem, suggesting that it might not be a hardware problem but a XP problem. But, I can't see anything in the event logs that seems to correlate directly with the freezing, and Googling seems to suggest that this sort of thing is a hardware problem. I suppose safe mode and live CD linux might not put the same strain on, or even use, the same hardware that fails normally, so it doesn't really prove anything. The only interesting thing seemed to be an error with event ID 7000, which says:
The VMware Authorization Service service failed to start due to the following error:
The service did not respond to the start or control request in a timely fashion.
It has this for a couple of different services, but I'm not convinced it's really related.

I've tried memtest86 and a SMART hard drive analyser, and both of these components seem to be fine. I'm starting to think, then, that it might be the CPU overheating that causes the problem. Anybody got a way that I can test this for sure? I tried SpeedFan, but it doesn't seem to support getting the temperature from my fan.
posted by chorltonmeateater at 7:32 AM on January 13, 2008

This is could be a power problem. Check for proper grounding.
posted by ydnagaj at 11:59 AM on January 13, 2008

I think you've got a driver problem, possible IRQ conflict, some other kind of bus contention..

It could still be CPU overheating, download a copy of the Ultimate Boot CD and try any of the CPU burn in tools.
posted by Chuckles at 10:21 PM on January 13, 2008

Given your other testing results, that is.. disclaimer's post is pretty solid as the first step in debugging this problem.
posted by Chuckles at 10:25 PM on January 13, 2008

Response by poster: Right, I've tried running my Dell Diagnostic CD which I've just found existed, and it seems I have a problem with the fan/heatsink after all. I'll get on to Dell tech support. Thank you all for your help!
posted by chorltonmeateater at 11:45 PM on January 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

« Older Why would siblings who don't know they're siblings...   |   Family Budget Decision-making Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.