When Your Windows Computer Locks Up

You’re working on a document or are almost done with a form, and suddenly you see the dreaded “(Not Responding)” on the left corner of your screen. Nothing you type or click is being recognized. Worse yet, your computer isn’t responding at all. You’re experiencing a Windows lock-up or freeze and you’re concerned!

Before you start worrying about lost work, keep this in mind:

Most modern programs have an AutoSave feature. This includes Microsoft Office products like Excel, Word, and Outlook. Even if all else fails, and your computer or the program you were using has crashed, there will likely be a saved copy.

Many websites and web-based programs automatically save your progress, too. This includes Gmail, Outlook.com, and the web versions of Office 365. Each of these saves drafts at regular intervals. Even if you must close your browser, there’s a good chance your work will be saved and you’ll be able to start where you left off the next time you log on.

Okay, now that we’re calmer, let’s do something about that freeze-up.

Leave the computer alone for 30 seconds. Yes, it sounds obvious, and it might be frustrating to do, but letting the machine “be” could give it some time to catch up. Refrain from clicking the mouse or touch pad, or trying to type into a frozen window. If you notice other programs are functioning, feel free to work on something else while you wait.

If nothing’s changed after 30 seconds…Determine whether it’s just a single program that’s frozen or if it’s the whole computer.

  1. If you can still move the mouse, and other programs appear to be working, probably only that one program has frozen:
  • Try closing the program and reopening it.
  • If you cannot get the program to close, pull up Task Manager (press Ctrl + Alt + Del keys, or by right-clicking your task bar) and close the program using the “End Task” button.
  • If the program still will not close, you may need to reboot the computer.
  1. If you can’t move the mouse:
  • Try pressing the ‘num lock’ or ‘caps lock’ key. If the lights for these keys come on, the machine is still responding.
  • Try unplugging and re-plugging your mouse, or try using your track pad on a laptop. If you have a wireless mouse, the mouse may not have enough battery power to function normally, even if it looks like it’s lit up (has power). As simple as it sounds, the issue may be with your mouse.
  • You may want to try waiting a little longer, or try pressing Ctrl + Alt + Del to pull up Task Manager. Even if your mouse isn’t working, you may still be able to get to Task Manager.
  • If you are able to get to task manager, you should be able to use the arrow keys on your keyboard to choose the program that froze and then press Enter. Once selected, press tab until you highlight the “End Task” button, and press Enter again to force the program to close.

If nothing else works, it may be time to power off the machine.

  • Do this only as a last resort, as it could potentially cause other problems. At worst, forcing the machine to power off suddenly could cause disk corruption or may cause you to lose the most recent AutoSaved copy of your work.
  • Hold the power button down for 10 seconds to shut the computer down.
  • Press the button again to start the computer.

Why did the lock up happen?

It’s not abnormal to occasionally have lock-ups in Windows. Sometimes machines appear to freeze or actually freeze when they are doing something especially complex or taxing. It may not even be something you did that caused the freeze – it could just be an issue with that particular program, or the machine’s hardware itself.

There are a few things you can do to minimize freeze-ups. Make sure:

  • …you have the latest updates for Windows, as well as for the program you are using.
  • …your computer’s drivers are up to date.
  • …if this is a web application, that your browser is up to date.
  • …the application you are running is supported on the version of Windows you are running.
  • …your hardware meets the requirements for the application you’re running.

If you’ve tried everything and you’re still having frequent lock ups and freezes, then something is wrong. Consider consulting a technical professional if lock-ups are a continuous or daily occurrence. Lock-ups are frequently very difficult to troubleshoot, so if you do consult with a professional, describing exactly what you tried from this list – and what resulted – will help considerably.