July 27th, 2021

What to do when your Mac or PC computer starts crashing or freezing

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computer frozen

One moment you're happily going about your day—checking emails or listening to music—when, suddenly, everything stops. Your computer is frozen. You frantically drag and click your mouse desperate for signs of movement, but nothing happens.

Don't panic. At Asurion, our experts help millions of customers get the most out of their tech and resolve their most frustrating device problems. Here's our guide to why your computer is freezing or crashing and how to get it back up and running.

Why do computers start freezing or crashing?

Your Mac® or PC computer may be crashing for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Power or charging issues.
  • Too many applications running at the same time.
  • Software problems.
  • An outdated operating system.
  • Viruses and malware.
  • Extreme temperatures.
  • Hardware issues.

The good news is there are simple workarounds that will save you time as you try to figure out why your computer keeps crashing.

What should I do when my computer starts freezing or crashing?

Is your Mac freezing? Is your PC crashing? Don't worry, we've got you covered. Here are some common troubleshooting steps for both.

Restart your computer

Typically, the most effective way to fix a frozen computer is to restart it. Doing so gives your system a chance to reset and start fresh.

The best way to restart a frozen computer is to hold the power button down for five to 10 seconds. This will allow your computer to restart safely without the disruption of a total power loss.

Make sure to disconnect any headphones or extra cords as these items can cause glitches as your computer restarts. If your computer freezes again during the start-up process, however, it's time to explore other options for solving the problem.

Quit programs that might be causing your computer to freeze

When too many software programs are running on your computer at the same time, your operating system can get overwhelmed. This causes websites and applications to drag, freeze, or even crash.

The Task Manager on Windows™ and its Apple® equivalent, Activity Monitor, are great tools you can use to force quit applications that are hoarding resources, making sure your device runs smoothly.

How to force quit programs using Task Manager on Windows 10:

  1. Press CTRL + ALT + DEL at the same time.
  2. Select Task Manager.
  3. Click on More Details in the bottom-left corner.
  4. Under Processes, you should see a table with categories for Processor, Memory, Disk, Network and a corresponding list of applications.
  5. Double click the applications column. This will order applications from highest to lowest resource usage.
  6. Select End Task for applications that are consuming the most resources.

How to force quit programs using Activity Monitor on a Mac:

  1. Press Command Space bar at the same time. A spotlight search bar should appear.
  2. Type in “Activity Monitor”.
  3. The Activity Monitor will launch, showing a list of open applications on your Mac. Unresponsive apps will be marked “unresponsive.”
  4. Select unresponsive applications, and click the stop button icon in the upper-left corner (it's an octagon with an “x” in the middle).
  5. A pop-up menu will appear. Choose one of the following options: QuitThis is the same as choosing File > Quit within an application. The application will quit only if your computer deems it safe to do so; if quitting the application could cause data loss or interference, the app will continue to run. Force QuitThis will cause the application to quit immediately. If the app has files open, you may lose data. Also, if other applications or processes rely on the app, these applications and processes could experience temporary problems. To see if an application is used by others, click View > All ProcessesHierarchically.

If your Mac or PC repeatedly crashes after force quitting certain applications, you may need to uninstall them. They're likely incompatible with your hard drive.

Start your PC or Mac in Safe Mode

Another way to keep your computer safe from freezing or crashing is called, well, Safe Mode.

Unlike force quitting, this feature automatically strips your computer of unnecessary apps during the startup process. The downside, however, is that your computer will disable videos, games, and high-resolution graphics, among other applications. So it's best to use this option only when you're troubleshooting critical issues.

How to run Safe Mode on Windows 10:

  1. Hold the power button down for 10 seconds to turn off your device. Then turn your device on again.
  2. When the manufacturer's logo appears, hold down the power button for 10 more seconds to turn off your device a second time.
  3. Press the power button to turn your device back on.
  4. Once the manufacturer's logo appears, hold down the power button for another 10 seconds to turn off your device a third time.
  5. Press the power button one more time to turn your device back on.
  6. This time, allow your device to fully restart. You will now enter Windows recovery mode.
  7. Once you're in Windows recovery mode, you should see the Choose an option feature.
  8. Select Troubleshoot > Advanced options > Startup Settings > Restart.

After your device restarts, a list of options will appear. Select option 5 or press the F5 key for Safe Mode with Networking. This will allow you to connect to the internet. Your PC will now restart in Safe Mode.

To exit Safe Mode, simply restart your device normally.

How to run Safe Mode on your Mac:

To run safe mode on a Mac, you'll first need to figure out if your Mac is using an Apple Silicon processor or an Intel processor.

  1. Click the Apple icon in the upper-left corner of your Home screen.
  2. From the menu, choose About this Mac.
  3. A pop-up menu will appear. If the device is using a Silicon chip, you'll see the word Chip, followed by the chip type. If the device is using an Intel processor, you'll see the word Processor, followed by the model number.

How to start up your Mac in Safe Mode with an Intel processor chip:

  1. Click the Apple icon in the upper-left corner of your Home screen.
  2. Click Shut Down.
  3. Wait 10 seconds after your Mac shuts down to restart
  4. Immediately press and hold the Shift key, and release it when the login window appears. This will restart your Mac in Safe Mode.

How to start up your Mac in Safe Mode with a Silicon processor chip:

  1. Click the Apple icon in the upper-left corner of your Home screen.
  2. Select Shut Down.
  3. After your Mac shuts down, wait 10 seconds.
  4. Press and hold the power button until the startup window appears.
  5. Select a startup disk.
  6. Press and hold the Shift key. Then click Continue in Safe Mode and release the Shift key. This will restart your Mac in Safe Mode.

To exit Safe Mode on a Mac, restart your computer normally without pressing or holding any keys during startup.

Update your device drivers

Device drivers are an essential part of your operating system. They send instructions to other parts of your machine, telling them how to do their jobs. But when drivers are out of date or not working properly, they can cause problems for your machine, locking it up.

While drivers are typically updated automatically, they occasionally need to be updated manually—especially if you've recently installed a new mouse or an external hard drive, which can sometimes cause your computer to crash.

If you have a Mac, you'll need to update your whole operating system (see the next section for more details). In the meantime, here's how to update your device drivers for Windows.

How to update your Windows' device drivers:

  1. Open the search box in the bottom-left corner of your taskbar.
  2. Type in “Device Manager” and press enter.
  3. A pop-up window will appear with a list of device categories.
  4. Select any category, and a list of associated devices will appear.
  5. Right-click on the desired device.
  6. Click Search automatically for updated driver software.
  7. Click Update Driver.

Update your operating system

Your operating system is responsible for managing programs on your device and making sure they all work together properly. So, if you want to prevent computer crashes, it's important to check and see if your operating system is updated regularly.

This is also important because operating system updates contain key security patches your device needs to protect itself from viruses and cyberattacks. Here's how to update your operating system for Mac and PC.

How to update your Windows operating system:

  1. Select the Windows icon in the lower-left corner of your taskbar.
  2. Click Settings.
  3. Click Update & Security.
  4. Click Windows Update.
  5. Click Check for Updates. If no updates are available, the menu will say “You're Up To Date.” If updates are available, Windows will automatically download and install the updates.

How to update your Mac operating system:

  1. Go to your Apple menu in the upper-left corner of your Home screen.
  2. Select System Preferences.
  3. Click Software Update.
  4. If updates are available, an Update Now or Upgrade Now option will appear. Click the option to install it.
  5. Once the operating system updates are finished installing, the Software Update screen will say “your Mac is up to date.”

Restore your system to a previous state

Sometimes, a bad piece of software or a faulty device driver can cause your computer to crash.

But both Mac and Windows operating systems give you the option to restore the most recent settings on your device before the problem occurred. On a Mac, it's called Time Machine, and on Windows, it's called System Restore. Here's how they work.

How to run a System Restore on Windows 10:

  1. Type “Recovery” into the search box in the lower-left corner of your taskbar.
  2. Click on the option that says Recovery.
  3. Click Open System Restore.
  4. Click Scan for Affected Programs to see if any programs will be altered by running a restore. You can also run older restore points by selecting Choose a Different Restore Point or Show more restore points.
  5. Click Next.
  6. Click Finish.
  7. The system will restart with the settings saved to your selected restore point.

How to run a Time Machine backup on a Mac:

Unfortunately, a Time Machine backup only works if you have an external hard drive connected to your Mac and have already set up this option in advance. If you've done so, follow these steps.

  1. Open the Applications folder.
  2. Click Utilities.
  3. Click Migration Assistant.
  4. Select Time Machine backup.
  5. Click Continue.
  6. You should see the name of your Time Machine backup (e.g., “Susan's MacBook Pro”).
  7. Click Continue.
  8. Select your desired backup date.
  9. Click Continue.
  10. Select the information you wish to transfer, and click Continue.
  11. This will restore your Mac to the settings you saved to your Time Machine backup disk.

Scan your computer for viruses and other forms of malicious software

Viruses can also cause your computer to keep freezing or crashing, wreaking havoc on your machine over time. For step-by-step instructions on how to remove a virus from your Mac or PC, check out our comprehensive guide.

If your computer is still freezing and none of the above steps have worked, you're likely dealing with a hardware issue.

If you suspect this is the case, visit the nearest uBreakiFix® by Asurion store for free device diagnostics and as soon as same day repairs.

Make sure your computer is covered

Protect the devices your family loves and relies on with one simple plan that covers all your favorite home tech. With Asurion Home+, we cover your computers, TVs, tablets, premium headphones, smart devices, and so much more—plus, 24/7 assistance for your whole family with any tech care need—for less than $1/day. Learn more about Asurion Home+ coverage and how you can get peace-of-mind device protection.

*The Asurion® trademarks and logos are the property of Asurion, LLC. All rights reserved. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners. Asurion is not affiliated with, sponsored by, or endorsed by any of the respective owners of the other trademarks appearing herein.*

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