Common PC Errors, PC Tips and Tricks / By George Dover
We deal with so many tech support issues at Boxaid on a daily basis. Sometimes it is a printer problem, sometimes it’s virus removal and sometimes it’s a slow computer. But hands down one of the most common questions we get is “Why does my computer keep freezing or crashing?” Unfortunately, there is no clear cut answer for this question. The answer requires a bit of analysis by our remote support technicians before it can be answered. There is a big difference between freezing and crashing and we need to determine which one is occurring. Freezing implies that your screen becomes unresponsive and your mouse no longer moves. The last thing you were working on like your browser stays on the screen and no longer changes. Finally, your keyboard also stops working no matter how hard you hit the keys. Crashing on the other hand, implies you are getting some kind of error message like a blue screen or other cryptic Windows pop up, often followed by a reboot of your computer. In this article we will focus on the “Freezing” situation not the “Crashing” situation.
The first thing our technicians do is get connected to your computer if it is willing to cooperate and not freeze for a little while. We then immediately jump to Windows Event Viewer which will show us the latest error messages on your computer. We will look for “Critical” severity error messages that point us in the right direction. Sometimes we will see hardware related errors like a failing hard drive. But many times we will find very few error messages. It’s at this point we start to ask a few questions about a very common issue with our customers that no one thinks of. CPU overheating!
That’s right, your CPU can overheat. So many of our customers have no idea this is even possible. Why don’t they know? Because there are no obvious pop ups or error messages that mention a darn thing that your computer is running too hot. But why would it run hot in the first place? You have had it for several years and it’s been working fine. Why would it all of a sudden start overheating? Besides, isn’t that why we always hear the fan running all the time? The fan is still running so there should be no overheating unless global warming has become so problematic that processors can not handle the yearly rise in global temperature 😉
Determining if Overheating is the Problem
When your laptop or desktop left the manufacturer they of course tested it to make sure it doesn’t overheat. There are all sorts of tests that are performed in terms of temperature. There’s motherboard, CPU, and graphics card temperatures that are all monitored to make sure they don’t get too hot. But one of the hottest places inside your computer is the actual processor (aka CPU). In order to keep the CPU running as cool as possible a piece of aluminum is attached directly to the CPU (called a Heat Sink) which distributes all that heat away from the CPU. In addition, there is a special thermal paste applied between the CPU and the heat sink to pull heat more efficiently away from the processor. Finally, they put a little fan on top of the heat sink to blow fresh air onto it make it as cool as possible. So as long as these three things (heat sink, thermal grease, and fan) are all in order then your CPU will stay nice and cool and your computer will work fine. But if any one of these has a problem then your CPU will run to hot and and give you one of the most common problems of a hot CPU which will be your screen freezing and the only way to unfreeze it is hard reboot your computer. This is one of the most common problems we deal with at Boxaid.
Common Signs that Your Overheating is Your Problem
So what’s the most common reason one of the above mentioned items fail? Hands down, its dust or dirt on the fan CPU fan! Think about your ceiling fan in your house. If you haven’t cleaned it in a while, you will see a decent amount of dust on the blades. Now on a ceiling fan that is no big deal because its a big motor and speed will not be impacted. But on your tiny CPU fan, that dust will slow down the speed of the fan and cover the heat sink. A slow fan combined with a dusty heat sink means overheating. Because our technicians are pretty quick to diagnose this issue we have a certain line of questioning that we ask our customers when they tell us their computer is freezing up. Here is a list to see if your computer is freezing up because of overheating.
Is your computer more than 3 years old?
The older the computer the more dust build up you will have. When your computer hits 3 years old, regardless of laptop or desktop there will definitely be some dust build up. If it’s more than 5 years old then it will really have some dirt caked on the fan blades.
Are there any cigarette smokers in the house?
While vaping is way more popular nowadays, there are some dedicated smokers out there and yes that will have an impact over the long term.
If your computer is a desktop/tower where is it physically located?
If the tower is on the floor underneath the desk then its sucking in a bunch of the dust on the floor into the tower. If it’s on top of the desk it will get less dust.
Do you have any pets like cats or dogs?
Animals that shed or have pet dander are big contributors to the dirt found on your CPU fan. We had a customer with 12 cats in her house and guess what, she had a CPU overheating problem.
If it’s a laptop does it seem to hot when it is sitting on your lap?
Laptops can get hot but it should never be hot enough for you to yell when you put it on your bare legs.
If its a laptop is the fan running really loud all the time?
Laptops have fans that can run at different speeds and when the CPU is overheating the fan will run at top speed which may seem like a plane taking off. If the fan is loud all the time then again it may be overheating.
How do you Clean your CPU Fan?
There are countless articles on the Internet on how to properly clean your computer fan. We recommending doing it at least once a year before you get that sticky build up of dirt on the blades which makes it very difficult to clean. If it’s a laptop use a can of air to spray inside the fan exhaust areas and have a vacuum cleaner ready to suck up any dust that shoots out. If your computer is a desktop then you may have to open the case usually with 2 or 4 screws. Make sure it’s unplugged and use a can of air again to hit the fan and the heat sink. Again have a vacuum cleaner ready to go to suck up any shooting dust. Here are a few detailed articles on how to do the cleaning.
This article focuses on tower computer cleaning.
This video focuses on cleaning a laptop fan.
If you are still having problems with your computer freezing then you may have a different problem like a failing hard drive or a software issue. Give us a call at 800-999-6872. Our tech support experts can give you the remote tech support you need 24/7 for a simple affordable price.