), unexpected shutdowns, sudden freezing, random restarting, and booting problems could be symptomatic of a variety of things to include hardware/software issues, overheating caused by a failed processor fan, bad memory (RAM), failing or underpowered power supply, CPU overheating, motherboard, video card, faulty or unsigned device drivers, CMOS battery going bad, BIOS and firmware problems, dirty hardware components, programs hanging or unresponsive in the background, and sometimes malware. Even legitimate programs like CD Emulators (Daemon Tools
, Alchohol 120%
) can trigger crashes, various stop error messages and system hangs. If the computer is overheating, it usually begins to shutdown/restart on a more regular basis. Troubleshooting for these kinds of issues can be arduous and time consuming. There are no shortcuts.When was the last time you cleaned the inside of your computer?
Dust restricts the airflow and prevents proper cooling. This in turn can cause overheating and faulty processor fans which can result in unexpected shutdowns, random restarts, booting problems, etc. If you use a notebook, they get dirty too and need to be cleaned.
How to Clean a Computer Tutorials with Screeshots
- Clean out the vents on the computer with a can of compressed air using short bursts to ensure that they are not clogged with dust.
- Unplug the computer and everything from the back of the unit (be sure to note where to plug it back in).
- Open the case and clean out any dust and debris you find inside. Be careful not to aim the compressed air directly at the circuit board or electronic components.
- Important! Be sure to discharge any static electricity BEFORE you touch any of the components by touching the bare metal inside surface of the case. Do this FREQUENTLY while you are working.
- Check all the electrical connections and make sure the fans are all operational.
- Remove the cards and RAM modules, clean the contacts and reseat them.
- Check the heat sink on the processor to ensure it is not blocked with dust or debris.
- Remove the CPU's cooling unit and clean the fins on the heat sink that sits under the CPU with a can of
- Feel the CPU heatsink when it powers down. It should be warm to very warm but not hot.
- Inspect the thermal compound between the CPU and heat sink as it can deteriorate over time so. You may need to remove it, scrape away the old thermal gel that makes contact with the processor, then apply a very thin coat of fresh thermal gel on the surface and fit the heat sink back in place again.
- Inspect the capacitors on the motherboard for leaking, bulging, foaming, or discoloration.
- The airflow inside the case is from front-to-back and from bottom-to-top. Carefully arrange the cables so that the airflow will be unobstructed when closing the case.
- Continue to monitor the temperature of your CPU, motherboard, hard disks, voltages, and fan speeds.
- FOR LAPTOPS: Obviously, you cannot open the case. However, dust will build up inside a laptop as well. Use the compressed air to blow out all of the ventilation holes.
:Note: Some video cards can generate such intense heat while playing games with high quality graphics that they require a separate cooling system. If the fan fails after wear and tear with age, the video processor will not be far behind and your system may start crashing.
. If the video card needs replacing, see "Illustrated How to Replace an AGP Video Card"
When Windows detects a problem from which it cannot recover, it displays Stop Error Messages
which contain specific information that can help diagnose and resolve the problem detected by the Windows kernel. An error message can be related to a broad number of problems such as driver conflicts, hardware issues, read/write errors, and software malfunctions and malware. In Windows XP, the default setting is for the computer to reboot automatically
when a fatal error or crash occurs. You may not
see the error code because the computer reboots too fast. You may be able to find the error by looking in the Event Log
or reading the memory dump file
You can also try BlueScreenView
which enables you to investigate the cause of a system crash by analyzing the content of the Minidump Files
that are created during each crash.
An easier alternative is to turn off the automatic reboot
feature so you can actually see the error code/STOP Message when it happens - this is also known as the Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD)
. To change the recovery settings and Disable the Automatic Restart on System Failure in Windows XP
, go to Start > Run and type: sysdm.cpl
Click Ok to open System Properties.
Alternatively you can just press WINKEY + Pause/Break
keys to bring up System Properties.
- Go to the Advanced tab and under "Startup and Recovery", click on the "Settings" button and go to "System failure".
- Make sure "Write an event to the system log" is checked and that "Automatically restart" is unchecked.
- Click "OK" and reboot manually for the changes to take effect.
This can also be done in the Windows Advanced Options Menu as shown here
by pressing the F8
key repeatedly like you would do for entering safe mode
Doing this won't cure your problem but instead of crashing and restarting you will get a blue diagnostic screen with an error code
and other information to include file(s) that may be involved which will allow you to better trace your problem. Write down the full error code and the names of any files/drivers listed, then provide that information in your next reply so we can assist you with investigating the cause. Without that specific information, we would only be guessing rather than troubleshooting.
Look for problem entries (colored coded symbols
) in Device Manager
as described here
. Driver issues are a known source
of conflicts that can cause stop errors and BSODs. Check for any updates that may be available for your drivers. If you need to update a driver, a convenient place to start is at DriverGuide.com
. If you're not sure how to update a driver, please read How to update a Windows hardware driver
and How to manage devices in Windows XP
.Other Troubleshooting Tools:
Download and run Motherboard Monitor 5
. If Motherboard Monitor's seems to be reporting high temperatures for your CPU check to see what your max CPU temp is from here
You can also use NextSensor
to check temperature and voltage or SpeedFan
to monitor voltages, fan speed, SMART status, and temperatures. SpeedFan can help you investigate the reasons for an unpredictable reboot or for a failing hard disk as well as whether you are likely to experience temperature related issues.
Suggestions for troubleshooting power supply, video card, CPU, RAM, MB and hard drive
You can use BurnInTest
to stress test the CPU, hard drives, RAM, CD-ROMs, CD burners, DVDs, sound cards, graphics, network connection, printers, video playback. This utility works on all Windows versions to include Vista (32-bit & 64-bit)
Another option is to use Microsoft's Online Crash Analysis
. The Windows Memory Diagnostic tests the RAM for errors with a comprehensive set of diagnostic memory tests or you can test your RAM with either of the following tools:
. Be sure to print out and follow the Instructions to Diagnose with Memtest86+
-- To make a bootable CD with memtest86+, download the Pre-Compiled Bootable ISO (.zip)
-- To make a bootable floppy with memtest86+, download the Pre-Compiled package for Floppy (DOS - Win)
Note: You need to enter the BIOS setup and make sure that the Boot Order is set so that your first boot device is either the floppy drive or the CD-ROM drive, depending on which type of disk you made. If necessary, change the boot order, save your changes, and exit Setup. When the machine restarts it should boot from your Memtest disk, and the program will start automatically.
- Extract the zip file, burn the .ISO image to CD, boot from it and allow memtest86+ to run.
- Once a bootable disk is made, just leave it in the drive and reboot your computer.
- Run memtest86+ with all sticks of RAM in the motherboard start with.
- There MUST be NO errors what-so-ever as any errors indicate there is likely a problem with the RAM.
- If you see an error, stop the test, remove one stick and start the test again.
- If you see another error, stop the test replace the stick with the second RAM stick (in the same motherboard slot) and start the test again.
- A minimum test for some confidence in the result should consist of 7 full passes (each "pass" is a series of different types of tests), with NO errors.
- Allow memtest86+ to run for 24 hours for maximum confidence in the test result.
.Download ISO images for creating a bootable Memtest86 CD-ROM or an installable from Windows/DOS to create a bootable floppy disk or usb flash drive. Read the directions under Technical Info and allow Memtest86 to run through the entire battery of tests for at least 4 full passes (or let it run overnight). Any errors indicate that there is likely a problem with the RAM.-- If you need to replace your RAM and you're unsure what type the system uses, try the Crucial System Scanner
or Crucial Memory Advisor tool