What Is the Best Way to Unstick My Frozen PC?

Q. How do I get my computer going again when it freezes and doesn't respond to the keyboard?

Name withheld upon request

A. Is it really frozen, or just very slow? Take a short break, and if everything's working again when you get back, clear the cobwebs by clicking Start, Turn Off Computer, Restart (be patient; it could still be slow).

If you're still stuck but your keyboard works, press <Ctrl>-<Alt>-<Del> to open the Task Manager (in Windows 2000, you'll have to click a Task Manager button; in Windows Vista, the button is Start Task Manager). Click the Applications tab, and check the Status column for any application that is 'Not Responding'. If you find one, select it and click End Task. Next, click the Processes tab and look for any process running at 100 percent CPU utilization (or 50 percent, if you have a dual-core system). If there are none, select Shut Down, Restart--or press <Alt>-U, and then R--to reboot Windows gracefully.

If your keyboard and mouse are unresponsive, press your <Caps Lock> key while looking down at your keyboard. If the indicator light doesn't change, your keyboard and your PC aren't communicating. Move your mouse around while looking at the screen. If the pointer doesn't budge--even after a few seconds' wait--your mouse is out, too. Either your PC needs a hardware reboot, or you have a keyboard and mouse problem.

If they're wired, unplug the mouse and keyboard, then plug them in again. If they're wireless, press their reset buttons, or change their batteries--or do both.

Your last resort is to try a hardware reboot. You may lose whatever work wasn't saved when the problem started, but if you have no choice, press and hold your system's power button for five seconds.

If that doesn't turn your machine off, unplug the power cord. On a notebook, you may also have to remove the battery.

Your next boot-up may take longer than usual; Windows runs additional diagnostics whenever it doesn't shut down properly. However, if Windows doesn't reboot at all, see "What to Do When XP or 2000 Won't Boot". To prepare for your next Windows failure, read "Emergency Boot CDs for PCs Without Floppy Drives". And for more tips, see "Why Is My PC Acting Oddly?" (part of "Common PC Problems Solved: The Ultimate FAQ").

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