Your PC boots, gets to the Windows desktop, then freezes. Now what?

It might take some sleuthing to find out what's freezing up your computer, but these tips will help.

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Cara Carlson can boot her computer just fine…until she gets to the Windows desktop. Then it freezes and won’t respond to keyboard or mouse.

A lot of programs and drivers load into Windows when you boot. One of them apparently doesn’t play well with others. The trick is to discover and then eliminate the problem program.

But how can you do that if Windows freezes before you can do anything with it?

The trick is to boot Windows into Safe Mode, which avoids potential problems by skipping the autoloading programs and all but the most basic drivers. Once there, you should be able to disable all of your enabled autoloading programs. How this is done depends on your version of Windows.

Windows 7

Boot the computer and immediately start pressing and releasing F8 over and over again. Instead of the Windows login screen, you should get the Advanced Boot Options menu. Select Safe Mode.

Once you’ve booted into Safe Mode, click Start, type msconfig, and press Enter to bring up the System Configuration program. Click the Startup tab.

Each item has a checkbox. The ones that are checked are enabled. Make a note of which ones are enabled so that you can go back to them later if need be. Then uncheck them all.

0922 msconfig


Windows 8.1 or 10

Boot normally. When you get to the login screen (which comes before the desktop), click the power button in the lower-right corner of the screen. While holding down Shift on your keyboard, click Restart and then release Shift.

After the reboot, you'll come to a blue help screen with several options. In Windows 8.1 select Troubleshoot Advanced options > Startup Settings > Restart. For Windows 10  as of version 1803, select Troubleshoot > Advanced options > See more recovery options > Startup Settings > Restart. The See more recovery options link is below the other tiles you see on the screen.

windows10taskmanager IDG

The Task Manager in Windows 10. The Disabled button is in the lower-right corner.

When the computer reboots and the Startup Settings menu appears, press 4 for Safe Mode. Once you've booted into Safe Mode, right-click the taskbar and select Task Manager.  When the Task Manager opens click More details in the lower left corner, and then in the larger Task Manager window click the Startup tab. 

You can tell which autoloaders are enabled by reading the "Status" column. Note which ones are enabled so that you can return to the original configuration if need be. Then single-click each enabled program and select Disabled in the lower-right corner.

Once they’re disabled

When you’re done, reboot to get out of Safe Mode. If your initial problem has gone away, bring up the Startup tab again in Task Manager and experiment. Enable and disable autoloaders, and reboot, until you find the culprit. (After you find the culprit, you’ll have to boot into Safe Mode again to disable it.) Consider whether you need this type of program—or, if you do, whether you should switch to a competitor.

If the problem persists, you should take a good look at your drivers. This Windows Club page should help.

This article originally published as an Answer Line column by Lincoln Spector on September 1, 2015. Updated August 6, 2018, to current version of Windows 10.

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