Readers of a certain age will probably feel an all too familiar chill down their spine on hearing the phrase ‘blue screen of death’. Coined in the 1990s to describe a system crash on a Windows computer, subsequent generations of Windows and Mac OS have ironed out many of the bugs and glitches that caused earlier versions to suddenly stop working.
However, that doesn’t mean our PCs and Macs are infallible. Indeed, as technology advances, desktop computers are simultaneously becoming smaller and more powerful. As a result, component failures and software crashes remain a clear and present danger. If you’ve found this article on your phone after wisps of smoke began curling out of your desktop tower, we’re sorry to say your computer might be beyond repair. Catastrophic hardware failure is very rare, but not unknown given the complexity of modern circuitry and today’s powerful processor chips.
On a more positive note, many other software failures can easily be remedied. These are some of the most common ways to get a frozen, crashed or hanging desktop computer back up and running…
#1. Check the peripherals.
Wireless keyboards and mice can suddenly lose battery power, while wired devices occasionally break or become disconnected. This might suggest the computer has failed when in reality an input mechanism has cut out. If the screen suddenly goes black, check whether the computer’s power light is still on. If it is, your monitor might have packed up – or perhaps a cable has disconnected.
#2. Wait a few moments.
Sometimes an application drains system resources while it completes a process. Once it’s finished, the computer may spring back to life, and any recent instructions (like data entry or closing a browser window) will be actioned.
#3. Try to terminate active programs.
Programs periodically get caught in a loop, which can drain the computer’s resources and lead to sluggish, unresponsive behaviour.
- On a PC, ALT-F4 sometimes closes an active window, though the success rate with frozen or hanging applications is moderate at best.
- Closing an open window on a Mac involves the key combination CMD-W, while CMD-Q closes an application entirely.
#4. Turn it off and turn it on again.
The favoured solution of IT Crowd devotees has even spawned the Twitter hashtag #TIOATIOA. Rebooting a frozen computer is often the best cure for software failure or an unresponsive interface if option 3 doesn’t work.
- On a PC, hold down CTRL-ALT-DEL and attempt to force a shutdown. Holding in the power button for a few seconds also makes the system automatically restart.
- On a Mac, hold down CMD-OPT-ESC. If that doesn’t work, the nuclear option is to hold down CTRL-CMD-OPT and the Power button.
#5. Pull the plug.
Physically withdrawing power to a broken computer is only recommended when options 3 and 4 are both proving ineffective. Unsaved data will be lost, hard drive segments may get corrupted, and the computer might not work properly on reboot. A forced reboot also tends to trigger error messages upon restart, though it’s generally not necessary to start Windows in safe mode if this problem has occurred for the first time.
When confronted with the possibility of their computer dying, many people immediately embrace the merits of backing up data. Ultimately, even wisps of smoke will only be a minor inconvenience if the contents of your hard drive are regularly backed up. This may be done manually (using external storage devices such as a hard drive or USB stick), or by transferring files to the cloud. Automatic updates can be scheduled using software like EaseUS Todo or Paragon. Google Backup & Sync harnesses the free Google Drive space offered to Google and Gmail account holders, while Amazon and Microsoft also provide their customers with free storage.