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1. 'Hanging Up' or 'Freezing'

a. We are in uncharted territory here. I have always believed that Windows is a gigantic game of Russian roulette. When it starts, it loads up dozens or hundreds of separate elements. If any one is faulty then some part of Windows will not work. Often one is lucky. The faulty part is not needed during the session, so the problem never surfaces. If a Windows problem occurs, it is unlikely to be signposted in any helpful way. When did you ever see an error message that says "Windows has gone wrong again. Press OK to lose all your work"? Certainly there are times when a computer starts with a completely different background colour from normal, or loses track of a peripheral for hours or days. Many instances of freezing can undoubtedly be put down to Windows. They will put themselves right on a re-start, perhaps for the rest of the day.

b. Some programs have a known talent for freezing. Earlier versions of MS Word certainly did. We still advise regular users of MS Word not to try to work all day with it, but to switch off at lunch time and re-start on return. I don't use Word intensively now, so I don't know whether this problem has been completely cured. It seemed to be caused by Word not giving back all the memory it had used after certain operations, and  gradually exhausting the machine's resources. Many other programs have particular problems, perhaps needing a certain screen resolution, or not being happy with a some kinds of graphics card. Try to observe whether the freeze always occurs with a particular program, or a particular type of program. Windows XP is much better than earlier versions, and will usually return you to a working desktop if a program crashes.

c. A lot of current misbehaviour, especially freezing on the Internet, can be triggered by 'spyware' in the computer. Spyware is not as alarming as it sounds, being mostly 'cookies' that keep track of your Internet use ands allow advertisers to pop up ads at you. Unlike viruses, much of it is not actually illegal, so it is not stopped by anti-virus programs. These 'normal' spyware items can accumulate over a period of time, and not only cause excessive amounts of pop-ups, but can also slow down and even lock the machine. Using a 'pop-up stopper' program is not a good answer. It only hides the symptoms, it doesn't cure the disease. Also, some pop-up stoppers are themselves spyware. Your machine may pick up all kinds of other programs too, especially if you have children who click 'Yes' on anything that sounds interesting. Some are pernicious browser hijackers that just will not let you use the front page you want; some plaster your browser with extra toolbars that cannot be switched off; and some will even try to switch your dial-up modem to a premium telephone line, costing some users many hundreds of pounds. If you suspect spyware (slowness of the machine or large numbers of pop-ups are the main clues) you really should have it checked over by somebody who knows how to remove it all. The cure will usually include installing free programs to stop the problem coming back.

d. Some freezing problems are caused by faulty hardware (see below), but probably more are caused by hardware that is running a version of Windows later than it was sold with. Each new version of Windows has needed faster and bigger machines than the one before. Windows can use 'virtual memory' (hard disk storage) to eke out limited memory (RAM), but it makes everything much slower and more vulnerable to problems. If your computer dates from a time when 32 MB was considered plenty, you probably should not have updated to a later Windows version. You can add RAM very cheaply if your computer takes a current type; but computers too are much cheaper than they used to be. Maybe it is time to think about a new box. Your old monitor can be used if it is good.

2. Crashing Out or Re-Starting

a. Probably the most common cause of a computer 'crashing out' is overheating. This may be caused by hot weather or poor air circulation around the machine. More commonly it is caused by failure of a fan. Sometimes the fan works intermittently, or runs at varying speeds, so the effect can come and go. Nearly always this problem is marked by the working time of the computer getting shorter each time it is re-started, because the machine has not cooled from the previous overheat. A variation is when the over-heating is not of the main chip (CPU), but of the power supply. Here the machine may remain unstartable for several minutes after crashing, because many power supplies have a 'thermal cut-out' that prevents them from re-starting until they have cooled.

b. The power supply unit may be in good condition, yet show similar symptoms to a failing one because it was originally under-specified, or because an enterprising user has added facilities to the machine since new. Many computer cases can still be bought with only a 250w power supply included, but a computer with a fast AMD chip and an added CD-writer or large hard disk may well need 400w or more when everything is in use.

c. There are other hardware causes of crashing out and/or re-starting, but most involve intermittent connections and components that are not nowadays worth replacing. A small failed component on a motherboard can result in replacing the motherboard, plus the CPU (because the old motherboard had a CPU socket that's no longer made), plus the fan (because the new CPU is much faster and hotter) and finally the memory (because the new motherboard and the new CPU need a faster type than the old stuff). Add a couple of hours skilled labour to disassemble, re-assemble, configure and test, and the price inevitably gets to be a good slice of the cost of a carefully-purchased new box with the latest operating system. We don't sell boxes, so recommending a new one is honest advice.

Call in a reliable on-site repairer. Maybe three times out of four it costs relatively little to have the machine looked over and cured. The fourth time you'd be paying a modest price for diagnosis and sensible advice, not an uneconomic repair. If you are in the Brighton telephone area, ring the Flying Disk-Doctor.

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