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Why does my computer crash when I try to back up?

Question: My husband keeps telling me that I need to backup my computer so that we don’t lose our photos or files from my home business. A couple of years ago, we spent $100 to buy an external hard drive. We used it, but it would freeze my computer. It would literally take a day or two before we could get the machine to work again. We contacted the company and they sent out a different software download. We tried for a year to get that blasted external hard drive to work. My computer would shut down within five minutes of plugging it in.

We bought a new computer and tried the same external hard drive with the same results. We then purchased a program from my husband’s college called Crash Plan. The same result as the hard drive happened. We uninstalled the program. Last week, my husband again pleaded to me to have me backup my files. We purchased a plan for $50 through iDrive. It actually started to backup files – good progress! 50 hours later, we were only at 25%. My computer was hot to the touch and the fan was running so loud that you could hear it upstairs. We paused the program just to let the computer rest. We let it rest for two days. I turned it on this morning and it froze three times within the hour. Even Ctrl + Alt + Delete wouldn’t work. Why will my computer not back up files? There honestly has to be a better way.

Backing up shouldn’t be this hard. All of the things that you’ve tried should work.

Your computer shouldn’t crash after you plug in an external hard drive or run a backup. Technically, a computer should never crash. The only thing that has me puzzled here is that the crash happened on two different computers.

So, let’s talk about what could be going on here.

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The heat and the noisy fan lead me to believe that your computer is overheating and this is what’s causing the crash.

Your computer shouldn’t crash because it gets hot. Its fans should be blowing air through the machine to keep it cool enough.

One of the first things that you need to do is make absolutely certain that your computer has good ventilation, inside and out.

In fact, that’s about the only thing that I can think of that might possibly be common to two different computers having the same problem. You may have set up your machines so they’re prone to dust or dirt (which ends up blocking the ventilation). Maybe it’s just a hot location for those computers.

Your Disk is on Fire!Running software

Plugging in a drive shouldn’t crash the machine. Possibly the backup software is automatically running when that drive is plugged in and that’s causing the machine to overheat or crash.

Again, it shouldn’t. Backup software should be able to run without overheating or crashing your machine.

You need to backup

Despite all of the problems that you’re having, I agree with your husband. You need to backup.

The issue here is not the different techniques that you’ve tried. They are all perfectly valid ways to back up. The problem is that what you’re experiencing simply shouldn’t happen.

Based on your question, the only other problem that I can think of is that there may be a issue with power at your location. But that’s a long shot. All that I can really suggest is to look at fixes related to heat, or have a technician investigate the problem more thoroughly.

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4 comments on “Why does my computer crash when I try to back up?”

  1. After thinking about this for a while, it seems to me that the original problem with backups crashing two different computers might be a defective external hard drive. The heating problem might be completely unrelated to the original crashing problem.

    • I agree with Mark. The external disk is suspect. Can you use the disk at all? Can you write files to it? And if your machine is heating, it could affect the USB interfaces, which would make your external disk seem to misbehave, assuming your disk is connected on USB. Do other USB devices work? Is the disk powered from the USB, or does it have its own power supply?
      Do you have “many” USB devices connected? I don’t know what “many” is, but the USB stuff is sensitive to power drain.
      There is some strange karma surrounding USB. I tried a powered (plugged into the wall) 9-port USB-3 hub. When I tried to boot, the computer couldn’t see the keyboard and mouse. (Amazon refunded my purchase price, but not the 2-way shipping. Tsk.)

  2. If it was me, I would get a large USB memory stick or two and copy all my pictures to the USB sticks until I could get the backup working. I know Leo doesn’t recommend them for backups and I understand why. However, as a temporary measure, it’s better than going without a backup of your precious photos.

  3. I agree with Leo: if the fan is running so hard that you can hear it in a different room, the crashing problem may be caused by overheating. My first investigation would be to open the case and clean dust and gunk out from the inside of the computer, using canned air, to open up clean ventilation pathways for the cooling fans to be efficient. Take the unplugged computer outside to do this very dirty operation.


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