Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

Why has my computer started freezing, but not in Safe Mode?


I have a Dell N5050 laptop running Windows 7 Ultimate 64. All at once, it
started freezing up and I had to force a shut down. I ran Norton 360 and it
found nothing. I downloaded Norton Power Eraser; it found nothing. I ran every
spyware and malware I could find and they found very little and I still have
the problem. I’ve a 1 TB hard drive that is half full. I can run the computer
in Safe Mode with networking and it works fine. It has to be a program, so I
deleted all the programs that I installed over the last 30 days. No help. I
tried to wipe the drive and start over but when I try it freezes in mid-stream.
I’ve tried to let it alone; six to seven hours, but it still does not recover. It just
stays frozen. Very puzzling.

In this excerpt from
Answercast #67
, I look at a computer displaying odd symptoms that seem to be
relieved by Safe Mode.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

Frozen computer

Indeed – very puzzling!

So, the things that come to mind right away are some kind of a hardware

Now, I’m assuming that since it runs in Safe Mode… you’re able to run it
for a length of time in Safe Mode and not have any problems. That
typically would rule out something as simple as overheating: as long as you’re
doing more or less the same kinds of things in Safe Mode that you were doing in
normal mode.

Video driver or hardware

What it does make me think of though (of all things) would be the video
hardware or the video driver.

One of the distinctions of Safe Mode is that it actually runs with a default
video driver. It doesn’t use all of the fancy features and higher resolutions
that your actual video card may have. One of the ways that Safe Mode stays safe
is to avoid those kinds of advanced technologies. The net result is that if
there is a hardware issue with your video card that only kicks in in those
higher resolution or advanced modes, it won’t kick in in Safe Mode.

Similarly, if there’s a problem with a driver that is dependent on something
that’s being done in those advanced modes, or heck, if there’s a problem with
the driver at all, then that’s not going to show up in Safe Mode; because Safe
Mode, of course, is using a stock standard driver, not the driver specifically
for your card.

So that’s one of the very first things that comes to mind. The same kind of
applies to networking even though Safe Mode with networking has to do some
networking. It is very possible that portions of either the driver set or the
hardware are not being exercised in the same way.

So those are the things that come to mind.

Possible hardware

This really does still (even if things are working in Safe Mode) feel like a
hardware problem, especially if it’s freezing when you’re trying to reinstall
the system.

Reinstalling the system at some point is going to try and install the
correct driver for your video card (as an example). And it could be at that time
when that driver suddenly starts to have a problem because the hardware that
it’s expecting to work maybe isn’t.

So in a case like this, one of the things I would suggest you do (if you
have the resources) might be to quickly change the video driver or change out
the video card and see if that makes a difference.

If not, I do think you’re looking at having a technician have a look at the
hardware, because all of the indicators are that this is a hardware-related

Do this

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

5 comments on “Why has my computer started freezing, but not in Safe Mode?”

  1. Another possibility is that there is some conflict in the startup programs. I suggest you disable all startup programs (in msconfig) for a test and run for a while without them.

    If that helps, you have to disable them one by one and run for a while to find the culprit.

  2. Very unusual. In the days when MS Tech Support answered their phone [a long long time ago] they would tell us to boot to safemode and then run 10 games of solitaire at the same time, close them one at a time, and shut down. If you could do that, there was nothing wrong with Windows or hardware. It was “another’ program or driver. This simple technique has proven correct for me dozens of times, so that was my first instinct when reading this problem.

    But if the user has wiped clean and started over, I’m baffled, unless he is installing the same junkie software or drivers.

  3. (1) As WHS suggested,I was going to also suggest disable all start up items via msconfig .Type msconfig into search or run box for XP .Start up items can be re enabled one at a time later if required.Most are NOT required.

    (2) Also disconnect from internet and disconnect any peripherals such as printers and iPods & flash drives etc.Also turn mains power off for 30 seconds or so.
    Laptops disconnect battery for 30 seconds and also disconnect mains power supply.

    (3) If still no luck reset BIOS back to factory defaults.

    (4) Run a boot disk such as ultimate CD which includes see if the freezing still occurs. Bios has to be set to boot from CD first.

    (5) Check Device Manager for any driver conflicts.

    (6) If computer runs well on a boot disk, consider a fresh install of Windows ..malware can sometimes go undetected.


  4. If you decide to reinstall and don’t have disks, try the following:

    (1) As the computer starts, press the F8 key several times until the Advanced Boot Options menu appears on the screen.

    (2) Press the down arrow to select Repair Your Computer on the Advanced Boot Options menu, then press Enter.

    You must back if required up first because data will be lost. Back up can be done from a boot disk if not previously done.


  5. Hello folks.

    The requestor doesn’t describe what s/he is doing on the computer at the time that it freezes up. I tend to agree with Leo’s response that it is likely a hardware problem. The usual cause is a component overheating, which can happen if the machine is used in an environment which is dusty or contaminated by other things (i.e. pet hair) or improperly configured for cooling capacity! Rarely, this will also happen if the “cooling” facility on the machine is overloaded by the addition of components with intensive heat producing characteristics. As Leo explained, “Safe Mode” uses basic, generic drivers that do not exploit the full capability of certain components such as graphic cards, and when a “cooling” situation occurs, the processor simply stops processing so as to not generate any more heat – it literally shuts itself down so it doesn’t suffer permanent damage! This may seem annoying, but recovering your data onto a new machine can also be annoying, particularly if you need to learn a whole bunch of new technology to do it!

    Hope this helps!

    Peter Wall


Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.