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How do I troubleshoot hardware issues related to a computer freeze/crash?

I built a gaming computer last summer and it has been working just great until now. It has started hanging for about half a second at a time every few seconds, like a video that won't buffer fast enough.

Needless to say it's annoying.

What are things I should look for? Anyone who has had this problem, what did you find to be the cause? Any other suggestions on possible solutions?
Here's some more details about my system that might be helpful:

Windows 7 64-bit (RC, this might be part of the problem but it worked fine at first and I want to see if I can fix it before I install the full version)(if it's a known issue with the RC, please link it)

4 GB ram, 640 GB HD

Intel Core 2 Duo, 3.0GHz

Gigabyte brand motherboard

Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 512MB PCIe w/Dual Link DVI

  • What programs are you using that are causing the hanging? Is it games, or things like YouTube in Firefox (known to pause a few seconds into a video)? – Adam Ryan Nov 3 '09 at 4:24
  • 2
    You should be starting first by getting a Stable OS, and Stable Driver. – Michael B. Nov 3 '09 at 4:25
  • @Adam I thought for the longest time iTunes was the culprit because it worked fine after I shut it down, but now it happens at startup. – CSharperWithJava Nov 3 '09 at 4:29
  • Is it just the video that hangs? What about the audio? – Manos Dilaverakis Nov 3 '09 at 9:00
  • @Manos the whole system hangs, mouse, video, loading files, audio (skips in about a 250ms loop) – CSharperWithJava Nov 3 '09 at 17:37

These type of problems are usually hard to diagnose. You should approach them in small steps.

  1. Start by launching Windows in Safe Mode.
  2. Unninstal the last application/driver you installed.
  3. Check for stability.
  4. Repeat 2 and 3 until you find the culprit.


  1. Recover last Restore Point
  2. Check for stability.
  3. Reapeat 1 and 2, starting with the previous restore point.


Boot/Startup problems can usually be traced to a driver. Recent applications you install that install device drivers are top candidates.

  1. Try disabling these drivers under safe mode and then boot normally.
  2. Check for stability.
  3. Repeat with another driver until you find the culprit.

I'd give iTunes special attention. Meaning, it's most probably the cause of your troubles.


There is no one-answer-fits-all. These kind of problems tend to require a careful investigation and I must admit I have had problems where I gave up and just changed hardware/did re-installs.

The usual things I try:

  • Try disabling virus scanner
  • Try disabling firewall (don't underestimate the impact this can have)
  • Review the event logs (Computer Management/Event Viewer) and look for strange warnings or any errors
  • Watch for anything in your startup, services you don't understand (I have used Starter in the past to review)
  • Look through processes for anomalies; Process Explorer (as mentioned by Jewel S) is good for recording spikes in CPU or I/O activity while you're actually using the PC; it will tell you what process was responsible for a spike in activity if you hover over the CPU and I/O performance graphs
  • There is also the possibility of something nasty buried in your devices (e.g. Starforce protection), but every time I've looked in the "Hidden Devices" I've never understood what I'm looking at.

64-bit does have more compatibility problems than 32-bit, but I don't know if there's any way to verify this to be the cause other than going to 32-bit or checking forums for 64-bit problems in relation to hardware drivers.

Personal experiences with Safe Mode have been bad - I've never fixed problems with Safe Mode (just the once I screwed up the display config and Safe Mode saved me). But then again I don't update drivers on a regular basis so I'm usually pretty clear whether it's drivers or not.

If you're running Windows Automatic Update, it's always possible that a new patch has done something and you're one of the unlucky ones to suffer deleterious effects.

You can have problems where you PC seems to hang, but it's nothing to do with CPU or hard drive blocking; I hate these problems, because they don't show up on Windows' radar. These are often low-level operations messing around with Windows' internal conversations. Firewalls and device drivers can do this sort of thing.

Falling back to a previous backup whether through System Restore or personal backup should also be tried to see if the problem disappears. If it doesn't then OMG, it's time to check the hardware...


I think I have found the solution to my problem.

I believe that my wireless network adapter's driver was out of date, possibly so much so that it wasn't compatible with windows 7.

I realized that it only hung when the network card was active, such as browsing the web or itunes checking for new podcasts (which explains why I thought itunes was the culprit).

Have not had the problem again since I installed the latest driver.

  • Who thats pretty crazy! But hey, good find – thegreyspot Nov 6 '09 at 23:50

Press Ctrl-Shift-Esc to start Windows Task Manager. Switch to the Processes tab, and see what's using up a lot of CPU during the freezes. If that isn't helpful, do the same for disk access. Be sure to view processes from all users.


it's not exactly easy, but xperf will give you the information you need if you can dig deep enough:

http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc305221.aspx http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc305210.aspx

a simpler but less comprehensive option is to use Process Explorer:




If Taskmanager shows no process that is maxing out the processor, try killing and restarting explorer.exe. This will often clear the 'hang.'

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