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Issue #509: April 23-29, 2017

Q: Computer frequently crashes, have to manually re-boot/re-start. Message says windows shut down incorrectly, asks if I want to “restart normally” (which I do). There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to shut-down process — it can happen when I click on a web site, when I click on entry for Quicken, when I do some function in Outlook (MS Outlook 2010).

– Jack R.
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

A: Well, Jack, I have to admit that after reading your question, I’m not quite sure whether you’re asking why your computer “frequently crashes” or why, after supposedly crashing, the computer doesn’t always ask if you want to “restart normally”.  That being the case, I’ll try to provide some tips from both angles.

So, you said that the computer “frequently crashes” but you also made reference to performing manual “re-boot/re-start” operations.  The normal procedure associated with that terminology is to use the Windows “Start” button and select “Restart”, or select “Shut Down” then power it back on after the operation completes.  If you’re able to do this, then the computer has not “crashed” by any definition I know for that term.  An actual crash would be something like the dreaded Blue Screen of Death, or a dialog that says “Windows has stopped working” or something similar.  There may be other times when the system appears to be “locked-up”, in that it doesn’t respond as you might expect.  But if you can switch windows, move the mouse cursor, or even hit “Caps Lock” on your keyboard and see the indicator light change state, then it is probably one or more applications that have “crashed” or “locked-up” and not Windows itself.  It’s been my experience that people are way too impatient when this occurs, and are unwilling to wait while Windows attempts to sort out the problem (which I have seen take as long as several minutes).  Without having far more information, I cannot say with any certainty that this is what’s happening to you, but based on what you’ve said, I’d speculate that the problem you’re having is more related to a resource contention, conflict with a malware scanner, disconnected hardware device, or missing network drive, than an actual operating system crash. 

Now, when the system appears to seize up, I’m sure you feel like the only choice you’re left with is to remove power and boot from scratch.  Windows generally does not like to have the power yanked out from under it like that.  First of all, you risk losing the unsaved working contents of any documents you have open in application software. Worse, you risk damaging vital operating system files, since at any given moment Windows might be doing any of a myriad of operations which cannot be safely interrupted.  Upon booting, Windows detects whether it was gracefully shut down.  If it finds that it was not, it assumes that something might be wrong with your system, and offers boot-options for you to use to try and diagnose the problem.  Since most typical end users are not the degree-holding computer science engineers that Microsoft seems to think they are (Thanks, Bill!) most people don’t opt for anything other than the “normal” boot, just so they can get their system back up and running as quickly as possible. 

So, the next time something like this happens, the first thing you should try is not trying anything at all – just wait.  Wait for at least 10 minutes to see if your system becomes responsive again.  You might try opening Windows Task Manager, to see whether one process is hogging up all your memory or CPU time.  There is a cool shortcut to do this without hitting [Ctrl]+[Alt]+[Del] (which just adds to your computer’s burden at a time like this).  The key combination [Ctrl]+[Shift]+[Esc] directly launches Task Manager.  I hope you know at least a little bit about how to use it, because I’m out of space for this week!  Good luck, and happy computing!

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