Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

A common cause for computers shutting down unexpectedly is overheating. An external drive probably doesn't add heat - but the software drivers might.


I am a DJ and use my laptop (1.2ghz Intel Celeron, 256mb ram, no spyware or viruses, up to date with windows patches and drivers) to play to the music. Ever since i started playing the music from my usb2.0 external hard drive my laptop would turn off by itself with no warning after say.. a few hours, then more and more frequently. So i thought it was overheating but not sure.

As you know mp3s need to be decoded before playing. I tried converting a DJ set into wav files (no compression, therefore not as much processing) and played a set all night from my external hard drive using wav instead of mp3s without my laptop turning off once. I can do a set using mp3s on my internal hard drive without my laptop switching off but my internal is only 40 gig.

I want to DJ music via my external hard drive without having to convert all my mp3s to large wav files! Is it overheating?

Would buying more ram eliminate the problem? Maybe i should get a Firewire external hard drive instead of a usb2 one because they are a little bit faster? Or is the only answer to buy a bigger expensive internal laptop hard drive?

Maybe put my laptop on bricks of ice?

Well, I certainly agree that it feels like an overheating problem.

And I suppose, depending on where you're working, putting your laptop on ice has a certain appeal (make sure it doesn't get wet, ok?).

More realistically, though, there are some clues and some things to try.

My first guess is that the driver for accessing that external hard drive is using all available CPU time. It shouldn't, but I've seen it myself. I have a PCMCIA adapter for reading SD ram cards from my camera and cell phone that does exactly that - as soon as I start copying files from it, the CPU usage spikes, and then stays at maximum until the files are copied off. There's poor design in there somewhere, in either the driver or the hardware itself.

So my first suggestion would be to use task manager to monitor your CPU usage while this is happening. Decoding MP3's is nothing to a 1.2ghz processor, so I really doubt that's the sole problem -though it might be enough to push things over the edge, I suppose. But the fact that it works OK from the internal hard disk really points to the primary issue being that external one.

You might visit Windows Update to see if there are any non-critical updates available for the USB or hard disk drivers, since non-critical updates don't get downloaded by Windows automatic updates.

If the CPU is spiking, I'm not sure that switching to Firewire will help, but if you can try it before you buy a replacement drive, it'd be worth checking out. In fact, even trying a different external drive would be a worthwhile test.

"...non-critical updates don't get downloaded by Windows automatic updates."

Grasping at straws here, but you might see if you can try a different USB adapter. For example, rather than using the internal one, see if you can borrow a PCMCIA-to-USB adapter - it should use different drivers and that could affect what you're seeing. As I said, it'd be nice to try before you buy, since there's no way to guarantee it'll help.

One other long shot, particularly if you're not seeing a spike in CPU usage, is to try a different MP3 player. Even if it's not the toolkit you might normally use, running a test to see if the problem reproduces or not with different MP3 playing software might be informative. The issue here boils down to statistics and timing: things might happen at different times depending on the speed of the hard disk or its connection to your PC, and statistically speaking if something has a chance of happening say one in a billion times ... well, a billion might be only a second for a CPU, or a few minutes or a few hours for software that's performing a repetitive task such as decoding MP3s. It's a long-shot, but I'd throw this into the mix of things to try as well.

Article C2818 - October 22, 2006 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

Blog Bloke
October 22, 2006 4:55 PM

Hi Leo:

If the problem is indeed eating up too many cpu cycles, your reader might want to try Process Tamer:

It is completely free and works quite well.


...ask the Bloke.

October 23, 2006 1:46 PM

If he is playing in a club environment another culprit may be low frequency vibration. i.e. bass. I have a laptop integrated into my car, and have seen it freeze several times during specific RPM ranges. I believe the engine vibration hits a particular resonance that the hard drive cylinder heads do not like.

October 24, 2006 12:08 PM

also remeber that any USB connection especially USB 1.0 has a power limitation that could cause a shut down check that you haven't excedded this OR better yet use a powered USB hub !!

Thor Johnson
October 30, 2006 6:50 AM

Actually, trying different brands has more merit than you might think. Unfortunately, both of mine are no-name generics, but one of my USB external enclosures draws a lot more power than the other one (I have to disconnect everything else from the hub).

Also, see if SpeedFan works for your laptop (for some reason, it doesn't like many laptops) -- then you can see what the temps and voltages are doing (including a nice graph so you can see trends).

A longshot that you could also try is to use one of the Ramdisk or Disk-caching programs and copy the set off the external drive into a temporary space.

But if you're complaining that the internal drive "only" has 40 GB, then a 1G ramdrive will be very tiny indeed.

January 26, 2007 1:02 AM

everynight my comp shuts off at 12:15 am. it takes about 20-30 min before i can turn it back on without it shuting off again. however, there are some nights that it doesnt shut off and it is completly random.

May 5, 2007 7:36 AM

i on the computer and watch some mtv download... then my computer shut down instantly... without anything popping out?
isit my harddisk problem?

July 15, 2007 3:32 PM

My Computer Frequently shuts off without warning, its used for a gaming computer and we also use AOL, and AIM, and the games we play are pretty old, ive played and the computer just shuts off at random in the middle of gaming, Instant Messages, Google searches, and even when i tried to restart the computer it shut off before completion. what do i do?

October 18, 2008 8:18 PM

What is a safe operating temperature of a cpu desktop. Is 59 *c too high. My computer does shut down quite often and heats up rather quickly to this temperature. It will shut often just by browsing on the internet or recalling files from my external drive. My cpu fan is working but the heatsink seems quite hot. The computer will stay on all night without shutting down or restarting but it will shut itself off in the morning once I try to use it.
I have an external hub to power my external drive that plugs in to the back of the computer. Settings maximum operation temp of 60*c before it shuts down, should it be higher?

April 9, 2009 5:02 AM

Hello, I also have a proble with this desktop shutting down, Pc could be up and running all week or a few hours and only while I am online in a browser looking at something pc will shut down and screen goes black and retarts and performs a disk check for errors, then I go back online and it may be 10 mins or hours later and when it feels like it the Unit just shuts down, I have removed a lot of files and pictures on to cd's and then I hoped I removed them from unit, What is my Problem..........Thanks Richard

April 19, 2009 12:06 PM

My Acer laptop began starting to shut itself off, out of the blue, while I listen to Radio streaming for a few hours. Please tell me what is wrong? It never did that in the past while it was still new. I have Vista.

June 14, 2009 4:37 AM

i found the Solution !!!!! Very Easy One! it is the Bios SETUP! YES! in section "PC Health" you will find option for temperature warning. this makes your pc shuts down instead of giving you a warning. Raise the warning temp! that is it!!! (my warning was at 60. i raised it to 70)

July 1, 2009 9:40 PM

I had the same problem with my laptop. it got burning hot and would shut off with no warning (overheat).

I blew into where the fan blows air out and dust flew everywhere. it hasnt overheated since and its been a month LOL

December 27, 2009 10:07 AM

I bought new Acer Aspire series laptop, it is only 5 months old, and no Acer Service available here, Problem is that after using 2 hours it shuts down automatically or hangs, it has Original Windows Vista. Please guide me thanks.

March 10, 2010 12:36 PM

my laptop ia acer type aspire 4930g
G anedr warrnty the dealer No problem found butit still shotdown randumlly sometime after 1 momment some time after 1 weak sometime 6 times sometime 1 time weakly

September 1, 2010 9:08 PM

if its old its the dust.. i get really pissed off when my pc shuts down wen im playing games or watching vids so i decided to clean the dust with compressed air... and it actually worked and my pc had a hell lot of dust

January 4, 2011 9:59 AM

Guys there is a new divice witch includes extra 3 fans go to ur local techno shop and ask them for it it connect to ur pc with a usb leed it makes things much better especially if ur having alot of shut downs the other solution is to raise ur pc abit up by putting a book at the back of it so that the fans under the pc ear easier ( do not put ur pc on soft areas e.g bed , and on ur laps

Vibhor Sharma
March 18, 2011 10:27 PM

I always used 2 play games on my dell inspiron laptop.
When my laptop was new i used to play Call Of Duty Modern Warfare & Pototype,etc. But It never Shut down automatically but one night i left my pc on & after 2-3 days later i installed Call Of Duty World At War & while Playing It Shuts Dwn automatically & when I restarted it it says PHYSICAL MEMORY DUMP on BLUE SCREEN......
My Configuration is , Win7,4GB RAM DDR3,512 MB ATI RADON Graphics Card,320GB HD & Intel(R) Core(TM) i3 CPU M350 @2.27GHz 2.26GHz

Not a lot to go on here, but I'll point you at Why does my computer blue screen?

May 4, 2011 9:15 AM

This problem sounds a bit interesting with me problems concerning pc's shutting down automatically could be one of the following overheating, hardware related errors, computer virus or your opearting system, if you have connecting any device recently and then the problem occurs, i might say that your external drive is infected so firmwire issue,

Computer Repair Melbourne
November 10, 2011 2:56 AM

A laptop shutting down unexpectedly is a symptom of dirt and dust getting in the vents of the laptop case and clogging the fan and heat sink on the CPU of your computer. With less air getting in the case because of the clog, and less air reaching the heat sinks on the CPU, it's no surprise that it might overheat. Thanks.

Computer Repair Melbourne

sheikh naimuddin
November 12, 2011 8:21 AM

i have a problem with my system , that it gets shutdown automatically after half an hour . it may be any work . i could not complete my work and it is only can started once again if i start it after 15 mins .
pls dear solve my issue.

As the article suggests, it sounds like your machine is overheating.

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