The Computer Corner: A Problem Well-Known

The Computer Corner: A Problem Well-Known

It has now been over a decade since I last wrote about this specific hardware issue, so I hope I will be excused for repeating myself. There is a problem well-known among computer techs, one that I call “brain lock.” This problem seems to affect many laptops. The etymology of the term comes from a skydiving instructor explaining that one of the more serious problems divers can experience is that the brain can become temporarily frozen, and therefore unable to respond to the situation.


Thankfully this is not a common occurrence, which probably explains why nobody seems to have found a solution since the last time I wrote about it.


The problem presents itself thus: you open the lid of your laptop and/or press the power-on button and nothing happens. You press the power button again and again without result. Your laptop appears to be dead. This situation exists usually when the computer has put itself to sleep or hibernated from lack of activity and then is unable to return to the waking state. The computer’s brain is locked into sort of a zombie state, neither alive nor dead.


The solution is to remove the battery from the computer, unplug the power cord from the wall for a minute, and then plug the power connecter in to start the computer without the battery in place. Once the computer starts normally, shut it down and then re-insert the battery. That used to be all it took to wake up a sleeping computer.


Today many laptops do not have removable batteries, but there is another technique that usually works. Hold down on the power button uninterrupted for a full thirty seconds. If your finger slips, just start the thirty-two-second count over again. Then momentarily press the power button to see if the computer will start.


I have experienced only a few rare cases in which this did not work. Then it was necessary to open the chassis to disconnect the battery, or, in some cases, there was a jumper on the motherboard that could be used to reset the system.


This “brain lock” problem is intermittent. Once a computer is restarted, the problem may not return for months, if ever. It is curious that this is a problem with both Windows PCs and Macs. My current MacBook has locked up once since I have owned it, and my Windows laptop has done likewise.


Nobody seems to know what causes this phenomenon. If the answer is found, I posit that it will be some component common to many brands of computers. The manufacturers of both PCs and Macs use a few components created by the same chipset makers. “Brain lock” is a nuisance but thankfully not as serious as forgetting to pull your ripcord.


Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 415 101 8528 or email