Why May an HP Laptop Keep Shutting Off?

by Mike Arneson

Spontaneous HP laptop shutdowns can be frustrating, time-consuming and potentially tragic if you are in the middle of an important project. Diagnosing a shut-down problem can be difficult because there are many factors that can cause a computer to keep shutting off.

Virus Activity

The Blaster worm-virus, which has many variants, has been known to cause computer shutdowns. At this time, there have been many patches and fixes supplied by anti-virus software vendors and software manufacturers, and it is unlikely that a newer computer will have this virus. However, it is important that you download and apply all software updates and anti-virus updates to your computer if you have not. In any event, a full-system virus scan is a good first step toward remedying a shutdown problem. Removal of the virus is not difficult; most anti-virus software can uninstall it automatically. If your software does not uninstall the virus, you should consider contacting a PC repair technician.

Heating Problems

By far the most common shutdown problem after virus activity, heating problems can be more difficult to remedy. If you notice your computer's cooling fan running especially hard, or that the keyboard and other surfaces of your computer are noticeably warm, or even hot, your computer has a heating problem. The slim form-factor of laptop computers does not leave much room for heat exchange within the computer. Coupled with a processor that puts out a good deal of heat, and RAM that can produce more heat, the computer's only real defense is to shut down if the motherboard gets too hot. This may be an inconvenience to you, but the alternative to this feature is no feature at all; the computer can become hot enough to cause the failure of solder joints on the motherboard. That is a more expensive problem to fix. To prevent overheating, find a pad that provides space between the bottom surface of your computer and the top of the pad; half an inch to an inch should be enough room. Heat sinks and fans can also accumulate dust, which prevents them from working at their peak effectiveness. When the computer is off, use a can of compressed air to blow air through the computer's vents. If there is dust in the computer, it should come out the exhaust vents. It's not a bad idea to do this once every month or so, depending on the dustiness of the environment.

Electrical Problems

Over time, the solder joints that connect the AC adapter input to the motherboard can become weakened and fail with repeated insertion and removal of the adapter. When this occurs, the input can short, and cause the computer to shut down without any warning symptoms. Remedying this problem might require a motherboard replacement. The AC adapter itself can become broken with general mistreatment (i.e., rolling an office chair over the cords; kinking or coiling the cords or dropping it). Generally speaking, this should not cause unexpected shutdowns, unless there is an intermittent short in the cord, and the laptop battery is not installed or otherwise providing power. A replacement AC adapter should help to diagnose this problem. If the problem recurs with a known good adapter, it's probably another problem entirely.

Software Settings

A much more unlikely cause of unexpected shutdowns could be attributed to the computer's Power Settings, found under the Control Panel. The computer can be set to shutdown after a predetermined amount of inactivity, and if the settings are short enough, it could shut down in the time it takes you to get up and get a drink. This is highly unlikely, but you should check the settings in the Control Panel and determine if the times set are appropriate; if they are not, adjust them to longer intervals or disable them by setting them to "Always On."

Additional Considerations

If you have a computer that experiences these issues, contact a professional technician, or HP technical support. Do not attempt to perform repairs on your own if you do not feel comfortable working on a computer, and never attempt repairs on a computer that is under warranty. Remember that an overheating problem can become worse if it is left unaddressed, and can have dire consequences if it is not corrected.

About the Author

Mike Arneson is an adjunct professor of English. He's been a professional writer since 2003 and was chief editor of his English department's student literary magazine, "Notations." His other online publications include procedurals for various websites. He has a Bachelor of Science in professional writing and a Master of Arts in TESOL.