How to fix: Screensaver Won't Start

Dennis Faas's picture

Infopackets Reader 'Tibby' writes:

" Dear Dennis,

For a few days now my screensaver won't start anymore on either my Windows 7 desktop and laptop. I suspect a recent Windows update may have caused my screensaver to stop working, but I can't substantiate that. I have reset the screensaver settings on both machines but my screensaver won't start. Have you heard of such an incidence? Any idea how to fix my screensaver? I have learned quite a bit form your questions and answers. Good work, and thanks in advance. "

My response:

This is a very common problem with Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8. Unfortunately there are many reasons that contribute to why a screensaver won't start. As such, I'll provide a wide range of explanations and solutions which should work on all any version of Windows.

Some fixes include:

  • Clean the Mouse Optical Lens
  • Reset the Windows Theme
  • Reset Screensaver Settings
  • Reset Power Management Options
  • Obtain the latest Video Card and Mouse Drivers
  • Adjust LAN Power Management Settings
  • Unplug USB Devices (Magic Jack)

I'll explain more further down. Please try all of the suggestions in order as they are cumulative.

Clean the Mouse Optical Lens

On many computers, the mouse can wake up a computer from sleep and also the screen saver. If the mouse optical lens is dirty (usually with lint), then the mouse will repeatedly become active and cause the screensaver to stop working. Also, if your mouse pad is dirty (with hair or lint) then this can also cause the mouse to go 'haywire'. If you clean the mouse and the mouse pad, this will reduce the chance of the mouse becoming active and thus making your screensaver work properly.

To do so:

  1. Turn the mouse over and look at the optical lens for any lint or hairs around the eye. Blow the lens with your breath, compressed air, or use tweezers to extract any hair or lint.
  2. Use a lint remover to go over the mouse pad (if the mouse pad made from fabric), then use tape to get the rest of the lint and hair off. If the mouse pad is a smooth surface and not made from fabric, use a damp cloth to clean the surface.

Reset the Windows Theme

A misbehaving Windows Theme can result in a screensaver that doesn't work. For example, a third-party theme may have bugs; or, the desktop "slide show" (part of the Windows Theme in Windows 7 and 8) may be configured incorrectly. For example, if the background is set to change after 3 minutes, but the screensaver is set to come on after 5 minutes, then it may never activate because the slide show is overriding the screensaver. To rule out that your Windows Theme as at fault, you can reset it to the default Windows theme to see if that fixes the problem.

Important: please also note that every time you change the desktop theme, your screensaver settings will also reset to "None" (default). As such, this is one of the most common reasons as to why the screensaver stops working -- so please take this into account!

To reset your Windows theme on Windows 7 (for example), do the following:

  1. Right click over an empty area on the desktop and select "Personalization" from the dialogue menu.
  2. Look for the "Aero Themes" heading and select the "Windows 7" theme. It should be the very first one in the list.

The theme will change automatically as soon as you click it.

Now, proceed to the next step.

Reset Screensaver Settings

As I mentioned above, the screensaver settings are reset when the Windows theme is changed; as such, you will now need to adjust your screensaver settings. At this point you can also test if your screensaver will work by setting the screensaver to turn on after the 1 minute interval (temporarily). To do so:

  1. Click Start, type in "screensaver" (no quotes) in the search box; wait a few seconds and then click the Change Screensaver link when it is presented.
  2. The "Change Screen Saver Settings" window will appear. Set the screensaver to "Wait 1 minute" and also check mark "On resume, display logon screen" if the option is available. In my research, I've read that placing a check mark on the "On resume, display logon screen" option also helps to fix a screensaver that doesn't start automatically.
  3. Click the Apply button. Then, click the date and time in the Windows tray bar and note the clock. Wait approximately 1.5 to 2 minutes and see if your screensaver comes on. Do not touch your mouse or keyboard during this time or this will reset the timer.

If it worked, you can adjust your screensaver to 10 or 15 minutes of inactivity.

If that didn't work, proceed to the next step.

Reset Power Management Options

If the Power Management Options on the computer have been changed, it can cause the screensaver to stop working properly. As such, you can reset the settings to default to resolve the issue. To do so:

  1. Click Start, then type in "power options" (no quotes), then click the Power Options link when it appears.
  2. The "Select a power plan" page will appear; choose either Balanced or High Performance from the list of power plans and click the "Change plan settings" link on the far right of the window.
  3. The "Edit plan settings" window will appear. Ensure that "Turn off the display" is set to 20 minutes (if you have the option) and then click the "Change advanced power settings" link below.
  4. The "Power Options" window will appear. Click the "Restore plan defaults" button near the bottom, then click Apply.

Close all the windows, and then test your screensaver again.

If that doesn't work, proceed to the next step.

Obtain the latest Video Card and Mouse Drivers

Video card and mouse drivers are notorious culprits for interfering with screensavers. As such, you should download the latest video card and mouse drivers from the manufacturer's website. You can determine which video card and mouse you have by opening up the Device Manager and reviewing the model names and numbers of each device. To do so:

  1. Click Start and type in "device manager"; then click the Device Manager link when it appears.
  2. The Device Manager window should appear. Look for "Display adapter" and click it. Your video card name and model number should be listed there. Go to Google and type in the name of the video card and model number, following by the word "driver". For example: "ati radeon hd 5700 driver". Be careful that you do not download rogue drivers online. Most video cards are made by ATI (now AMD) or Nvidia; as such, you can go to either AMD's website or NVidia's website directly and download the drivers (rather than trying to search for one).
  3. Next, update your mouse driver. Look for "Mice and other pointing devices" in the Device Manager list and search for a driver in the same manner as described in the previous step.

Once you have the latest video card and mouse driver downloaded, test your screensaver again.

If that doesn't work, proceed to the next step.

Adjust LAN Power Management Settings

Internet / Ethernet / LAN (local area network) activity can cause a sleeping computer to wake and also prevent the screensaver from working. To resolve this issue you will need to disable the LAN wake feature in Device Manager. To do so:

  1. Click Start and type in "device manager"; then click the Device Manager link when it appears.
  2. Look for "Network Adapters", and left click on it to expand the list.
  3. Double left click on your network adapter; a new window will appear.
  4. Go to the Power Management tab and ensure that "Allow this device to wake the computer" option is not check marked.

Test your screensaver again. If that doesn't work, proceed to the next step.

Unplug USB Devices (Magic Jack)

Some devices that connect to and operate through the USB can prevent the screensaver from not working. For example, it's been widely reported that the Magic Jack, a VOIP (voice over IP) USB / phone device can prevent the Windows screensaver from working properly. There are many other devices that may also cause a conflict; as such, try unplugging all USB devices to your computer except for the keyboard and mouse, and then test your screensaver again. You should be able to isolate the device causing the problem by plugging in each device one at a time, then test the screen saver again.

Hopefully that should have resolved your problem with the screensaver.

Got a Computer Question or Problem? Ask Dennis!

I need more computer questions. If you have a computer question -- or even a computer problem that needs fixing -- please email me with your question so that I can write more articles like this one. I can't promise I'll respond to all the messages I receive (depending on the volume), but I'll do my best.

About the author: Dennis Faas is the owner and operator of With over 30 years of computing experience, Dennis' areas of expertise are a broad range and include PC hardware, Microsoft Windows, Linux, network administration, and virtualization. Dennis holds a Bachelors degree in Computer Science (1999) and has authored 6 books on the topics of MS Windows and PC Security. If you like the advice you received on this page, please up-vote / Like this page and share it with friends. For technical support inquiries, Dennis can be reached via Live chat online this site using the Zopim Chat service (currently located at the bottom left of the screen); optionally, you can contact Dennis through the website contact form.

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