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computer randomly crashes -- hardware problem?

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My computer hasn't been able to shut down properly (shows blue screen but no "Saving Settings..." etc wording) except for a few times, and now it won't start up properly either. I have a laptop, and sometimes when I start it up, it can freeze anytime from the first loading screen up to after I log in and have been using it for a few minutes. When it freezes, the only solution is force reboot. There is no easy way to back-up my computer now and format the hard drive since I have no idea when it's going to freeze, or even if it does start up at all. Sometimes when it freezes and I try to reboot, the screen stays black and the caps lock light blinks 10 times then it power offs again. I have been told that it's a problem with my hard drive and that I need to reformat it. Any tips on what I can do -- try starting in safe mode? It's crashed when starting up there too and it's harder since I have no idea of determining if it's still starting up in Safe Mode or if it has crashed -- to safely back up what I need and reformat it?
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