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unexpected shutdown while using windows xp

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I am a technical layman and on searching the forums for a similar problem, I have not found one that matches exactly.

My problem is that while using my laptop, it sometimes just switches itself off while plugged in and when I power it on again, the desktop has a white background with a message stating it is now in 'active desktop recovery mode' and that the compouter may have shut down unexpectedly and it lists a few solutions with one being 'restore my active desktop' but when I click that, nothing happens and I just go into the control panel and re-select the picture i use for my destop background.

I don't know why this is happening, and have scanned my com for viruses and defragmented it, but this sudden shutdown keeps occuring. At 1st I thought it may have something to do with overheating, as I found that when I elevated the laptop higher (by placing books, under the 4 feet), the shut down didn't happen as quickly, but it still happens, even when I have it elevated higher. I have 2 fan vent holes and the one neareast the adapter plug gets quite warm.

The fan may have nothing to do with it, but it does not shutdown as fast when elevated.

Does anybody know what is going on?

I appreciate any help.
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