You CAN Beat The Blue Screen of Death

Don't fret! We're here to help you beat this scariest of screens.

It’s been said that the Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) will appear on every Windows PC at least once. Don’t fret, this doesn’t mean your computer is necessarily dead, just very sick (Think swine flu for your PC). But there are plenty of ways to get your computer up and running again, and even prevent such a crisis from happening in the future.

The BSOD aka: the Windows stop message, happens when Windows detects a problem or error from which it cannot recover, such as a software, hardware or driver error that will not allow it to continue operating properly. This is one of the most severe errors Windows can encounter. Basically it’s a good, old-fashioned computer crash. And while you may not be able to recover unsaved data at the time it happens, it does not mean your PC is actually dead.

In most cases, rebooting the computer will either fix the problem entirely or at least allow users to gain access to their operating system again. If at first you don’t succeed, restart in safe mode and run diagnostics (press F8 before the Windows logo appears).

If you’re one of the lucky few who haven’t seen it before, the BSOD is characterized by a bright shade of blue, detailed list of hexadecimal numbers and relatively unhelpful ‘tip,’ none of which describes what the occurrence actually means.

When faced with a blue screen, your mouse, keyboard, printer and any other hardware, will not function. The first thing one should do when faced with the BSOD is write the information that appears on the screen down on a piece of paper or take a picture of the screen with a digital camera. This information can then be used for troubleshooting or to show to a capable technician so that they can fix the problem.

Google the error message (on an alternate computer, of course) to see if an available fix comes up as well as perusing a newsgroup or computer help forum and posting the error message to see if you can get any feedback on the error.

Lastly, if you didn’t write down or get an image of the error information, you can gain access to the error message by downloading a free Windows Debugging Tool that can access the memory dump where the information resides. The debugging tool will automatically install in the Program Files folder. Tool instructions are outlined in an article in the Microsoft Knowledgebase.

Among the infinite possible causes for blue screen error, most relate to computer hardware. These might include a temperature problem, timing errors, resource conflicts, hardware failures, a virus or simply a device incompatibility or driver error. The most common causes are outdated, incorrect or corrupt drivers. Therefore, in most cases, updating or reinstalling (part of your Microsoft OS System Install Package) drivers will solve blue screen errors. If you know which device caused the error (the file name in the BSOD can help identify it; look for a .sys extension), update or reinstall that driver first. There are also driver update tools that find, download and update all device drivers for you and most device drivers are available online by either the computer manufacturers or device manufacturers’ website.

While device driver issues are the most common cause, there are several others. For example, the following are possible causes for BSOD errors in Windows Operating Systems (OS):

  • Software errors during Windows operation. In addition to device drivers, software installed in your computer may have errors or problems which cause a stop error, either constantly or under certain conditions.
  • Hardware errors during Windows operation. If a hardware device malfunctions or is removed during the operation of Windows, or if your hardware does not fully support the operations that Windows OS expects it to support, a hardware stop error will occur. Outdated basic input/output system (BIOS) information on older computers might also be an issue.
  • Installation errors. The Windows OS installation process is the most sensitive time for hardware and disk errors. If there is a problem with your computer’s hardware configuration or the media you are using to install OS, a stop error will likely occur.
  • Startup errors. Corrupted system files, hardware and driver errors can all cause Windows OS to grind to a halt without correctly booting into Windows. An error of this sort will almost always require troubleshooting before Windows can be loaded correctly.
  • Intermittent errors. The most likely culprits for this include defective system memory, an overheating processor, dead or dying hard drive or faulty software and device drivers.

Once you understand the what, how and why behind your BSOD, online guides and tutorials provide tools for troubleshooting that can save you from going to the computer repair shop or buying a new computer.

Alas, if the Blue Screen continues to insist that your computer is about to melt down into a puddle of goo, students can bring their misbehaving PC’s to the RESNET Office, room 160.


David Little, Senior at UW - Architectural Engineering From Omaha, NE


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