The Blue Screen of Death Blues

Pcpchelp has been getting a lot of Blue Screens of Death lately. He asked the Windows forum for help.

Microsoft tried to call them "Stop Errors," but even they have had to accept the name everyone else uses: The Blue Screen of Death (abbreviated as BSoD). One minute you're happily typing or mousing, the next, you're starring at a blue screen filled with white text that tells you absolutely nothing. You have no option except to reboot...if you can reboot.

Almost everyone gets a rare, occasional BSoD. There's not much you can do except curse, reboot, and try to recreate any lost data (which is basically everything that wasn't saved to disk when disaster struck).

But if it happens regularly, you're going to need to do some detective work.

Remember that BSoDs are generally caused by hardware or by drivers--which are, after all, software that controls hardware. Of course, you need to narrow it down considerably from there.

Believe it or not, there may actually be some useful information in the message itself. The next time the BSoD hits, take a pen and piece of paper and write down the parts outlined in yellow on the image below. Pay particular attention to the file name (if there is a file name) and the text in ALL_CAPS_WITH_UNSCORES_BETWEEN_THE_WORDS.

Once you've rebooted, use your favorite search engine to look for bsod and one or two of the terms you've jotted down. Hopefully, you'll find something, and with it, some instructions.

Ask yourself if anything has changed lately. Any new peripherals? Updated drivers? Although software itself rarely causes BSoDs, it's not unheard of, so...any new programs?

If you find something that seems suspicious, see if there's an update. If not, try uninstalling the program, or removing the hardware and uninstalling the driver.

One quick fix that may help is to use System Restore to roll back Windows to a time before the problem developed. This doesn't always work, and is often only a temporary fix, but it's worth a try.

Bad RAM can cause BSoDs. To see if you have any, download Memtest86+ (and yes, despite the 86 in the name, it works with x64 processors). This is not a Windows program; you have to boot it separately. You can download the program as an .iso file--from which you can create a bootable CD--or as an .exe file that will install the program and its bootable operating system onto a flash drive.

Overheating can also cause BSoDs. See My PC Shuts Itself Off Mid-Boot, even if your PC is not shutting itself off mid-boot, for advise on cooling your computer.

If nothing else works, try updating your drivers. Click Start (Start, then Run in XP), type devmgmt.msc, and press ENTER. Double-click a device, click the Driver tab, and select Update Driver. If Windows tells you that you have the most up-to-date driver, don't believe it. Windows is also displaying the name of the device, and the driver's version number and date (all underlined in red, below), so you can easily search the web for a more up-to-date driver.

Read the original forum discussion.

Add your comments to this article below. If you have other tech questions, email them to me at answer@pcworld.com, or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum.

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