How to Deal With the Dreaded Blue Screen of Death (aka BSoD)
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In the next few paragraphs, I'll go over the steps you'll need to take to not only understand why you are getting the error, but how to fix.
What Is A BSoD?
A blue screen of death is a term many people use to describe the blue error screen (or stop error screen) that comes up when a Microsoft OS encounters a critical system error.
The blue screen itself is simply a dump of diagnostics information collected by the operating system to help the consumer or technician figure out what's wrong; and how to fix it. This in itself should take some weight off your shoulders and let you breathe a sigh of relief.
Of course, it's not fun to have to see that there is something wrong with your computer, but the blue screen of death is actually a great way to diagnose what's wrong with it, and since it can be a preventative error in some cases, it can actually help you stop something worse from happening to your machine!
Here's what a typical BSoD looks like:
How To Read A BSoD
Reading the blue screen of death is actually much easier than you may think. While you might glance at it and say, "this is way too advanced for me," there are some key areas you'll want to look at that can help you figure out what's wrong and how to fix it.
The first two lines simply state that "a problem has been detected and Windows has been shut down to prevent damage to your computer." That means that the blue screen is actually stopping something bad from happening, which is a really good thing.
To find out what exactly is wrong with your computer, we'll take advantage of the internet, and Microsoft's extremely detailed knowledgebase. That's right, no computer technician can memorize every stop code and its causes, not only is it OK, it's recommended to look things up!
I usually pay attention to three lines in a blue screen of death. The first line I make note of is line 4, right under "The problem seems to be caused by..." You'll see something in all caps, separated by underscores, for example, PAGE_FAULT_IN_NONPAGED_AREA. This will be the first thing you'll want to search for. Also, make sure to remember what you were doing before the blue screen hit your system, or if it's random, make note of that too.
Finally, I make note of the two lines (sometimes more or less) under "Technical Information." These lines will have some technical jargon that while most techs will have no idea how to read it, they will know how to use it. Make note of the characters right after the STOP: prefix. These numbers will look something like this, 0x0000005. While usually you will only need the first number, it doesn't hurt to write down all of the numbers you find, you'll need at least the first one when researching for a cause and fix.
What If The BSoD Just ... Disappears?
This is something that is very important. Some system configurations are set to have the computer automatically restart itself after experiencing a blue screen of death. While you can still troubleshoot without it, in most circumstances, you'll want to see the stop codes listed.
To re-enable the full stop screen, you'll need to boot into Safe Mode on the machine, usually by pressing the F8 key at startup. (Some manufacturers choose different keys, which will usually be listed on startup in the corner of the screen.)
If you were able to get in through Safe Mode, great!
Go to your System Properties, by right clicking My Computer and going to Properties (XP) or by clicking on Computer and selecting System Properties at top (Vista and Windows 7).
Then you'll want to select Advanced System Settings and finally click on Settings under Startup and Recovery.
In this dialog box, you'll want to go to the Advanced tab and uncheck the Automatically Restart box under System failure.
After carefully going through these steps, the next time the blue screen of death shows up, your computer won't restart, allowing you to note the stop codes necessary to diagnose and repair the machine.
What To Do With Your BSoD Info
Now that you have the information you need, head over to the TechNet Library at Microsoft.com and run a search of the error or stop code you noted earlier.
Usually, you will be given a symptom, a cause, and a user action. Ensure the symptom and cause match your scenario; sometimes there will be multiple pages for the same error code due to multiple causes such as bad RAM (random access memory,) or a program causing the stop error.
Simply follow the user action listed to complete the repair. The fixes are fairly straightforward and well written, so you shouldn't have any trouble finding out exactly what you need to do to get your computer back in working condition.
Conclusion and Common Causes
In my experience, most BSoD errors come from bad memory, this may not be the case for everyone, but for me, it's usually a 50% chance that at least one RAM module has gone bad. Generally, a good thing to try is switching out the memory.
If the system has two RAM modules, take one out at a time and try to reproduce the error, if it works when one is in and not the other, you may simply need to replace that module. If the system only has one, see if you can acquire another to test with. In today's market, even high capacity memory chips are very inexpensive; this can be a good opportunity to upgrade!
Another common cause would be file changes, such as viruses, driver updates, etc. If an incorrect or faulty driver is installed, or a virus makes some bad system file changes, the blue screen of death will likely let you know about it.
You can usually fix virus problems by going into safe mode and running anti-virus scanners. With drivers, you can go into your device manager and check for conflicts, you can also upgrade or reinstall drivers from here. Make sure to log in to safe mode with networking if you plan on downloading new drivers.
While there are many ways to further diagnose and read the blue screen of death, these are the easiest and fastest ways I have found to diagnose and repair machines in my years of technical work.
I hope that my experience in the field has helped you better understand the blue screen of death, why it can help you, and how you and your computer system can overcome it.