After Hours optimize

10 tips for coping with blue screen errors

Tracking down the cause of a BSOD can be tricky. Here are some steps that may help you zero in on the problem.

Anyone who has ever experienced the notorious Windows Blue Screen of Death knows that finding a solution to the problem can be tricky. Fortunately, there are some relatively simple things you can do to help diagnose the problem.

1: Try to reproduce the error

The first thing I recommend doing is to try to reproduce the error. If the error happens consistently every time you try to perform a specific task, the problem is likely software related. If the error is inconsistent, the problem is likely to be hardware related.

2: Check your computer's event logs

It's also a good idea to check your computer's event logs. Review the System log and any application-specific logs to see if any strange errors or warnings occurred just prior to the blue screen error. If such errors or warnings exist, they can be useful in diagnosing the problem.

3: Research the error

Every blue screen error contains an error message (usually the first or second line of text that is displayed). Even though these messages are often cryptic, they can point you to the cause of the error. Searching the Web for the error message will help you determine some possible causes of the error. If you have trouble figuring out what the blue screen error means, I recommend checking out my TechNet article Demystifying the Blue Screen of Death. The article is old, but much of the information is still relevant.

4: Check the computer's Reliability Monitor

If the blue screen error is occurring on a computer whose history you are not completely familiar with try checking the Reliability Monitor. The Reliability Monitor is a tool that is included in Windows 7 and Windows 8 that allows you to track a system's stability over a period of time. The Reliability Monitor reports on things such as application installations, system updates, and hardware upgrades. Any of these factors could potentially contribute to a blue screen error. The key is to determine whether any major changes were made to the system just prior to when the blue screen error started occurring.

5: Take the computer's temperature

I never cease to be amazed by all of the strange things that can happen when a computer overheats. If you suddenly start getting blue screen errors for no apparent reason, check to make sure that the computer is not overheating. While you're at it, take the time to verify that all the fans (internal and external) are working and that none of the case vents are clogged or blocked.

6: Run a memory test

The vast majority of the blue screen errors I have encountered over the years have been related to faulty memory, so it can be helpful to run a memory diagnostic. Windows 7 and 8 include a memory diagnostic utility, and there are free third-party tools you can use, such as Memtest X86.

7: Try running the software on another computer

If you suspect that the blue screen errors you are receiving are related to a specific application, try running that application on another computer to see whether the blue screen occurs there as well. If the blue screen errors follow you from computer to computer, the application is either poorly written or the problem is related to software or a configuration setting that is present on both machines. If the problem does not follow you, the blue screen error is unique to a single computer.

8: Swap out the computer's memory

As I mentioned earlier, the vast majority of blue screen errors I have encountered have been related to faulty memory. Unfortunately, memory diagnostic tools do not always detect memory problems because such errors can be intermittent. That being the case, you might consider replacing the memory in a computer that is experiencing a stubborn blue screen error. Often times, this will correct the problem, even if there was no obvious indication of faulty memory.

9: Scan for malware

Blue screen errors can sometimes be triggered by malware (especially on Windows XP). About 10 years ago, I saw someone in Redmond demonstrate a proof-of-concept virus that caused a blue screen error by forcibly shutting down a critical system service. Since that time, the same concept has been used on a number of viruses in the wild.

10: Reseat hardware components

One last trick worth trying is to power down and unplug the computer and then reseat hardware components such as memory and PCI cards. As strange as it may sound, I have run into several instances over the years (especially on older hardware) in which components were slightly loose and reseating them resolved the blue screen error.

Other tips?

Do you have other suggestions for dealing with BSODs? Share your advice with fellow TechRepublic members.

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About

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

78 comments
sura.jan
sura.jan

Make a photo of BSOD display!

DanMach
DanMach

So where does find the Reliability Monitor?

kahlshira
kahlshira

I've been successful in using the minidump file that is created when the computer blue screens. It requires a download of the WinDbg program to decipher it. It is almost as cryptic as the blue screen message, but it has pointed me in a more direct path to determine what the cause was. Make sure to set the minidump file where you will remember it (it also shows the location on the blue screen). Then open that file in WinDdb.

roblightbody
roblightbody

I had an issue where after upgrading to Windows 8, my PC started crashing. I've now tracked it down to an overheating Northbridge chip. This despite the PC being an unmodified recent Dell desktop, less than 2 years old, and didn't crash in Windows 7! I've bought a small fan and fitted it to the top of the Northbridge's heatsink, and the problem is, I think, solved! I used a utility called 'speedfan' to help me understand what was happening. Why is temperature monitoring not built into Windows?

cquirke
cquirke

Some further notes... 2) Logs to check include antivirus cleaning, ChkDsk/AutoChk "fixing", updates, "registry cleaners" (if any, I'd avoid), reliability monitor, Programs and Features sorted by installation date, and intra-application updates. I don't routinely update BIOS or other firmware and drivers, as this code should be far enough from the edge to avoid exploits, and yet is close enough to the bare metal to cause BSoDs and STOP crashes. 3) The article you linked, shows a different kind of blue screens compared to what we see in consumerland - we don't get nearly as much obvious detail. A reference I use is at Aumha.org, i.e. http://www.aumha.org/a/stop.php There is a risk to searching for error codes and file names on the Internet, as malware is often offered via 'fits-all' SEO pages that generally go "To Fix {your.searched.error}, Download This!" 4) You have Vista to thank for Reliability Monitor! That was the version of Windows that first gave this to us, as well as the first of an ongoing set of file operation dialog improvements. It amuses me to see Reliability Monitor highlghted as a "new feature" of Windows 7, and again with Windows 8 - though 8 does enhance program compatability and file operations dialogs. 5) Overheating isn't always a processor thing; in addition to CPU and GPU, PSU and hard drives can overheat (bad sectors), as can the motherboard. So I add a PSU-driven front case fan to blow over the hard drive, and motherboard-driven fan to dump air out the rest of the case. Bad capacitors can cause localized power glitches fast enough to BSoD rather than reset the system, and that too may be related to heat. 6) Because I routinely split hard drive and rest-of-PC to work on separately, I've had long durations of MemTest to compare with the testing period before first detected error. I've evolved "long enough" test periods from 6, 8, 12, 18 to 24 hours, as thus far I have had only one PC show the first error after 24 hours (just over 25 hours it was) while too many doing so after the shorter "good enough" test periods. Note that MemTest may not test everything, e.g. graphics or DMA access, full memory range, all processor cores etc. so read the ReadMes. I'm less keen on Microsoft's tester, as it attempts to load Windows to show results (!). It's not only RAM test errors you are looking for; spontaneous resets, lock-ups, graphic trash etc. are also signs the hardware is unfit for OSs that write to storage. A reset can be missed if it restarts the memory testing, so I put in a different boot disc after MemTest starts. 8) Bear in mind that every time you touch things, wiggle in slots, etc. you run the risk of generating new errors through now-bad contacts or static damage, obliging the "best practice" practitioner to re-do the 24 hours MemTest. Finally, I wonder if SFC checks the internals of files, rather than simply asking for version info, and whether AutoChk/ChkDsk communicates with SFC etc. when it "fixes" file system errors in ways that are sure to corrupt the affected files (crosslinks, truncations, etc.).

cquirke
cquirke

Step -1: Disable "Automatically restart on system errors" so you can actually SEE the BSoD text Step 0: Digital camera, flash off, macro on; take pics of screen and content Then I'd research the error text and context as per Step 0 (search-accurate text is easier if clients send pics rather than type out what they remember) on a working PC. I wouldn't "try to reproduce the error", because every BSoD causes a bad exit, and therefore potentially loses files due to interrupted writes and file system damage. If those searches don't find anything specific, my generic steps would be: Hard drive out of PC, into known-good PC - Bart boot, HD Tune, SMAT detail - if even slightly bad, file copy off, then BING and image C:, then surface test - ChkDsk /F, check free space - formal malware scans, etc. Rest of PC - eyeball capacitors, fans, etc. - 24hrs+ in MemTest with boot disc ejected to spot restarts Then when hardware is known to be good... - Safe Cmd OK? - Safe Cmd OK? - MSConfig disable all startups and non-MS services, offline - if OK, add back one by one on "test to break" basis - if still OK, add back peripherals and external storage, one by one - if still OK, check firewall is on, then go online - if still OK, return to client for evaluation

Sudsy100
Sudsy100

The pro techs are gonna know a lot more than I, but generally I've found it's one of four things: 1. "What's changed?" . . . usually the BSOD happens after someone installs new software or hardware. 2. Hardware . . . skunky video cards, network cards, sound cards, memory, whatever, who knows. Power supplies for sure. 3. Corrupt drivers and/or system files. A total PITA, but tracing those culprits is a long and thankless task (as we all know). 4. Motherboard . . . gotta single this one out as particularly nasty and pesky because when all else fails, the 'board is pretty well the only guilty party left once everything else is ruled out.

stuartbell
stuartbell

If the frequency of occurrence of BSOD goes higher then it may cause a permanent loss of data. Whether its Windows or a Mac but, a clone of hard drive is always a great rescue in severe data loss scenario.

Mr. Science
Mr. Science

BSOD, (bullshit overload) is a common problem which seems to be hitting a peak period just now in other parts of industry. Prevalent at first in the tech world, it has now spilled out and spread about like wild fire. The political world is becoming almost over saturated in BSOD. Doctors are concerned. more later...

Pawandev
Pawandev

Before I start guessing and start ripping apart the hardware, I would turn to my trusted friend Windbg(debugging tools for windows), 8 out of 10 times I was able to resolve BSOD using Windbg.

trog7
trog7

one of the major causes I have found is forced M$ updates which fail to fully install. The first time I encountered this was on one of my own computers running an OEM install of XP. Some update came though, but failed to completely load, causing the BSOD, I managed to force the system to uninstall about 10 updates until I got rid of the BSOD ... but then suddenly the registration timer pops ups stating I have 14 days to activate the OS ! Next re-start of the computer the timer maxed out and locked the computer. After trying almost everything possible to re-activate, I gave up and contacted M$ support ...I was on the line for over Two and a Half hours trying every combination of codes the tech could dig up, and in between, they kept asking if this OS had been installed on another computer previously, to which the reply was it was a factory install on that machine [ a Toshiba Notebook ] ... we eventually hit on an activation code which worked - and of course I wrote it down for future reference - which I did have to dig up another time ... ... ...

jjp
jjp

You could also say goodby to Microsoft and say hello to either your choice of flavor of Linux, or go to a Mac OS-based system. Your stability issues will go away. However, if you choose to fire Microsoft, be aware you may have to budget for psychological/psychiatric counseling after suffering from depression from not seeing any more blue screens. Okay, my comments may sound cynical and some corporate/government accounts do not--or cannot--have this option. But for those that have the leeway, you may wish to examine this route.

JoeFromIT
JoeFromIT

I would say that more than 50% of BSOD's are from the Users not rebooting their computer for a long time. There are a lot of Users that think when they "Log off" that they are actually rebooting their computer. I always advise people to reboot their computer at least one time a week. I have had a few issues with old video drivers and newer browsers/websites that stream video causing BSOD's also. Very rarely does reseating hardware cause a BSOD. Hardware not properly seated will cause a PC to not boot and give a beep code. Running the software on another computer usually doesn't work because chances are... you might not have another PC set up exactly the same just laying around. Reproducing the error will not solve the problem but give you a better understanding of what is causing it. If you open up a case and it is full of dust... I would definately clean it out with canned air and a hand-held vacuum. The processor might be overheating from the dust, but usually in this case, the computer will just immediatly power down when it gets too hot. You can also tell if a computer is overheating by listening to the fan speed. When it speeds up too fast it means that it is starting to get hot. Don't remove your memory right away. If you have more than one stick, try removing and re-arranging the sticks. This will assist to pinpoint which stick is causing the error. You can also run HD tests, boot tests, and memory tests from the BIOS. If all else fails... I would strongly suggest calling your manufacturer ASAP to take advantage of any type of warranty. Most companies usually have free tech support as well.

Gisabun
Gisabun

First, I've had one BSOD in maybe 5 years - unlike the days of Win 9x/ME. #6 and #8 are generally together. Test the memory and if an issue replaced. PSUs rarely would cause BSOD. If anything they would just shut down the computer. Always buy a PSU with more wattage than you need and buy something from a brand that you heard of.

burr55
burr55

I use a program called "Who Crashed." It's free, and when software causes a Blue Screen, it identifies the program. Very handy.

sjmaerz
sjmaerz

I thought the BSOD went away with Windows 98. I guess I may have rarely seen it with WIndows XP, but never since Windows 7 came out. I certainly don't miss them. Windows 7 on a 64-bit pc is pretty darn solid from my experience. I certainly get clitches and issues, but I almost never need a hard reboot anymore. Programs may lock up, but the OS rarely does. Still, the tips are helpful to file away, just in case.

reisen55
reisen55

Essential tool to deeply examine the dump files made by a BSOD event, otherwise everything suggested here is shooting in the dark. Tells you more than researching those long numbers on Google. I had a system in Manhattan, BSOD every day, ran viewer, spotted some leads and began to diagnose and ........... they went away. True, the last BSOD event was November 15 of last year. I still monitor but sometimes events are, rarely, self-healing. Go figure. Oh, and for some errors a good scotch and soda is a coping mechanism too.

robo_dev
robo_dev

That's progress....it's gray with stripes. Spent an hour fixing that on one machine. ATI video drivers and VMware player just did not want to play well together.

pslat
pslat

'Whocrashed' from Resplendence (www.resplendence.com) is quite good for this. It has given me some useful info after a crash that has helped me track down the culprit on several occasions. There is a home and professional edition.

rmycroft2000
rmycroft2000

being silly enough to use Windows anything serious.

ljdraves
ljdraves

I know that windows 7 and 8 will automatically schedule defragging, but make sure it is enabled and has been recently done. I've come across many a PC's that a simple defrag was what was needed.

grindflow
grindflow

For about 3 years now, I've been using Resplendences "WhoCrashed" Besides being brilliant, it's light-weight and provides great narrative. I can't remember the last time I was in a Google witch-hunt to understand an ambiguous MS error.

Mooreman
Mooreman

In my many years of dealing with blue screens, I frequently find that a flaky power supply can also cause an intermittent BSOD. Typically one of the rail voltages sags, or collapses momentarily under a heavy load, enough to cause a RAM or disk read/write error and a resulting BSOD. Try placing a known good PS next to the sick PC and disconnect the existing PS cables, but don't physically remove it just yet. Connect the known good power supply cables and then run a RAM test, or better yet a burn-in test to stress it. I like to use: Stability Tester, Burn-In Tester, or Passmark CPU Burn-In, for stressing power supplies. Anything that will heat up the CPU and motherboard chips. If the PC no longer experiences a BSOD, then replace the weak power supply. Make sure the new power supply has a high enough power (Watt) rating to support all of the current devices installed. Also stay away from moderate size power supplies with multiple rails. Single rail power supplies work the best in the 400-650 Watt range suitable for most desktop PC's. You see this problem frequently on under-powered big name desktops, where the owner has added a high-end gaming graphics card with no regard to the power supply rating. Frequently these big name brand units ship with small 300-400 Watt power supplies from the factory. Adding more RAM or a graphics card can push these weak power supplies past their limits. I have also seen flaky hard drives cause a BSOD. A failing hard drive will produce a read/write error or suddenly go offline, due to bad sectors or head errors that will give a distinctive BSOD error code. I forget the code number off the top of my head, but you can Google it like the article says and it will tell you to run a disk check on the hard drive. I have also seen memory errors caused by noisy power supplies that produce too much ripple in the DC output. You can view this on an Oscilloscope, or just try another power supply. As power supplies age the Electrolytic filter capacitors start to dry out and loose their capacitance. This causes the AC ripple to increase, especially under a heavy load. Avoid low-cost power supplies as this is one of the areas they like to scrimp on. Look for power supplies with a 5-year lifetime warranty. I typically use a 450 Watt Bronze PS in my basic desktop builds. If it's a gaming rig, then I scale upwards according to the number and type of graphics cards the buyer wants installed. I typically go with a 650-750 Watt PS with a single high-end gaming graphics card and dual hard drives. With dual graphics cards I usually install an 800+ Watt PS.

kevinj.fitzgerald
kevinj.fitzgerald

If you find your machine BSODs on boot, try booting in Safe Mode. If it boots up OK, start to suspect your graphics card and check that its integral fan is operational. Even on hi spec cards, the fans are often low grade.

Trentski
Trentski

All I had to do was an schedule error check on the c drive to fix these kind of issues

baltazor1
baltazor1

i usually Google the BSOD code (e.g 0x000004e ), It usually doesn't tell me exactly what causes it but it does give me a hint. if i don't find the problem that way i try the above steps. if everything else fails i usually suspect the motherboard, but thankfully that doesn't happen often.

Gerald_Hilton
Gerald_Hilton

Here is a simple way of fixing the "Blue Screen of Death". I came across this solution when all else failed, and the name is SlimDriver. There is a free version available; however I do recommend the full version. The greatest number of blue screens that I have seen has been on the commercial grade PC’s and Laptops by a company I worked for in the Netherlands. The technicians and IT department just kept trying the same old tricks that failed. 100 tries, 100 fails, and all they needed to use was this program I cam across. I have had ZERO failures in over a year. The program looks for the actual hardware piece, and then gets the most recent driver with fantastic results. Sometimes testing is the only proof. The manufacturers of the computers only put them together, and use the basic drivers they are told to use as rewritten by their respective brands office. In most cases, the drivers are out of date. I bought an Acer Aspire 7750G two years ago, and I have only had one driver update to do, and not once have I seen the Blue Screen of Death. SlimDriver is well worth checking out.

royala
royala

The majority of users and Professionals world wide have Microsoft products because of history and compatibility. If you can't sensibly add decent and usable suggestions to the mix then I suggest you go to the penguin blogs or the apple blogs or what ever blog where your expertise can do some good for those few users, unless you feel so-o-o lonely. When I need to head on the road with my consulting business, I too have all those tools, plus take a look at the drivers. But I am seeing less and less BSOD's, so this article as a reiminder is great. Thanks! Mary

silsoy
silsoy

Shouldn't we partially blame the manufacturers as well? I mean it's Dell, Samsung, Sony, HP who are putting the pieces together. Then people compare it to a Mac. Hypothetically, what if there were only 4 devices that you could buy that had Windows? (tablet, Ultrabook, Laptop, Tower)...With hardware specifically selected. Windows could lockdown the file system so that you can only see your favorites and my documents and only let microsoft hand-pick programs you can install. Would it still fail - sure - But I believe Macs fail over time as well...

Rick_Mayhew
Rick_Mayhew

On occasion I've had an external backup harddrive cause the BSOD. I haven't found a great solution, but I do leave it unplugged now unless I'm using it, since I also backup automatically to a cloud account. Several years ago the support tech at Dell replaced my internal harddrive several times believing that was the problem. Back then it got so bad the external drives weren't usable, so I upgraded and that solved the problem at that time.

woldfamily
woldfamily

One other problem that I have found is that power supply unit can be faulty. I was surprised to not see that as a possible issue as it is more likely a culprit in my experience than memory. Overheating is the second most common to my recollection.

greggwon
greggwon

If you want to do all of the things listed here, keep windows on your computer. If you actually want to use the computer you paid for, and not suffer from so many problems, select a different OS, or replace your computer with something that is actually supported. Plain and simple, Microsoft doesn't care to make your experience better, they only want to spend the smallest amount of money that is possible to get you to buy their OS, and then they don't need to care about you any longer. That strategy worked great for Vista. Everyone wanted, no had to, upgrade to Windows 7. Now that Windows 8 is out, and so many problems are occurring with the UI, they will gladly charge you, not $40 to upgrade to Windows 9, but more like $100 I would guess. Keep supporting them, and you'll keep getting the same nonsense.

loneslayer
loneslayer

I see a lot of BSOD errors from corrupt or incompatible drivers. I usually included an uninstall of video, audio, and WiFi in my troubleshooting.

ron
ron

Use Bluescreen view to check for driver or dll issues.

cd613
cd613

just reformat

hillelana
hillelana

start button, type "reliability" in search box.

Pawandev
Pawandev

I always use windbg, this is more direct and reliable and from Microsoft.

JCitizen
JCitizen

with a vexing problem(don't remember if it BSOD'd or not, but) I looked at the mobo, and found a chip that was discolored from heat; the thing finally fell off!!! I glued it back on with just enough thermal compound to keep it operating, and told the client to hang in there, and shut it down after every use, until I could get another mobo. Miraculously that worked. Desperate times engender desperate measures! :O

JCitizen
JCitizen

#2 point - I use several advisers, like Webrep, and WOT to lower the chance I'll get hit by a bad site. Some of my other defenses will autoblock bad URLs. Besides, even the good sites are infected with drive by exploits now, so a blended defense is the best practice IMO. Of course some URLs are readily recognized as legit like bleepingcomputer.com or safernetworking.org, etc. etc. (edited) Oh and I like your previous post, it nearly mirrors my SOP to a tee, and really I should print that out and use it myself - Thanks for posting here on TR!

spdragoo
spdragoo

In my experience, both at work & at home, BSODs have been *decreasing* in frequency.

JoeFromIT
JoeFromIT

I know your answer to this response is going to be "I tried that" but this has worked for me every time. When updates have failed for me, I noticed that some are required to install before others. If you select to install ALL of the updates, they might not update in the correct order. All you do is manually select and install one or a few at a time. If an update fails then don't select the update(s) until you are done installing the rest of the updates that work. Then after everything else is done... try the update(s) that failed at the end and I bet it works. :)

JCitizen
JCitizen

MS updates hose .NET so bad the drivers can't operate with the applications and just give up. It never fails for me that either recovering from a backup image or restoring back and re-installing all updates and holding off with .NET until the last, solves the problem. This is primarily on Vista/Win7 systems, but I'm working on an XP system that pretty much did the same thing. The intel built-in mobo video chip just could not take anything above .NET v 1.1. Finally had to buy an AGP card to quickly solve the problem. The OEM updates were no help at all.

leledumbo
leledumbo

Since I've completely moved on to penguins, I never had this blue screen thing. Errors seldom happen and if one happens, I can always go to terminal mode and fix everything from there, without the computer restarting at the moment the error happens. And I can see kernel log to find out what's wrong easily.

Gisabun
Gisabun

A BSOD because the system wasn't defragged?

spdragoo
spdragoo

PSU went out & had to be replaced -- although it had lasted about 4-5 years. Unfortunately, becuase the PC was an off-the-shelf model, the ventilation & cooling were "less than optimal", so I ended up losing a couple of hard drives to heat-induced failures. Which is why I was so glad I was able to pick a custom tower this time to maximize ventilation...

Gisabun
Gisabun

Format the computer without checking for the root of the problem? Formatting won't be useful if it is a memory issue.

JCitizen
JCitizen

I've notice MS has finally set them in that order you mention. Most of the time I now simply pick express, instead of custom - because it has worked better in XP that way. Not always, but I always do what is easiest and the most likely to be successful, and change course later if not. I definitely follow your order of things on new operating systems. Sometimes I go by the order published on Windows Secrets, if things are really bad - They simply hold off on many of the updates, until they can be improved, either by subsequent correctional patches, or a new MSI downloaded by Microsoft to solve bad installation practices. I'm sure that really chaps Redmond to admit to mistakes by obviously coming out with a whole new installer when this mess occurs. :8}