General guide to fixing blue screens of death (BSOD)

Truth be told, every blue-screen situation can be caused by so many things that its hard to simply find a solution on Google or on a blog. We’ve seen enough of these to build an intuitive approach to troubleshooting blue screen problems effectively.

If you’re looking for guidance on how to approach a bluescreen problem on your own, here are some tips that will hopefully help you:

These are the possible causes:

Hardware or Software?
The first thing you’ll need to do is find out whether the cause is hardware or software related. You can try to rule one out of the equation by performing diagnostics on the hardware, testing things like the memory, cpu, harddrive, etc… Sometimes booting into a different operating system like a  Linux Live CD will tell you that the computers hardware is at least capable of that, making the cpu and memory a less likely culprit. Next, run a chkdsk / surface scan on the harddrive to find out if there is any corruption. If you suspect that the hard-drive is the cause, immediately begin rescuing the important data off of the potentially defective drive. Once you’ve ruled out the hardware, you can assume the problem is Software related.

Windows, or viruses, or 3rd party programs?
Software problems can be caused by many things, and a good starting point, believe it or not, is to read what the blue screen error message wording states. There are sometimes explicit instructions in there that lead you to a solution. Also, sometimes typing the 0x0000XXX error code will give you hints as to what the actual problem is. Just ignore this idea if it seems as though this error is a generic “I-don’t-know-what-happened-but-something-caused-me-to-STOP” message.

Almost all blue screen messages will ask you to scan for viruses. Before you spend a lot of time on that (even if it can never hurt to run a scan to be sure), ask yourself if you’ve seen any suspicious behavior leading up to the error…

In fact, this would be a good time to ask yourself what all has changed recently. When was the last time the system was rebooted? Were there ay new Windows updates or software changes that happened? What exactly happens right before the bluescreen pops up? (After all, this could be a bluescreen during boot, or while playing a game, or seemingly at random times, etc… )

3rd party programs consist of anything that’s not Microsoft Windows. This could be programs like Office, services like Skype, etc. Lots of programs need to be loaded along side Windows when you boot your computer, and if you’re experiencing a bluescreen, it’s time to rule out all of the 3rd party programs at once. You can do so by simply booting into safe-mode, and seeing if the problem remains. If you can boot into Safe mode, you know that Windows is basically working, and the problem lies with one of the programs, or a faulty driver. While sometimes it’s true that an underlying hardware issue can be ‘worked around’ by booting into safe-mode, it will usually be evident what the issue is, because things like graphics cards and printers or other USB devices cannot function properly in safe mode. Note, there is also a Safe-mode with networking, which allows you to access the internet in order to update your drivers if you suspect that to be the problem. If Safe-mode wields the same blue-screen problem, you’re most likely dealing with a deeply corrupted Windows system, a core driver (a critical driver such as one for the hard-drive) issue, or a hardware related issue.

System restore, system rescue discs
One way to potentially solve a corrupted Windows operating system, is to restore the system using the system recovery tools provided by Windows Vista or later. Here’s an article on that:

This article assumes you’ve backed up your computer using Windows’ built-in tools for creating a system image, and if you haven’t got such a backup plan in place, you might still be able to restore your system files to a previous state. Windows has a built-in system restore mechanism that stores system-files that are changed, instead of automatically deleting them when you do things like update windows or install new programs. These system restore points are automatically created, unless you’ve turned this functionality off. If you’re able to get into Safe mode, then you can easily access this tool by clicking Start -> then type: “System restore”.

If you cannot get into Safe mode, you can use a system rescue disc, or a Windows installation CD to get into the repair tools, and they have an option to restore your system from these system restore points or from a saved system image saved on an external drive for example. That’s what you’d need to do to recover from a fatal Hard-drive crash, which is one of the prime causes of blue-screens. Especially if you’ve had to read this far into the article, you might need to scan your hard-drive for errors.

Hardware diagnostics
Many computer vendors such as HP or Dell provide you with built-in hardware diagnostics tools. They can be accessed by hitting a certain key on the keyboard during the initial boot-screen. Pay attention to the very first screen you see when you boot your computer, and you might see a message like: F9 – Boot Options, or F11 – Diagnostics … etc. If you don’t see anything, you might try pressing the “Esc” key during the boot, and you might get into a boot-menu, where you may be able to access the diagnostics system. Keep in mind, that even if these basic tools don’t show any problems, you may need to get a 2nd opinion, so it’s good to have a Ultimate Boot CD handy for further tests.

We hope this general guide to resolving bluescreen problems has been helpful, we realize that there are many other resources for resolving blue screens out there, yet the cause to your specific bluescreen may be wildly different from those described on-line. If you’ve exhausted all your energy troubleshooting a blue-screen, it’s often good to call on a support expert to get a second opinion. It never hurts to ask, and as we offer free over-the phone consultations, so should any computer repair business.

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