How many Windows errors have you seen in the last week? Seeing a message dialogue unexpectedly pop up is a huge pain, as they’re often vague and don’t offer concrete fixes.
Whenever a new Windows version arrives, there are specific errors that crop up related to the upgrade. But some PC errors are timeless, and we want to give them a good look. Next time Windows tells you to “contact your system administrator,” you’ll know how to solve these five common errors.
Before You Troubleshoot: Reboot!
Some of the fixes we’ll detail involve some time-consuming troubleshooting. Before you start working on these, reboot your computer! A simple restart fixes many issues, and only takes a minute. You might find that your problem disappears after a reboot, especially if you haven’t shut it down in a while. It’s a good idea to shut down your PC at least once a week to reduce the possibility of errors like this.
Why does rebooting fix so many problems? Surely this can't be intentional in the design.
— Phnee ?? (@ratherastory) July 7, 2016
If you’re suffering from an advanced error and can’t reboot normally, check out advanced ways to restart. Should you reboot and find that the issue persists, read on to discover the solutions behind five frequent errors.
1. Windows Update Error 0x80070057
Sometimes, a specific Windows error code doesn’t give you much help. Recurring errors often spout out a different code each time, making it hard to nail down the exact cause. But there’s one error code that nearly every Windows user knows: 0x80070057. It’s been around since Windows XP and typically shows up when Windows Update runs into problems.
0x80070057 E_INVALIDARG has now surpassed 0x10331196 as my least favorite error code.
— Fugi (@Fugiman) March 22, 2017
We’ve already extensively covered fixing error 0x80070057, so we’ll offer a brief summary here. This error usually pops up when a backup or Windows installation fails, or when Windows Update refuses to install updates. Solutions include renaming the SoftwareDistribution folder, editing a few Registry files, and manually replacing the corrupted files.
Windows Update is great when it works, but the errors are a pain to work through. This one is the head of them all.
2. DLL Errors
A Dynamic Link Library (DLL) is a shared file that many programs can call upon to perform some action. These are built into Windows so that every piece of software doesn’t have to create its own method of, say, printing a test page. No matter which printer software you’re using, whenever you click Print Test Page, it calls the default Windows method.
Sometimes when you try to open a program, you’ll see a message that The program can’t start because XYZ.dll is missing from your computer. Your first instinct might be to search for the referenced DLL online and download a fresh copy. However, this isn’t a good idea. For the same reasons you should check for driver updates yourself instead of using shady update utilities, downloading DLLs from the web can introduce more problems than it fixes. You have no guarantee that DLL sites offer updated versions, and they could sneak malware into them, too.
Even so, DLL errors aren’t often fixed through replacing one file. If you replace one file, the program might continue to throw an error about another DLL. Try a few manual steps instead.
You should uninstall and reinstall the program first, which will often solve the problem. If it’s a small program, you can do this in a few minutes. For bigger programs that take a while to reinstall, or programs you’d have to re-adjust a lot of settings for, you can wait on this step until later.
Make sure you haven’t deleted the DLL. Check the Recycle Bin for anything you’ve recently removed, and use a file recovery tool like Recuva if you permanently deleted it. If you’re certain than you didn’t delete anything or can’t find anything using recover, move onto scanning for malware. Sometimes, malware can delete these files or disguise itself as a DLL file, causing errors. Run a scan with Malwarebytes Free to see if there’s foul play.
If you’re still having issues, your next option is a System Restore. This will send your computer’s configuration back in time a few days. Try jumping back to a recent date before you noticed this problem cropping up. Reinstall the program after this if you haven’t already.
When you reach this point, you’ve confirmed that it’s a deep-rooted problem. Check for driver updates related to the software you’re using, like printer or video cards. If those don’t fix it, you should run the system file checker like you would for a corrupt Windows installation.
Right-click the Start Button and choose Command Prompt (Admin). Type this command to run the file checker, which will take a few minutes:
The tool will alert you if it finds any errors. If it can’t fix them, you’ll have to take the nuclear option and use the PC Reset option to perform a repair of Windows. This will almost certainly fix the problem, but hopefully it doesn’t get this far.
3. Security Certificate Errors
Security certificates are at the center of keeping you securely connected to websites. Website owners that use a secure HTTPS connection must pay a third-party Certificate Authority (CA) like GoDaddy or Norton to obtain a valid certificate.
Your browser keeps a list of legitimate CAs that it trusts. When you visit a secure website and its certificate matches the one your browser expects, everything proceeds smoothly. If there’s a mismatch, you see an error that the website might not be secure.
Sometimes these errors are legitimate. Perhaps the website owner forgot to renew the certificate and its expiry tipped your browser off that something was wrong. Or, if an attacker compromised a website, the certificate might not check out so your browser warns you that it’s unsafe. When these happen, you should use caution when dealing with the website unless you know you trust it. If you see these errors every time you try to visit a website, that’s a different story.
Fixing Certificate Errors
The most common cause of this is that your computer’s clock is wildly off. Because certificates have specific start and end dates, if your computer thinks it’s 2005, it doesn’t see any certificates as valid. Have a look at your computer’s time by right-clicking on the time in the System Tray and clicking Adjust date/time. In most cases, you can let Windows set the time automatically, but you can also sync all your devices with an atomic clock. Make sure you have the right time zone selected, too.
After you fix the time, reboot your machine. If the clock is wrong again when you boot up, the CMOS battery on your motherboard is likely dead. This little watch battery allows your machine to keep track of the time even when it’s powered off. You can get a replacement battery for cheap, but depending on your computer, it might be difficult to reach. Check Google for your specific PC model to see if it’s an easy replacement.
If you’ve confirmed that the time is correct and still regularly run into these errors, make sure your browser is up-to-date. Run a malware scan as well, just to make sure there’s nothing malicious around.
For an interesting read on how Lenovo abused security certificates, check out the Superfish malware story.
4. Blue Screen Stop Errors
Blue screen errors, known as the Blue Screen of Death (BSoD), are the most infamous Windows errors of all. They occur when Windows runs into a problem that it can’t fix and simply shuts down to avoid damage.
Once filled with technical data that most people couldn’t decipher, Microsoft has revamped the blue screen into a much simpler form for Windows 8 and above. It now contains a frowning face, a basic Your PC ran into a problem message, and an error code.
Blue screens can have so many causes that it’s impossible to analyze them all. It’s important to note that a single isolated blue screen isn’t a big deal. Sometimes Windows runs into a weird problem and hits a blue screen, then never has that same issue again for months. You should only concern yourself with blue screen errors if they’re recurring.
Common Blue Screen Codes
Should you have a big problem with blue screens, there are a few codes that pop up more frequently than others that you should be aware of. If your specific error code doesn’t match any of these, a Google search should bring up more information. You can use the BlueScreenView tool to get a summary of the information Windows dumps when it crashes if you miss it the first time. The Bug Check String is the relevant error code.
- DRIVER_IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL — Usually caused by a bad driver. Check for driver updates, especially for any hardware you’ve recently installed.
- PAGE_FAULT_IN_NONPAGED_AREA — This typically occurs whenever you add a new piece of hardware to your system. Review any hardware you’ve recently installed and consider reinstalling its drivers. Other causes of this error include defective RAM, faulty system services, and antivirus hiccups.
- NTFS_FILE_SYSTEM — If you see this error, your hard drive is to blame. Check the cables connecting to your drive to make sure they’re not loose. Run the Check Disk command by right-clicking on the Start Button and choosing Command Prompt (Admin), then type chkdsk /r /f. You’ll have to reboot your system so the scan can run at startup. Make sure you back up your data if you see this, because your hard drive may be on its way out!
- DATA_BUS_ERROR — This error is usually caused by RAM. Check to make sure the RAM in your system is compatible with your motherboard and that it’s not defective.
- MACHINE_CHECK_EXCEPTION — An error often caused by a faulty CPU or power supply.
- INACCESSIBLE_BOOT_DEVICE — Occurs when Windows can’t read the hard device that your system boots from. It could have roots in a bad driver, a dying hard drive, or a boot sector virus.
- HAL_INITIALIZATION_FAILED — Caused by general hardware or driver issues.
No matter what error you see, our general steps for troubleshooting blue screens will help.
5. Access Denied Folder Errors
Not all errors are cryptic. Sometimes when you try to open a certain folder, Windows will bark at you and let you know that you don’t have appropriate permissions. Assuming you’re a PC administrator, you can quickly fix this to let Windows know that you are, indeed, the owner. If you’re using a standard account, you can’t view protected system folders and other users’ files by design. Talk to whoever is in charge of your PC or log into an administrator account to access these folders.
Whenever you come across a folder that won’t let you in, right-click it in File Explorer and select Properties. Change to the Security tab, then click the button that says Advanced at the bottom. Look for the field that says Owner: near the top of the window. The name will likely be Unable to display current owner. Click the blue Change link next to this to pick a new owner.
You can choose a specific user who owns the folder, or grant access to a group (like all Administrators, Users, or Guests). Click inside the Enter the object name to select box and type your username or Administrators to let all admins in. Give the Check Names button a tap to make sure you didn’t mistype anything, and the window will throw an error if anything is off. It will also correct Administrators to PCNAME\Administrators, which is normal.
Click OK to accept this, and head back to the Advanced Settings window. Make sure the box that says Replace owner on subcontainers and objects below the Owner text is checked to apply these settings to every folder inside this one. One more press of OK and you’re now the rightful owner!
If you want to keep users on your computer out of certain folders, you can lock down their user accounts.
Which Windows Errors Give You Grief?
Error messages aren’t fun, but you don’t have to fear them. With a bit of thought and the help of internet resources, you can conquer anything that Windows throws your way. This is another good reminder to always keep your PC backed up. You never know when an error could prevent you from using your machine and force you to reinstall Windows.
If you’ve used Windows, you know errors. Please share your most frequent Windows errors with us in the comments, along with any fixes you’ve found!
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