The term “BSOD” commonly refers to the Blue Screen of Death, a common Windows error screen that appears when a critical system fault occurs. The B in BSOD doesn’t always stand for blue, however; sometimes it can stand for black.
A Black Screen of Death can be even more troublesome because it provides no error message to point you in the fault’s direction. Still, some culprits are more likely than others. Here are a few common causes and their solutions.
A simple software error is often the cause of a black screen. This most frequently occurs when dealing with a program that takes over your entire screen, such as a PC game or a media player in full-screen mode. If the program does not display video and locks up, you’ve effectively lost control of your PC.
In these instances the computer should otherwise appear to run well. There will be no automatic restart or shutdown and any audio that was playing will often continue to do so. The issue will usually be easy to reproduce by either launching the program or enabling a video setting, like full screen mode.
Solving the problem can be difficult and, if the bug lies in the software itself, there may be no solution. You can try fixing it by running the program at a different resolution. Also try running the software as an administrator and, if issues still continue and the program is quite old, try enabling Windows compatibility mode.
Display Error Or Faulty Connection
Video errors are another very common cause of the Black Screen of Death. No video output means a black screen, no matter what the specific problem might be. Windows may even be presenting a Blue Screen of Death – but you’d never see it!
Check your video connection before you get too worried. Make sure that both ends of your DVI, HDMI or DisplayPort cable is firmly seated and that the cord is undamaged. Did you just upgrade your monitor? If so, make sure your connection can actually handle the resolution. Some versions of DVI and HDMI can’t handle resolutions above 1080p.
If these easy solutions don’t work you’re likely dealing with video adapter issues. If you have a discrete video card, try removing your card and connecting to your motherboard’s integrated video (if it has such capability). Does your monitor work? Then the video card is the problem. Try updating to the latest driver version available or, if you just recently did that, reverting to an old driver. Also check the video card for obvious signs of defect, like a broken fan or charred electronics.
Should the monitor not work when connected to integrated graphics, however, you may have a monitor issue. Check it by connecting to another computer. If the monitor does work with another PC, but not with yours, then you’re probably looking at a hardware fault elsewhere that impacts the video card’s ability to work. Likely candidates include the motherboard, the power supply and the hard drive.
All computers generate heat, and that heat must be removed to keep the system running. If too much heat builds up, components can burn, even melt. That’s bad for obvious reasons, so computers are built to shut down before that occurs.
This will usually result in an errorless black screen, which may or may not be followed by a restart. You may expect some dramatic warning or the smell of burnt electronics, but in all likelihood none of that will happen, which can leave you mystified.
In most cases an overheating issue is caused by the video card or the processor. As already said, you should suspect the video card if you receive a black screen, but the computer otherwise appears to be working (the fans are on, the hard drive light active, etc).
If the processor has overheated, however, your black screen will usually be followed by a reboot or automatic shutdown of your entire PC. In some cases you will receive an alert on your POST screen stating your CPU overheated the next time you turn on your computer.
Both problems can often be solved by opening your PC and cleaning out the cobwebs. Use a vacuum to suck up obvious dust (while keeping away from internal cords, of course) and use a can of compressed air to dislodge stubborn dirt. Also check that all of fans are still working and replace any that aren’t. If the problem persists after these steps you may have a faulty cooler or faulty video card and/or processor.
Power Supply Issues
Your computer’s power supply is an often forgotten, but extremely important component. Everything in your PC needs power to run, and if it suddenly cuts out, your computer will go dark for no apparent reason. Alternatively, a problematic PSU may only partially power some components, causing your PC to black screen under heavy load or even at random.
Unfortunately, a power supply issue can be difficult to diagnose, and you’ll often come to it simply through the process of elimination. If it’s not your video connection, or the video card, and no components are overheating, then the power supply is a likely culprit.
The problem may not even be the power supply’s fault, so to speak, if you’ve upgraded recently. All supplies have a limit to the power they provide and installing a power-hungry new video card or CPU can put it over the edge. Even if you haven’t done so, though, the PSU may be the problem, as they age like everything else.
You can only know for sure by replacing the PSU, so I recommend trying other solutions before going to this extreme.
The black screen of death is usually the result of a software glitch, but this cause is reproducible. Black screens that occur seemingly at random are usually the result of a more serious hardware problem which will require component repair or replacement.
Have you encountered a stubborn black screen, and if so, how did you fix it? Tell your story in the comments.
Image Credits: Don’t Panic by Sarah via Flickr
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