It comes without warning and has the potential to ruin hours upon hours of work. I am, of course, referring to the infamous Windows “blue screen of death” (BSOD) error message.
The BSOD is an error screen display which can occur within Windows 10 for a variety of reasons, such as when a critical process died or the boot device becomes inaccessible. Anything from software to hardware conflicts can create a BSOD. Unfortunately, the reasons for a BSOD can remain a mystery until the user — or a PC technician, at a significant cost — identifies and fixes the problem.
Even for tech wizards, a BSOD can mean several hours of aimless troubleshooting. That is, if you don’t know how to start. Read on to find how to diagnose and fix BSODs in Windows 10.
Types of BSODs
There are various types of BSODs, each of which requires different actions. While installing a new version of Windows — the de facto fix for BSODs — will often work, they will also require users lose valuable data if not backed up.
These are the top-level reasons for a BSOD:
- Driver Conflicts — Driver conflicts occur when two or more drivers (software meant to use and control hardware) cannot work with one another properly. This can also occur when multiple drivers are installed for the same device without uninstalling a previous version.
- Hardware Conflicts — Hardware tweaks can lead to BSODs. Unsafely overclocking a PC, for example, can immediately create a BSOD. However, BSODs can also occur if your RAM sticks are improperly placed or if a piece of hardware is beginning to fail.
- Operating System (OS) Errors — From time to time, user error or malware can chip away at the vital files of your OS. This can also occur when using an Insider Preview of Windows. Crucial missing files may lead to a detrimental error, causing your PC to enter a BSOD loop wherein you receive a blue screen every time your computer turns on.
While there are only a few reasons for a BSOD, your particular issue may still take a while to diagnose. The following will allow you to identify the culprit.
The following relate directly to understanding, and possibly fixing, your BSOD.
Analyze Your Blue Screen
The easiest way to fix a BSOD is to note the details on the actual screen. All BSODs will provide users with both a Stop code and a QR code.
Once you receive the error message, the best way to go forward is to search your stop code online. You’ll find plenty of forums to help you. Microsoft already has a repository of the most common BSOD error messages and their fixes here. Additionally, scanning the QR code with your phone will redirect you to a web page built to help troubleshoot stop codes.
You can also use Microsoft’s Virtual Agent available on their Contact page. When prompted, type and enter BSOD into the chat box to begin the troubleshooting process. Microsoft suggests that you also run the Machine Memory Dump Collector, which will analyze your dump report — the report which catalogs your BSOD error — to diagnose your particular issue.
Install (or Uninstall) Updates on Windows 10
Windows updates can sometimes sneak into your PC without you knowing. While they’re often a benefit, sometimes downloading and installing updates incorrectly can lead to BSOD error messages. At the same time, BSODs can also occur when corrupt updates are installed. Microsoft will then often release hotfixes to correct the error.
Note: If Windows keeps crashing before you can do anything, start in Safe Mode, as described below.
In order to ensure missing patches aren’t the issue, first ensure all recent updates are installed on your PC. Click Start, type update, and select Check for updates. Then, click the Check for updates option and install all available.
If your updates are already installed, click on the gray Update history option. Note the date of these updates: do any of them seem to correlate with BSOD issues? You can uninstall them by clicking Uninstall options. Then, right-click those updates in the Installed Updates window and select Uninstall. Finally, restart your computer and check to see if your BSOD issues persist. If instead of a security update your issues began with third-party software installations, uninstall the software.
Reset Your PC
Resetting your PC is the best decision when suffering from constant BSOD error messages. While there are various ways to reinstall Windows, resetting your PC will refresh your OS while keeping your files.
Click your Start button, type recover, and select the Recovery options. From this Settings window, select Get Started under the Reset this PC category.
Continue on with the process, which can take some time to finish.
While the BSOD error page will provide users with valuable information, often times the scope of your search will have to wander beyond official Microsoft assistance. The following are a list of wide-ranging, all-inclusive troubleshooting options covering the main culprits of BSODs: hardware and driver issues. For an in-depth analysis of what causes PC crashes and how to fix them, BSOD or otherwise, refer to our guide on troubleshooting Windows crashes.
Enter Safe Mode — Before you enact any of these tips, boot into Windows 10 safe mode. Safe Mode is essentially the same as a normal boot, except that it reduces the active programs and drivers in a regular boot. This allows users a clean boot, wherein only essential programs open at startup.
The easiest method to enter Safe Mode is from the Windows OS. Click Start, type recovery options, and select Recovery options. You can also restart your PC and press F11 (or another F key, depending on your motherboard) to enter advanced startup options. From the main Choose an option menu, select Troubleshoot, Advanced Options, and then Startup Settings. Finally, press 5 on your keyboard to Enable Safe Mode with Networking.
Install WhoCrashed — While WhoCrashed won’t solve your BSOD woes, it’ll optimize the process. WhoCrashed will analyze the crash dump — a specific Windows file which outlines the reasons for a BSOD — and present the user with a report on the most likely suspect. Note that the tool doesn’t need to run in the background to function. After you’ve been hit with a BSOD, open WhoCrashed and click the Analyze button in the following window. The software will provide you with information at the bottom of the window from your minidump report — an automatically created report which describes error messages.
Uninstall Faulty Drivers — Drivers typically do their job well, but faulty drivers can be a serious nuisance. After you’ve analyzed your dump files using WhoCrashed, you might have to replace drivers that WhoCrashed identified as troublesome.
To do so, click Start and type device. Select the Device Manager option. Locate your faulty driver (e.g. your GPU drivers will fall under the Display adapter category) and right-click the listing. You can either Disable or Delete the driver. Then, check whether you can provoke the BSOD again.
Repair Windows Files — At times, corrupted Windows files will cause a hiccup in your daily PC use. Unfortunately, this often means users will undergo the dreaded Windows installation process anew. Not so fast! Another less invasive procedure lets you fix corrupted Windows files.
Open your command prompt by right-clicking the Start Menu and selecting Command Prompt (Admin) to run it with administrator rights.
Then, type in the following:
Your command prompt will then scan for, and repair damaged system files. This way, you won’t even have to boot into Safe Mode in order to repair your OS.
Repair Hard Disk — Similar to the command outlined above, you should also make sure your hard disk is in good shape. Bad sectors (physical sectors on your hard drive wherein data is either inaccessible or unwriteable) can prevent your PC from booting up. Particular bad sectors can also lead to perpetual BSOD errors.
To fix, open your command prompt and input the following:
This command will check your hard drive to find any bad sectors. It will not, however, repair your bad sectors.
To repair, replace the /f parameter with an /r parameter: that’s /f as finding, and /r as repairing bad hard drive sectors.
Your PC will then restart and begin scanning your hard drive for bad sectors. If your scan comes back with nothing, your hard drive should be okay.
Don’t Be Blue About Blue Screens
Throughout your PC use, a blue screen or two (or more) may happen. But all isn’t lost! Don’t panic and start worrying about your precious data: now you have all the knowledge you need to diagnose and fix BSOD woes!
Didn’t help? Think we missed out on a tip? Let us know in the comments below!