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Windows Blue Screen of Death (BSOD)/ Stop Message Errors Troubleshooting & Solutions

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We've all experienced it at one time or another, that dreaded blue screen, that blue screen that can randomly appear when a driver or hardware appears to have failed, the screen that lists some strange numbers that make no sense to the untrained eye. They have many names including "Blue Screen Crash", "Blue Screen Error", "Windows Blue Screen Crash" "STOP Messages" Blue Screen STOP Messages" but most commonly referred to as "BSOD" (Blue Screen of Death), they will often appear when you least need them too, like when you are in the middle of your favorite game kicking ass, or typing away at an assignment that was due 1 week ago, loosing all your information. Fortunately there are solutions to fix these BSOD's; the problem is finding what is causing the BSOD because there are so many variables that can cause them for example:

- Drivers
- Bad RAM
- Faulty Hardware
- Incorrectly Configured BIOS
- Hardware/System Overheating
- Software/programs causing a conflict
- Third party software
- Bad/Damaged/Corrupt registry/system files

To give you an example my PC was crashing with the BSOD quite regularly, although sometimes it would run fine for a whole day with no problems, then the next day it would keep crashing and the crashes had no particular sequence to them, they could occur at anytime, it did not matter what program or game I was using. I did a search around trying to find some solutions, but as I soon discovered on a lot of forum posts and help sites that everyone who was getting a BSOD had different causes, so there wasn't a "one fix for all", each case had a different solution. After doing a lot of reading and finding tools that really did help (not ones that didn't help much at all like a lot of people were instructing to download) I decided to make this page to help others out as I know how frustrating the BSOD can be.

In my case it ended up being 2 unrelated problems that was causing the crashes, one problem was one of my RAM sticks was faulty, this can be quite a common problem. The other cause was Microsoft Auto Updates trying to install updates on my computer, when it had installed the updates, it would try and auto restart, this would then fail for some reason, then my PC would sometimes automatically reboot for no apparent reason during start-up, it was stuck in a loop of restarting.

Below is the solutions you can use to fix any BSOD problems you may have:

Troubleshooting/Solutions

Firstly try and workout when the crashes are happening, are they occurring frequently whilst you are using a particular program or game? Do they occur when you get to a certain point of a game, does the crash occur on start-up, this can narrow down the culprit and make solving the problem a lot easier. If it is happening randomly with no sequence then it can be difficult to find the culprit because it could be anything causing the crash, below should help you workout what is causing the crash:

Faulty Memory/RAM: To check if you have a fried RAM stick the easiest way without having to open your PC case up is to check what quota of RAM your BIOS displays, if it is under what your PC is meant to have then you know you have a faulty RAM stick. Always check your RAM quota in the BIOS, as a lot of motherboards running under Windows XP or Windows 7 will not display the correct amount of RAM if you check your RAM quota through Windows Control Panel.

Ensure the RAM is seated properly in its motherboard slot, make sure your computer is turned off at the power point, open your PC case and push the RAM to ensure it is seated all the way into the slot.

Another way to check your RAM is by switching the RAM sticks to different slots on your motherboard. To do this turn the power off to your PC, open your PC case and swap the RAM around, start your PC and see if this fixes the problem.

If all that fails to detect faulty RAM you can use the Memory/RAM scan tools, these will scan your RAM to ensure it is working correctly, you can view instructions and download this below in the Tools section.

Overheating: To rule out computer overheating take note of when the crashes occur, if your computer is crashing on start-up or close after start-up then it is unlikely to be overheating causing the problem (although it still can be overheating if your heat sink is not seated properly or the heat paste between the CPU and heat sink has dried up). If you find that it is overheating, open your PC case and clean out all the dust, care must be taken to not damage computer components, use a soft cloth or duster to loosen the dust then use a vacuum cleaner to suck the dust out. Also check the CPU is not lose and is binding properly to the heat sink, a special paste is used between the two surfaces, ensure it is not loose there and also ensure that the heat paste has not dried out, this has actually happened to me in the past with a previous PC, I would get an overheating error beep, after cleaning the dust out of the case (thinking this was causing the problem) I was still getting the overheating warning beep, I took the heat sink off to discover that the special heat paste between the heat sink and CPU had dried up, cleaning off the old dried paste and putting new paste on solved the problem! Take note to always clean the old paste off first (use a soft dry cloth), under no circumstances should you use new paste with the old paste, especially if they are a different brand, they are not compatible.

You may find that overheating is also caused by a program or game pushing your PC hardware to the limits, if your game crashes during gameplay, it is good to monitor your PC's core temperature, you can do this via your BIOS, but because you can only use your BIOS during boot up you will want to check the temperature while your computer is running and while the game is running. A couple of good tools to monitor PC temperature while its running are Everest & SpeedFan which are both free. When you have one of the tools installed, take note of when the crash occurs or there about, before the crash happens press ALT + TAB to come out of the game, now open up the temperature monitoring program and take note of your PC's temperate. Anything around 30C-50C (86F-122F) degrees is considered normal (whish can also depend on CPU brand), if it is getting higher than this then you most likely have issues. Check that the PC has good clearance at the back of the case for good air flow, also check if the sides of the PC case (if it has ventilation holes, not all have them) make sure these are not blocked or covered in dust. Even simple addition of an extra fan can make all the difference, I added a new fan at the front of my PC case to push fresh air through the case to the back and this made a huge difference.

It could also be the simple case that your hardware just simply can't handle the high end specs that the game requires, some of the newer games are real resource hogs and will push your hardware to the limits (especially if you have set the graphics display options to the optimum level, reducing this setting can fix the crashing problem. Upgrading your graphics card will also influence this.

Also make sure your systems fan is actually turning properly and has no obstructions such as a wire stopping it from turning. Make sure both the CPU & case fan are actually both running. Most fans speed in today's PC's are variable and will spin at speeds according to the temperature the PC is running.

Please take note that everyone's system is different, and often running at those higher temperatures can be considered normal on some systems but on others abnormal. Also take note of the computers environment, it may be in a room that can get quite hot on a warm day, this will directly effect the computers core temperature.

Third party software: Third party software (meaning additional software/program added to an existing software/program by an independent developer) such as the Google Toolbar can cause a Blue Screen of Death, it has an auto update feature which often causes crashes, you can disable the good auto update by doing the following:

The Google Toolbar auto updater is considered sneaky by me, as it does not allow you to disable the auto updates completely, even when you think you have it disabled it is still running silently in the background and this can still cause crashes, you need to manually disable it in the Services section in Control Panel, to find the Services, go to Control Panel>Administrative Tools>Services and then browse the list and find the Google Toolbar update entry, select the Google Toolbar update entry and then click Stop. You can also get to the Services browser quicker by going Start>Run and then typing Services.msc into the box and click OK.

Other third party programs/tools/software could be causing the Blue Screen of Death crashes, luckily there is an excellent tool called Autoruns which you can use list every program/software/tool which actively runs on your PC, you can then disable any of these to see if it was the culprit causing the blue screen of death crash. You can find instructions on using Autoruns and download it below in the Tools section.

Internet Explorer crashes: Fortunately Microsoft has available a browser based analytical tool which will diagnose what could be causing an Internet Explorer based Blue Screen of Death crash, you can access it here: http://support.microsoft.com/gp/pc_ie_intro

Other causes of Internet Explorer, or FireFox Blue Screen of Death crashes can be Third Party Software running in the background, use the Autoruns tool below in the Tools section to disable any such software and determine the culprit.

Browser related crashes can also occur when unwanted Malware/Spyware/viruses are running silently in the background, you can use Malwarebytes software to remove any Malware/Spyware, you can find the download to Malwarebytes below in the tools section. Another good tool which will do the same is HijackThis, which is available below in the tools section.

Drivers: If you have recently installed new hardware and your system starts to crash, it can be commonly linked to that newly installed hardware, you may have even updated to new drivers and the crash starts happening, or for some reason the hardware driver is responsible for the crash but for no apparent reason. In these situations you can try the following:

- Newly installed hardware: Try updating the driver to the newest version from the official manufacturers website. If this fails to fix the crash, try rolling back the driver to a previous version, to do this do the following Start>Control Panel>System>Hardware>Device Manager find the hardware from the list and right click it, chose Properties and then Driver, then click the "Roll Back Driver" button.
- Updating to a newer driver causes crash: Rolling back the driver to a previous version will correct this, to do this do the following Start>Control Panel>System>Hardware>Device Manager find the hardware from the list and right click it, chose Properties and then Driver, then click the "Roll Back Driver" button.
- Out of date drivers: Simply update to a newer driver.
- Incompatible driver: Ensure the driver is the correct one for your device, go to the manufacturers website and directly download the driver that matches your device/hardware.

To determine which driver in particular is causing the crash, you can use Autoruns, this excellent tool will list all your drivers & programs, you can then disable them, and one by one workout which is causing the crash. Instructions and the download for Autoruns can be found below in the Tools section.

Another common cause of driver related crashes is Windows driver verification, if the driver is not verified it can cause a crash, you can use the Driver Verify tool by Microsoft. Microsoft already has a comprehensive section on this which includes the various versions of Windows so it is pointless for me to go into this with much detail, this is the official site: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/hardware/gg487310.aspx
A little addition to the Driver Verifier solution, Windows XP users can access this easily by following the instructions here: http://www.howtogeek.com/79969/hidden-xp-utility-verifier

Faulty hardware: To rule out hardware failure you can either remove the suspicious hardware from its slot on your motherboard and then see if the crash keeps happening, or an easier method is to use the "safely remove hardware" in the Control Panel.

A common problem also which you may think is faulty hardware but it is actually not is when the hardware is not seated properly in its slot on the motherboard, it's always wise to check that all hardware is seated, make sure your computer is turned off at the power point, open your PC case and push the hardware to ensure it is seated all the way into the slot, also check that the CPU pins are pushed properly in.

It is also advisable to disable a hardware device from the BIOS rather than the Device Manager in Control Panel, as often disabling the device in the Device Manager doesn't always completely disable the hardware whereas disabling it in BIOS does. 

Bad/corrupt registry/system files:  If you have recently installed a new program or game and your system starts to crash, it can be commonly linked to that newly installed program or game, In these situations uninstall the program/game to establish it is definitely causing the crash. You can then troubleshoot from there. Try a registry scanner and repair, this will scan your systems registry files and fix any damaged/corrupt ones.

A registry cleaner/repairer is also a good idea if you suspect registry files to be causing the crashes, the Eusing Registry Cleaner is a good tool to do this, it is free to use, you can get it in the Tools section below.

You can also use the Windows XP Repair to fix any damage done to system or registry files. On Windows XP you need to insert the Windows XP CD into your CD drive, you will still retain all of you original files as it is not a fresh install, an excellent guide on doing a Windows XP repair install can be found here: http://www.michaelstevenstech.com/XPrepairinstall.htm

For Windows 7 you can use the Start-up repair: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-AU/windows7/products/features/startup-repair

Using Windows to to create a System Restore Point: If you have made changes to your system recently such as installing a new program and the crashes have started, you can create a System Restore point to restore your system to a point before the crashes started happening, you will not loose any data by doing this as it only changes system files. To create a System Restore Point you can do the following (this is on a Windows XP OS, other versions of Windows would be similar): Start>Programs> Accessories>System Tools>System Restore, then follow the onscreen instructions.
Windows Auto updates/Security Centre: In some situations Windows users will find that the system restarts on bootup, or during general use of the PC, sometimes these restarts result in a Blue Screen of Death, more often than not they do not display a Blue Screen of Death so this becomes particularly concerning as it is hard to determine what is causing the crashes/restarts. It happened to me with Windows XP, and after trying to workout for a long time what was causing it, I narrowed it down to the Windows Security Centre and the auto update feature, as what was happening was Windows would start and the Security Centre would automatically start to retrieve updates from the Microsoft Security Centre website, the installation of these auto updates has somewhere along the installation process failed, the system would then reboot every time it attempted to download and install the update again. I decided to disable auto updates in the Security Centre and manually install the updates and this worked, the updates installed fine, but it would still restart automatically the PC every now and then, I discovered that the Auto update feature in the Security Centre was still enabled even though I had clicked the Turn off Automatic Updates box. I then looked in the Administrative Tools and found that you can properly disable such things in the Services section. To find the Services, go to Control Panel>Administrative Tools>Services and then browse the list and find the Automatic Updates entry, select the Automatic Updates entry and right click it, choose Properties, in the Start-up Type dropdown menu select Manual, then under the Service status click the Stop button. You can also get to the Services browser quicker by going Start>Run and then typing Services.msc into the box and click OK.

Using Windows to create a Minidump (memory dump): Windows can create a Minidump file when a Blue Screen of Death occurs, this Minidump file is a log of the crash event. On some systems the mini dump creation is turned off by default, if you want to enable it do the following:

Right click My Computer on your desktop, choose Prosperities, then the Advanced tab, then under the Startup and Recovery section click the Settings tab, and under the System failure section check the Write an event to the system log, finally, from the drop down box select Small memory dump (64KB). In the Small dump directory box type the folder/directory you want the Minidumps to be saved to, often this is the Windows folder, if you are unsure about the path, add this to the box: %SystemRoot%\Minidump this will save the Minidumps to the C:\WINDOWS\Minidump folder.

Analysing a Minidump: Even though you now have a Minidump log it still has you no closer to working out what has caused the Blue Screen of Death because all those numbers and error listings mean nothing to us, they may as well be written in some foreign language that no one can translate. However, there is an excellent tool called BlueScreenView, this tool will analyze the Minidump file for you and point you to which system file or driver has caused the crash. You can get BlueScreenView below in the Tools section.
Using the Event Viewer in control panel: The Event Viewer in Control Panel can give you a clue what might be causing the crash, the Event Viewer logs all currently running processes, it will log any errors that may occur, you can take note of the time the crashes occur and then view the Event Viewer to see any suspicious activity during this time. To use the Even Viewer do the following: Start/Settings>Control Panel>Administrative Tools>Event Viewer

Repairing Windows: If you find that you have corrupt system or registry files you can also use the Windows XP Repair to fix any damage done to system or registry files. On Windows XP you need to insert the Windows XP CD into your CD drive, you will still retain all of you original files as it is not a fresh install, an excellent guide on doing a Windows XP repair install can be found here: http://www.michaelstevenstech.com/XPrepairinstall.htm

For Windows 7 you can use the Start-up repair: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-AU/windows7/products/features/startup-repair

Blue Screen of Death and can't even get into Windows: If you are getting the Blue Screen of Death and can't even get into Windows this may be due to faulty hardware or drivers. You will need to start-up in Safe Mode, to do this on most systems you need to press F8 (the key maybe different on some systems) this will give you the Safe Mode option. In Safe Mode Windows will only load essential system files and drivers, essentially a lot of drivers and hardware that maybe causing the problem will not be enabled, this allows you to enter Windows and disable any suspicious hardware that might be causing the crash, if you can then boot into Windows normally then you know you have found the culprit. 

Useful Tools

Autoruns: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb963902
By far the best tool that helped me was the Autoruns tool, this tool will list all programs, drivers, start-up programs, you can then disable any of these and workout which one was causing the crash. The thing that surprised me the most is that this tool is not that well known about as one would expect, Microsoft should have this tool on its main page about STOP errors, it would save people a lot of time.
* Important Note using the Autoruns tool: It is VERY important that you do not uncheck the box for your mouse or keyboard driver, otherwise on start-up you will not be able to use your mouse or keyboard and you would be literally stuck without access to your PC.

BlueScreenView: http://www.nirsoft.net/utils/blue_screen_view.html

Malwarebytes: http://www.malwarebytes.org/

Hihjack This: http://free.antivirus.com/hijackthis/

Windows Debugging Tools: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/hardware/gg463009

Eusing Registry Cleaner: http://www.eusing.com/free_registry_cleaner/registry_cleaner.htm

Further reading & useful sites

Windows Stop Messages Troubleshooting: http://aumha.org/a/stop.htm

Microsoft Support page: http://support.microsoft.com/

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