What is a Blue Screen of Death?
A Blue Screen Of Death, affectively known as a BSOD, is a serious error that occurs on Windows and it is usually such a serious event, that Windows cannot recover from it without a reboot. The causes of the Blue Screen of Death are numerous, and most of them are serious, in that they disrupt normal service and cause the computer to malfunction.
We should differentiate between normal errors that occur when a program fails and BSODs. BSODs occur at the system level and unlike normal errors, these cannot be dismissed. They occupy the whole screen and once displayed, all programs are automatically terminated with any unsaved data being lost.
As you can see, BSODs are a pretty serious issue your computer couldn’t recover from, and they need to be addressed as soon as possible to avoid data loss and service disruption. The Blue Screen Of Death usually says “Your PC ran into a problem and needs to restart. We’re just collecting some error info, and then we’ll restart for you“.
What can cause a Blue Screen Of Death on Windows?
Numerous factors can cause your computer to fail catastrophically so that a BSOD is rendered, but we’ve compiled a list of the most common causes for BSODs down below.
- Driver issues, including outdated or poorly coded drivers.
- A critical program (process) was terminated either intentionally or by mistake (for example csrss.exe)
- Malware that infected a critical Windows system file or driver.
- Failing RAM or HDD. If Windows tries to access a file and the HDD becomes unresponsive or the RAM malfunctions, it will trigger a BSOD.
- Missing driver after BIOS / UEFI settings change. For example, if you switch from Legacy to AHCI and you have no AHCI drivers, the PC will BSOD at boot time.
How to troubleshoot a Blue Screen of Death on Windows?
First and foremost, note the error code displayed on the blue screen. Most Blue Screens will have an error code at the bottom that you can look up on the internet, for example, HAL_INITIALIZATION_FAILED or NTFS_FILE_SYSTEM or CRITICAL_PROCESS_DIED. If you know the error code, you can search for a fix for it rather easily. It’s much quicker to narrow down a BSOD if you know the general failure reason.
10 Tips to Fix Windows 10 Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD) Errors
Tip 1: Unplug any non-essential hardware you might have recently added.
If you have recently installed a new graphics card, sound card, network card, SSD, or anything new, if you can, please revert to the last-known-good configuration. Swap back the old components (if they still work) and try to see if the BSODs continue.
If the BSODs stop after removing the new upgrade component, it means you either have a malfunctioning component or bad/missing drivers. If you bought the component new in the box, I’d bet on the drivers first, but it’s not unheard of to get a new yet defective component although this is quite rare.
Tip 2: Boot into Safe Mode
Restart your computer, and while your computer boots keep spamming the F8 key until you reach a menu that has the option to boot in Safe Mode. Select that mode with the arrow keys and press Enter.
Your computer will boot in a very limited safe mode environment which doesn’t load any drivers other than the stock Windows ones. Most apps that start after the computer boots will likely not start either, and you may not even have an active internet connection.
Use the PC for a few minutes like this. If the BSODs no longer occur, it’s almost certainly a software issue. Either a bad driver or a rogue software that starts when Windows boots, maybe even malware. Reboot the PC back into normal mode (just restart normally) and install antivirus software if you don’t have one. It would also be wise to uninstall all drivers that you manually installed (those that didn’t come with Windows) and then install the latest versions of those drivers one by one.
Tip 3: Revert Windows Updates
If your computer has recently installed Windows updates, which it very likely did, it could be that a driver was updated and it’s now bugged. One thing you can do is to uninstall the recently installed updates and roll back all drivers that were recently updated. If in doubt, start with the graphics driver as those are notorious for causing BSODs.
You can view what has been recently updated by going to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update > View Update History.
Tip 4: Check for Windows Updates
Contrary to the previous tip, if your issue isn’t an update gone wrong, then it may be an outdated driver or software. Windows has a lot of security and bug fix updates and sometimes you even get driver updates for your video graphics card, network adapters, etc.
If you have manually disabled Windows Update or for some reason updates fail to install, you may be running very outdated drivers and Windows components which are also very hackable because they have known publicly available exploits that malware can use to infect your PC.
With Windows Update disabled or failing, you also don’t get to benefit from valuable bug fixes and improvements which can leave a major bug in a driver uncorrected for a long time.
Tip 5: Run a full antivirus / anti-malware scan on your computer
Antivirus software suck. They guzzle the computer resources, cost money if you want good protection, and they always remain running in the background and keep sending you ads for Premium services you don’t need, but heaven forbid you get a virus and you don’t have an antivirus installed or up to date.
A pretty small and innocuous virus can spread pretty fast across your files and either corrupt them, encrypt them or outright delete them. Malware is one of the primary reasons computers experience Blue Screen of Death, and once infected it can be pretty tricky to clean up the computer.
Make sure your antivirus software is installed and up to date. Yes, you can use a free solution if it’s from a decent antivirus company, but make sure to keep its definitions updated and don’t turn it off “temporarily”.
Tip 6: Check your hard disk or SSD
Unfortunately, a failing mechanical HDD or SSD is one of the common reasons why you may get a Blue Screen of Death. Failing storage media causes Windows to fail while trying to read and write in certain areas. While this usually results in just a normal R/W access error, if the file needed is system critical it would result in a full-blown BSOD.
Both mechanical hard disk drives (HDDs) and Solid State Drives (SSDs) age with time and usage. The more you use them the more you wear them out. Mechanical HDDs have moving parts that get worn out over time.
While SSDs don’t have any moving parts, the chips inside can only be written to and read from a certain amount of times before they are no longer viable. Every file you copy/read kills the SSD a tiny bit. Over the years these add up and the storage media begins to fail which can cause Windows to fail too and BSOD.
You can run sfc /scannow in CMD to check the status of the system files and attempt to fix them if they were somehow corrupted by anything, but to be able to check your storage media in-depth, you need specialized tools.
- For HDDs, you can download a S.M.A.R.T. Status Viewer program like HDDScan (Free). This will check the S.M.A.R.T. data on the HDD which tells you how worn out the drive is and how likely it is to fail soon.
- For SSDs, while they tend to have S.M.A.R.T. too, each manufacturer provides its own free tool to check how worn out the SSD is and to update its firmware. Samsung for example has a tool called Samsung Magician which tells you exactly what’s going on with your SSD. Most manufacturers have proprietary SSD software so look up yours for your SSD.
Tip 7: Reboot the computer – it could just be a temporary issue
While most BSODs are a bad sign, it could just be that something went wrong but it was transient and a reboot would fix the issue. After this episode, you may not get another BSOD for months. Sometimes it just happens that a resource wasn’t ready at the right moment, or an update failed temporarily and caused an issue.
It could be that the event won’t happen again, even if it caused a BSOD.
You can even manually cause a BSOD by killing the wrong process in Task Manager, so might even be a mistake on your end. If the BSOD doesn’t occur again after a reboot, don’t sweat it. Make sure your updates and antivirus are up to date and move on.
Tip 8: Reinstall Windows from scratch
If nothing worked and you keep getting BSODs, a good idea may be to back up the important information on an external media, and then completely wipe the drive and reinstall Windows from scratch.
It could be that whatever it is that causes BSODs will get fixed after a full reinstall. If the BSODs persist even on a fresh installation of Windows, you very likely have a hardware issue on your hands or at least some bad UEFI / BIOS settings.
In conclusion, Blue Screens of Death can be a pretty serious issue, but there are steps you can take to fix the problem or at least understand what is causing it. If nothing works, there’s always the option to install a fresh copy of Windows.