Blue Screen Of Death
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A blue screen of death in New York City shows that BSODs come in many shapes and sizes.
(Photo: Leonard Lin via Flickr, Creative Commons licence.)

The "blue screen of death" (BSOD or BSoD) is a screen that appears on Windows and other machines indicating that the system has crashed. By extension BSOD also refers to screens that aren't blue, especially on other operating systems such as the Macintosh.

On Windows a frequent source of trouble are device drivers and faulty memory.

(Screen closeups: Ivana Jurcic via Flickr, Creative Commons licence.)

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Screening and Troubleshooting the Blues

BSOD's Long History

In Wired's BSOD Through the Ages Michael Calore provides this summary of the Blue Screen of Death:

Windows has gone through many changes over the years, but one feature has remained comfortingly consistent: the Blue Screen of Death. Otherwise known as a system freeze, the BSOD is well known to Windows users the world over.

The Wired page then presents eleven images of BSOD screens.

Causes

A Wikipedia article states:

A Blue Screen of Death (also known as a stop error, BSoD or blue screen) is an error screen displayed by certain operating systems, most notably Microsoft Windows, after encountering a critical system error which can cause the system to shut down to prevent damage.

Bluescreens can be caused by poorly written device drivers, a corrupt registry, or an incompatible Dynamic-link library (DLL).

Bluescreens can be caused by physical faults such as faulty memory, mains power supply voltage variance or spikes in conjunction with or magnified by power supply unit voltage rating not matching the mains supply (For example a 220V PSU attached to a 240V mains outlet), the power requirements of the computer exceeding the capacity of the PSU, overheating of components, intermittent power to hard disk drives or other parts, faulty hardware, or hardware running beyond its specification limits. Bluescreens have been present in all Windows-based operating systems since Windows 3.1; OS/2 and MS-DOS suffered the Black Screen of Death, and early builds of Windows Vista displayed the Red Screen of Death after a boot loader error.

Troubleshooting

PCstats.com promises in version 1.2.0 of its Beginners Guides: Crash Recovery - Dealing with the Blue Screen Of Death:

In this article PCstats.com will walk you through the BSOD in many of its most familiar incarnations. We will not be exploring and cataloguing what each BSOD means, but rather providing a set of tools for troubleshooting that you can use to get around any Blue Screen Of Death, or constant crash issue. Just another step in PCstats' never-ending quest to save your hard earned cash from going to the computer repair shop.

If the problem is software or a device driver, using Windows XP's "system restore" feature may let the user restore before the problems began. Booting in safe mode will be required. (Other Windows systems have similar system-restore features.)

If problems persist, "Chances are your error is hardware or system file based and will require more effort to repair."

Device Drivers

Writing in Slate, Paul Boutin says that if your problems revolve around one application, then it may be easy to diagnose. Otherwise:

The death screen isn't as easy to figure out. In fact, there's often no way for anyone except a technician packing professional-grade diagnostic tools to find the culprit. A bug in one program can corrupt data in the computer's memory, causing an entirely different program to crash later. Bad hardware will also often lead to software errors; when the hardware doesn't send back data as expected, programs will start to fail. "A broad range of conditions can cause a Fatal Exception error," shrugs Microsoft's help documentation. "As a result, troubleshooting a Fatal Exception error can be difficult."

His 2004 article goes on to talk about device driver demons.

Checking Your RAM

Techspot.com offers various pieces of advice in its threads.

Before posting your minidumps, please read this commands one thread, and follows with the advice to check Troubleshooting Sudden Reboots/crashes first, then if that doesn't help:

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Run a complete disk check. Click start/run and type chkdsk /f /r and press the enter key. Follow the onscreen prompts and reboot your computer. Windows will check your hard drive for problems. Depending on the size of your hard drive, this can take quite some time.

First, turn off your computer and unplug it from the mains.

Clean out all dust etc, especially from the heatsinks and fans. A can of compressed air is very useful for this.

Next, take out your ram sticks and gently clean the gold contacts with an eraser. Blow away the remnents [sic], also blow out any dust that may be in the ram slots. Replace the ram. Restart your system and see if it becomes more stable. You might also want to try placing the ram in a different dimm slot.

If your system still crashes, download and run the Memtest86+ programme from HERE.

The site provides a separate Tutorial: How to use Memtest: "If you use Dual channel or multiple sticks of RAM, take all of them out so you have just the one plugged into the primary slot. Run the test and swap with the other sticks until all is tested individually. Don't forget to turn off and unplug your PC before removing/replacing any components."

A post in yet another thread (which pointed to the above thread) added: "It's never a good idea to mix sizes/brands/speeds of ram. Ok, it can work fine, but then again it can cause all kinds of stability issues."

Stop Auto-restart

The Lazybit blog offers some Blue screen of death troubleshooting tips:

Windows can be configured not to restart the system automatically when such a crash occurs. This gives you enough time to analyze the data on the blue screen and figure out whether something can be done about it.

If you're ambitious you can even do a minidump, although "interpreting a minidump is not easy if you are not an experienced developer."

Drive Verifier (Verifier.exe)

The blog, Ed Bott's Windows Expertise, offers more troubleshooting tips:

Trying to figure out what’s causing a Windows STOP error (more commonly known as the Blue Screen of Death, or BSOD) can be a challenge. One likely candidate is bad hardware; if the error messages are random and the shutdowns appear unpredictably, you should suspect a faulty power supply or bad RAM.

Another common BSOD cause is a faulty device driver. Typically, you should be suspicious of any installed drivers that are not digitally signed, especially if they were written for an earlier version of Windows.

Windows XP includes a powerful troubleshooting tool called Driver Verifier (Verifier.exe). It’s a terrific way to identify flawed device drivers. It’s also a surefire way to screw up your system if you use it incorrectly. Read on for the details and important cautions.

Macintosh

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(Photo: Dave Winer via Flickr, Creative Commons licence.)

On the Mac the BSOD is actually grey, and doesn't cover the whole screen.

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