Blue screen of Death (BSOD) Fatal, but useful

We have all seen this screen before at some point in time – well if you use Windows anyway.

The BSOD shows when a system has had a fatal error of which it is unable to recover from. Sounds pretty nasty – it can be, but there is some useful information on the BSOD when it occurs.

Before I explain what this information is we need to know how to make it visible. Ever notice how when it occurs your computer generally reboots and tries to run as normal again?

Some years ago Microsoft changed the operating system to reboot whenever a bluescreen error was encountered – this was so that in public spaces such as airports instead of blue screens with white writing that said FATAL ERROR on them people would see the Windows logo with the loading bar.

Luckily, the ability to stop this behaviour was left in the operating system. Under Startup and recovery in the System properties found in control panel (Advanced System Settings in Vista and above) there is a check box under system failure for “Automatic Restart”. Simply uncheck this box and next time if your computer generates a BSOD – you will have the ability to read it.

Note though, this is only useful when the BSOD is occurring after windows has actually loaded. If it is occurring on boot there is a slightly different procedure.

Most of us will recall pressing the F8 key to get to the boot menu that allows us to go to Safe Mode. What most people never realise is another option that says “Disable automatic restart on system failure”

Selecting this option will attempt to boot your system as normal – However if a BSOD occurs the system will stop on the screen which will allow you to read its contents.

Now that we know how to make that screen stay visible, we can look at using it to determine what is failing.

A BSOD has a stop code, listed near the bottom of it an example is:

STOP 0X0000007B

This code can be one of the most important parts of the screen – another is any filenames that may occur e.g.

NTFS.SYS

If you have the information from the BSOD you can really drill down to what exactly is causing the error. Microsoft support site for example has articles for many of the known stop codes and these articles not only provide a description of the problem but in many cases ways of resolving the issue.

If you have a filename as opposed to a stop code – you can sometimes determine whether an application may be causing the issue. If you work in the tech industry you should know certain files are responsible for certain things e.g. in the example above NTFS.SYS – a system driver responsibly for accessing NTFS volumes. If this filename is on your BSOD it is likely you have an issue with your hard drive, it could be failing or corrupt.

Some virus scanners such as AVG have also been known to cause BSOD errors with there DLL files – try be aware of system files vs application files. In the case of application files in many cases it is possible to remove problem software in safe mode that will rectify your issue.

BSOD’s can also be used to determine issues with faulty memory. How? look at the stop code, if your system has a particular fault your BSOD Stop code will be consistent. If it has faulty memory – the stop code will be random.

So even though a BSOD indicates a severe system failure – it can indicate to you very precise information about what is causing the system failure.




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