FAQ #36 - What is a BSOD and how do I get one?

Originally written by Elwin Way

BSOD stands for Blue Screen of Death. As the name implies, you don't really want one.

BSOD is closely tied with Microsoft's operating systems. Due to a large number of system bugs a blue screen can appear, freezing basic operations or an application's work, decreasing the system's functionality or sometimes permanently hanging at it. A BSOD displays as a blue (or sometimes black) screen, filled with a more or less clear error message.

Bugs are scattered quite liberally throughout most of Microsoft's operating systems so the BSOD, an error reporting system, as well as an end to all your current work, is in fact a feature. What would it be if we had no BSOD? It would only cause confusion and chaos because Windows, without a Blue Screen, just is not good old Windows. Your machine would just die with no explanation. A BSOD is like the rolling of the credits at the end of a movie - you know it's The End.

If you're really hanging out to experience the BSOD you can get one by mucking around with system files like user.dat (the registry), win.ini, system.ini etc. You can also try replacing all your hardware drivers with ones that are not made for your system.

There are several types of BSOD depending on the error message.

If the message is "Error reading from CD-ROM drive..." it may be a dirty CD or it may be due to the fact that you have removed the CD a bit before the computer was done with it. Simply replace the CD that was in the CD-ROM drive and press any button. All should be well.

All the other messages you may see generally mean "Whoops, your computer has made a bit of a stuff-up somewhere along the line. Since we do not know what it is, your best bet is to reboot." And yes, your best bet is to reboot.

If you are constantly getting the same error message you may want to look into it - or have someone else (who you can blame later on if it doesn't go away) look into it. You can often find information on a particular BSOD by putting the exact error message into Google and doing a search on it so that should be your first port of call.

Possible causes are:

• Corrupt operating system - reinstall Windows.

• Bad memory - remove one module at a time to see if this helps. However, if you have memory check enabled in your BIOS you should see if you do have bad memory upon bootup. If you only have one module try to replace it with a known good one. Alternatively, check that your memory is seated properly in their slots.

• Cracked motherboard (mainboard) - I have actually had this. The board had a hairline crack in the circuitry. The computer worked fine for 10-15 minutes then crashed. The board was expanding as it warmed up, parting the crack at a certain temp. You need a good eye to pick this one out.

• Loose plugs - open up your case and check that all the plugs, cables, chips, etc is plugged in nice and firm. An intermittent connection may cause 'random' BSOD's.

• Incorrect/faulty device drivers - right click on My Computer and choose Properties (Windows 9x & ME) or click the Device Manager tab (under the Hardware tab in Windows XP) and see if there is anything with a yellow exclamation mark ( ! ) next to it. If so, you may need to either (re)install the right drivers or remove the device from the list.

• Hard drive failure - run scandisk (at least) to see if there is a problem with your hard drive.

• Corrupt application - if you get a BSOD whenever you run a certain program it usually means that the install is corrupt. However, some applications that have been poorly programmed may simply just not like your system. Also, be sure that your PC meets the minimum system requirements of the application that you are trying to run.

• Virus - unlikely as most viruses are written to perform much simpler or sinister tasks. Either they will wipe your hard drive or just reset your home page. However, don't take my word for it - do a full scan anyway.

In most cases, reinstalling windows should lessen the likelihood of a BSOD appearing.

Windows XP

Windows XP is set by default to automatically restart when a serious problem occurs rather than produce the infamous BSOD which prevents you from seeing the all-important error message. To turn off the restart feature go into System Properties (press the Windows + Pause/Break keys), Advanced, Startup and Recovery Settings and remove the tick from Automatically Restart. Click OK all the way out.

Next time Windows XP encounters a serious problem you will then be presented with the BSOD and an error message that you can use to search with on Google to seek a solution to the problem.

Original FAQ available here.