The Blue Screen of Death, or more properly the 'Windows stop message' occurs when Windows detects a problem or error from which it cannot recover. The operating system halts and diagnostic information is displayed on a blue screen. In newer versions of the operating system, the contents of the PC's memory are dumped to a file for later analysis.
In Windows XP, stop messages generally take one of five forms:
1. Software errors during Windows operation. Software or device drivers installed in your computer may have errors or problems which cause a stop error, either constantly or under certain conditions.
2. Hardware errors during Windows operation. If a hardware device malfunctions or is removed during the operation of Windows, or if your hardware does not fully support the operations that XP expects it to support, a hardware stop error will occur. Outdated BIOS information on older computers might also be an issue.
3. Installation errors. The Windows XP installation process is the most sensitive time for hardware and disk errors. If there is a problem with your computer's hardware configuration or the media you are using to install XP, a stop error will likely occur.
4. Startup errors. Corrupted system files, hardware and driver errors can all cause Windows XP to halt with a stop message without correctly booting into Windows. An error of this sort will almost always require troubleshooting before Windows can be loaded correctly.
5. Intermittent errors. The most irritating type of stop message, these crop up consistently but apparently randomly. The most likely culprits for this include: defective system memory, an overheating processor, dead or dieing hard drive or faulty software and device drivers.
Basic troubleshooting for all BSOD errors
First off, note down all relevant information when you see a BSOD flash across the screen. This includes the error number and friendly name from the 'bugcheck' section of the stop error (see above), and any file names specified in the 'driver information' section.
If the BSOD comes up on the screen for a split-second before the PC restarts and wipes all the useful information away, we need to change some settings within Windows XP. In most cases, it should be possible to stop your PC from automatically restarting when it develops a major error, allowing you enough time to jot down the BSOD error message. If you are using Windows XP, right click on my computer > Properties > Select the 'Advanced' tab > and under 'startup and recovery' click the 'settings' button. This will open a new window, and under the 'System Failure' heading, uncheck 'Automatically restart.'
Attempt to restart the computer normally into Windows. If the BSOD occurred while booting Windows, you may be taken to a troubleshooting menu and will have to select 'attempt to start Windows normally.'
If your computer starts correctly, continue using it and store the error information for later reference. If the BSOD reoccurs at random or irregular periods, see Section D below on troubleshooting intermittent stop errors.
If your system does not start correctly or the stop message happens again, reboot the system. When the POST (memory checking) screen comes up, press F8 repeatedly. This will bring you to the Windows advanced options menu.
In the Windows advanced options menu choose 'safe mode' to attempt to boot into Windows Safe mode. Safe mode loads Windows XP with a minimal set of drivers and no automatically loaded software. If faulty software or drivers are causing your BSOD problem, safe mode should load correctly. If safe mode loads correctly, refer to Section A below on 'troubleshooting software stop messages.'
If safe mode does not load correctly, and/or you get the same stop message upon attempting safe mode, it's time to try the 'restore last known good configuration' option in the advanced options menu.
Restart your computer, pressing 'F8' again to load the advanced options menu and select 'last known good configuration (your most recent settings that worked).' This uses Windows XP's built in system restore utility to restore the most recent save point, which should be the last time you installed any drivers or other software. If your system boots normally after this operation, hopefully your problem has been fixed.
If you are still receiving a Blue Screen Of Death after the above procedures, or if system restore was disabled on your system, note down any new information on the error and start thinking.
Did you install any new hardware or software just before this problem occurred? The driver information section of the BSOD may help with this.
If you did install new hardware or software, and you think you know what it might be that is causing the problem, this gives you a big boost in resolving the situation.
Otherwise, proceed to the advanced troubleshooting sections below. Chances are your error is hardware or system file based and will require more effort to repair.
Specific Repair Instructions
If you have a reoccurring Blue Screen Of Death or crashing problem, and can't use Windows effectively because of it, it's time to look at more specific methods of troubleshooting your problem. Depending on the results of the basic troubleshooting steps above, you should have a good idea of whether the problem that is causing the stop messages is related to software or drivers you have installed, or is a hardware or system file issue.
Essentially, if you can't boot into Windows XP safe mode because of crashes or Blue Screens Of Death, you likely either have a hardware error or one or more essential system files is corrupted or missing. If you can boot into Windows XP safe mode, but get constant or frequent BSOD's when running XP normally, you have a software or device driver problem.
Troubleshooting Intermittent Blue Screens or Crashes
Nothing is more maddening than a random crashing problem on your PC. Most of all because almost any type of hardware or software error could cause this behavior.
The first step you can take to narrow the field down is booting in safe mode and trying to use the system normally (or as normally as you can in safe mode.) If the errors do not occur, it is likely to be software or drivers that are causing the problem. Refer to Section A in this Guide for advice on treating these issues.
If the errors occur randomly, even in safe mode, hardware issues are likely to blame. Consult
Section B of this Guide for a list of steps to take. Also you should check that the processor heat
sink fan is working correctly, and that your PC is not overheating.
Section C: Troubleshooting Windows XP install BSODs
Constant Blue screen errors while attempting to install Windows XP are generally caused by hardware or media problems. The most common hardware-related installation issue is faulty memory chips, which can cause havoc to any XP installation. Overheating or a dying or defective hard disk is other common causes. A severely scratched or otherwise faulty XP install CD may also cause stop errors.
First, check your CD and clean or replace it as necessary. Your next step should be to test your system memory for errors with a diagnostic program.
To do this obtain the Windows Memory Diagnostic or Memtest memory diagnostic programs on floppy or CD we mentioned earlier, and use it to boot your system and test the memory. If either of these programs shows any errors in your memory, you have likely found the source of your troubles. Chances are you will need to purchase new memory.
Now it's time to test the hard drive for errors. Visit the website of your hard drive's manufacturer and download their drive diagnostic utility software. Every major hard drive company makes a utility like this freely available. An example is Maxtor's PowerMax software. Follow the included instructions to install the software and test your drive(s) for errors.
If no errors were found in memory or with the hard disk, you need to ensure that your processor is not overheating. Make sure the fan on the heat sink is in working order and reboot the computer, pressing DEL repeatedly on startup to go into the BIOS setup screen.
Let your PC run on this screen for an hour or so, checking back to make sure it has not crashed. If a PC crashes on the BIOS screen, it generally means the processor is overheating for one reason or another.
As a final measure, you can remove all unnecessary hardware from your system before attempting to install Windows XP again. Power off the computer, remove the case and remove all hardware except:
Mouse & keyboard
(And obviously the processor and power supply must still be connected also)
Attempt to install XP again. If it works correctly, you can troubleshoot the remaining devices from within Windows.