Windows - Troubleshooting Blue Screen Errors

This document explains how to troubleshoot Windows problems that result in Blue screens errors and system crashes in Windows 7, Vista, XP, and 2000.

Introduction

The Windows Blue Screen, occasionally referred to as "The Blue Screen of Death", is a general category of error message that accompanies severe system crashes in Windows operating systems. The potential causes are numerous, but careful analysis of the circumstances of the crash and a review of the diagnostic information in the blue screen itself can help identify the cause. See Anatomy of a Blue Screen for more information on analyzing blue screens.

In Windows 2000 and above, there is no way to recover from a blue screen and resume normal operation: the user can only take note of the information that appears on the screen in the hopes of diagnosing the problems and preventing recurrences. Unfortunately, most Windows XP, Vista, and 7 machines are configured to automatically reboot when a kernel failure occurs, and the actual blue screen, including diagnostic information, flashes by too quickly for study. In these cases, the user can disable this feature and wait for future blue screens (see Disabling Autorestart for details). Alternatively, a technician can use special debugger tools to parse the stored logs.

In all other cases, however, the system will perform a complete memory dump when the system fault occurs, and then wait for the user to restart the computer.

Anatomy of a Blue Screen

Taken in isolation, the appearance of a blue screen is not very informative: it merely indicates that the operating system has crashed. Therefore, it is critical to obtain the specifics of the blue screen itself, as well as any logical background information before proceeding. Take a look at the following blue screens (from Windows XP and Windows 8, respectively). For Windows XP, notice that the most important information is underlined with red.

Windows XP

Windows 8 and 10

As you can see, the most important elements are:

Different Types of Blue Screens

The contents of a blue screen are variable depending on the version of Windows and the source of the error. Most commonly, all three of the above pieces of information will be present. Sometimes, however, depending on the type of error and the point at which it occurs in machine operation, only a subset of the above information appears.



Blue Screen Troubleshooting

Sometimes the blue screen provides enough information to diagnose a specific cause and resolve the issue. Some of the most common Blue Screens and potential resolutions are listed below:

Common Error Messages

Other times, however, the blue screen is ambiguous or otherwise uninformative.

Resources

Troubleshooting Windows STOP errors
MSDN Index of STOP errors