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Fatal Error BSoD Solution Guide
When a Windows BSoD (Blue Screen of Death) fatal error occurs, this solution guide will help solve the issue. Be sure to check the specific error for the best solutions to use first, and if those fail, return here.
When a major issue occurs that prevents Windows from continuing to run, Windows displays a blue screen with white text, called a Stop message or more commonly called the "Blue Screen of Death" (BSoD). Normally these are quite rare, but when they do occur it indicates a fatal software or hardware issue has occurred.
Under Windows 7, Vista and Server 2008 the default is to only wait a few seconds before rebooting. This may be too short to see what the issue is. You can easily change this default so that the issue remains on-screen until you elect to continue. See Disable automatic restart.
By default Windows also attempts to save the Fatal error information to the hard disk as a Crash Dump File. A new file is created for each Fatal error. Assuming Windows can run, you can explore these dump files as well. See Explore Dump Files.
You may elect to change the order of how to solve this issue based on when the issue occurs, the specific error message displayed and the solution analyzer. We've ordered these solutions starting with those that are most likely to fix the issue, are safe to try and are easy to do.
Expert users may want to try out the Driver Verifier, a tool in Windows that may help isolate a specific device driver that could be at fault.
Fix Thermal Problems
If the problems only occur after the system has warmed up and never occurs after you turn on a cold system (i.e. has been off for at least 30 minutes), the parts may be getting too hot and are failing.
Often this kind of problem is related to poor air-flow through the PC. Desktops usually have between 3 and 5 fans. If any fan fails, runs slowly, or if the vents are blocked, internal high temperatures can cause all sorts of odd behavior and BSoD messages.
While the system is powered on, put you hand near the exhaust fans at the back and confirm you feel a warm airflow. If there is no airflow or it is very hot, it's a good bet you have fan problems. Also check the inlets and be sure they are clear of dust and debris. If you have pets, check if fur is blocking the inlet vents.
If you are comfortable opening your PC, turn off the computer and open it up. With the insides in good view, re-apply power and turn it back on. Check that each fan is working properly and they are not clogged with dust.
Be sure to check the CPU fan and the fan inside the power supply. Also many video adapters have their own small fan. Replace any slowly turning or defective fans. Also be sure no cables are too close to the fan blades, as they can limit airflow, or worse - stop the fan if they hit the blades.
Check if the processor heat sink/fan assembly is properly attached to the processor chip. It should not be loose and should be clamped tightly to the the processor.
If the fans are all working and airflow is good, you may have a defective CPU, memory or other hardware component.
See solution 2 for more on hardware issues.
Fix Defective Hardware
Confirm the hardware is working correctly using a hardware diagnostic program. If you suspect a specific hardware item, such as memory stick or video card, try replacing it with known good hardware.
Don't overlook the possibility that hardware was not installed correctly, especially anything you installed just prior to the problems starting. Make sure all cards and memory are securely seated in their slots. Verify disk drive cables are properly connected and are not loose.
If you just installed new hardware, confirm it is really compatible with the Windows. Use Windows compatibility page for newer Windows. The XP compatibility page was removed from the Microsoft site in Nov-2010.
The Windows Vista Repair Environment also includes a limited memory diagnostic, described in Solution 4.
Use Last Known Good Configuration
If you are unable successfully boot into Windows because of the fatal error, Windows has an option to reload registry information from the last successful boot. To revert to the last successful boot:
Reboot the computer.
Near the end of the BIOS messages or graphic, but well before anything appears from Windows, press the F8 key. You may only have a few seconds to get the right spot to press F8 before it attempts to go into Windows. If the BIOS complains about a pressed key or asks you to go into BIOS setup, you've pressed F8 too soon (Don't go into BIOS setup).
When successful, you should see a black screen with white text "Windows Advanced Options". Use the up or down arrow keys to highlight Last Known Good Configuration and press Enter.
Repair Damaged or Missing OS Files
Use the Windows RE (Repair Environment) under Window 7/Vista to repair and replace missing or damaged files. For XP users, you can re-install XP without erasing applications or settings, or use the XP Recovery Console to fix some problems. Pick the OS solution below.
You'll need the Windows installation DVD. Note that many OEM manufactures leave out the installation DVD, which has to be purchased separately, or they only include a limited restore DVD that just erases the system and starts over (often a poor choice). All retail copies of Windows include this bootable DVD.
Insert the Windows DVD and reboot the system. Assuming the BIOS defaults to booting from the DVD (usually the default) then select the language. Next click on Repair your computer. A list of Windows installations should appear. Select your installation (typically there will only be one).
A list of recovery options will appear including an automatic repair function, restore from a previous system restore point, restore the computer from a backup (assuming one is available), run the memory diagnostic tool, or go to a command prompt (for advanced users).
Reinstalling XP without erasing settings and applications
Windows XP recovery is more problematic with a number of issues, including having the right media (SP1, SP2, SP3) on hand. You can usually re-install XP without erasing your applications and settings. We'd also recommend backing up all your important data before starting just to be safe, although this can be difficult if the system isn't working!
You'll need the XP installation CD. Note that many OEM manufactures leave out the installation media, which has to be purchased separately, or they only include a limited restore CD that just erases the system and starts over (often a poor choice). All retail copies of XP include this bootable media.
Insert the CD and reboot the system. Assuming the BIOS defaults to booting from the media (usually the default) a "Welcome to Setup" screen appears.
Press Enter (DO NOT select Recovery Console). Accept the license agreement. It will then search for existing XP installations and show a list to pick from (typically there will only be one choice). Select your XP installation and press R to start the repair.
Important: If the R option does not appear, do not select Enter or all your data and applications will be toast as it acts like a new PC installation!
Limited Fixes with the XP Recovery Console
For detailed instructions with screen shots, go to Using System Restore XP/2003, Here you can fix registry problems, missing files, validate and fix file system problems, repair the Master Boot Record (MBR) and partition boot record.
To get to the Recovery Console prompt. insert the XP installation CD and reboot the system. Assuming the BIOS defaults to booting from the media (usually the default) a "Welcome to Setup" screen appears. Press R to load the Recovery Console.
Uninstall the Last Install
If you can get the system up for more than a few minutes or can use safe mode, try removing the last installed software application or driver.
For removal of an application (Windows 7 & Vista):
Click on Start, Control Panel, then Programs and Features.
Select the software to uninstall and select Uninstall.
For removal of an application (Windows XP):
Click on Start, Control Panel, then Add or Remove Programs.
Select the software to uninstall and select Remove.
To disable a driver:
Bring up the system information dialog:
On the keyboard, press the Windows key + Pause/Break.
Select Start, right click Computer and on the drop-down, select Properties.
Click on the left side option Advanced system settings(7/Vista only).
In System Properties, select the Hardware tab, then click on Device Manager button.
Find the hardware/driver of interest (you may need to expand a choice at the "plus" graphic) and double click the choice.
Select the Driver tab. Here you can perform a number of actions such as update the driver, roll Back the driver to an older version, disable or uninstall the driver.
Click OK to exit, then close the Device Manager and other previously opened dialogs.
Get the Latest Updates
Install the latest Windows software updates. Don't forget to check for non-critical updates too!
To manually get updates, open Internet Explorer (you can't use a non-Microsoft browser for updates).
For IE 8 and later: Click on Safety, then Windows Update. Follow the instructions.
For IE 7 and older: Click on Tools, then Windows Update. Follow the instructions.
Perform Registry Cleaning
Fix any registry problems. Use a registry fixer tool to accomplish this. A good registry fixer will fix or remove bad entries and orphaned entries left over from a badly behaving uninstall.
Check if you are using the latest hardware drivers, especially the chipset and video drivers. Older drivers are a common contributor to BSoD issues.
You can use a product like Driver Genius or Radar Sync to verify you have the latest drivers and help keep all your drivers up-to-date. If you're comfortable with driver installations, you can individually find and install current drivers.
If the BIOS is current, it's possible bad BIOS parameters are causing the problem, especially if the memory or CPU settings are overclocked. The BIOS parameters are stored in CMOS memory. The best way to reset the BIOS parameters is to remove the CMOS battery. To do this:
Unplug the PC, and open the case.
Locate the battery on the motherboard - typically a silver coin cell.
Remove the battery and note if the plus side is up or down, so you can reinstall it later the same way.
Wait at least 1 minute and reinstall the battery.
Attach power and power up. Typically a BIOS warning message will indicate CMOS was corrupted or changed and it may require you to go into the BIOS setup to set the time and date.
Proceed to boot Windows and see if this fixes the issue.
Some BIOSes have options to enable/disable caching and/or shadowing. If the options are available, disable caching and shadowing. Most newer (2005+) systems do not have these options. There are many BIOS makers and customized versions of the BIOS, so you may have to enter BIOS setup and look a bit to find these options. Typically you press a key like Esc, Del, F1, or F2 before Windows starts (almost right after you reboot) to enter BIOS setup. Consult your computer manual for details. The setup key can also be found in our BIOS access list.
Last Resort Solutions!
If you skipped any of the prior solutions, you may want to return and try them out. These next options are when all else fails!
Remove the system hard drive and replace it with a blank drive. Install a fresh copy of Windows. If this works, it's unlikely to be a hardware issue. At worse, it may be time to start over with a fresh copy of Windows, although reinstalling your applications may make the problem reoccur.
Send the PC in for repair - someone else can deal with it!
Time for a new PC?
Consider a MAC, but wait - they can have similar hard-to-solve issues and you'd have to buy all new applications.
Use your PC as a boat anchor and go for a drink.
Other Windows Versions
While our focus is primarily on Windows 7, Vista and XP, other Windows versions apply to our solutions here and those in our detailed Fatal Error Solutions list:
Windows 2000 - This has a sub-set of Windows XP issues.
Windows Server 2003 - This has a similar set of issues as XP.
Windows Home Server - This is based on Windows Server 2003 and is similar to XP. Since typically there is no attached display, you're not likely to see BSoD issues.
Windows Server 2008 - This is based on the Vista code, and has almost the identical issues as Vista. Our list of Fatal issues includes those unique to Server 2008 as well.
Windows Server 2008 R2 - This is based on the Windows 7 code, and has almost the identical issues as Windows 7.