The Blue Screen of Death: What to do when your computer freaks out

Oh no! I got a blue screen!

Facing the Blue Screen of Death can be a stressful moment. One second, you’re at your computer working or browsing the internet. The next, your computer has frozen and displayed a blue cryptic message. What happened? Why did my computer just freak out?  More than likely, it couldn’t find what it was looking for.

Windows 9x blue screen of death / image credit: Wikipedia

Blue screens and pizza boxes

When I was in college, I worked for a while slinging pizzas. The pizzas would roll out of the oven and they’d get boxed up. My job was to look at the pizza, then look for a box with a label that matched the toppings. One busy night, we were rolling pretty fast, and the pizzas were flying through. It was match and box, match and box.

Just when everything was going smoothly, the printer that makes the labels stopped printing. Everything got out of order. We couldn’t find the boxes to put the pizzas in. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop the pizzas from coming. Everything got backed up. Pizzas piled up everywhere. It was a mess until the manager stepped in and tried to bring order to the chaos. When a computer gets a Blue Screen of Death, similar internal chaos has occurred in the operating system.

Why did my computer freak out?

Computers are very logical. However, they are easily confused when something unexpected happens. If something isn’t where the operating system thinks it’s supposed to be, it can have a bit of a freakout.

Windows 10 blue screen of death / Image credit: Wikipedia

The operating system receives information about different hardware components and looks for the appropriate software code to use them properly. If something has changed and the computer can’t find the right code, it doesn’t know what to do. But requests keep coming every second from other components, just like the pizzas kept coming. Requests start piling up. If the problem is severe enough, it will cause a stop condition – a Blue Screen of Death.

What causes a blue screen of death?

A Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) is an error condition where the operating system stops everything to avoid damaging itself.  The following are a few reasons why you might get a blue screen of death:

  • Not enough hard drive space or data corruption
  • Driver problems
  • BIOS settings
  • Hardware incompatibility
  • Hardware failure

What to do when you get a blue screen of death?

Don’t Panic

The blue screen is the computer protecting itself. In most cases, the computer will restart. Let it finish rebooting and see if you can log back in. Sometimes the operating system will be able to identify the problem and fix it behind the scenes.

Backup Your Stuff

If you were working on a project, wise practice is to save your work often. Hopefully, you can get back to your work without having lost valuable information. Before we try to diagnose what happened, let’s make sure we don’t lose anything. Grab a USB stick or upload your work to a cloud service such as OneDrive or Google Drive so that you’ll always have it.

Check for Updates

If you’re able to log back in, click the Start Menu , then click the settings gear. Next, head to Update & Security.

If Windows recognizes any out-of-date drivers or software, it will update them.

Uninstall or Reinstall Software

Think about what changes may have occurred recently just before the blue screen of death. Did you install any new programs? If so, there may have been a problem or incompatibility when it was installed. One option is to try uninstalling it.

Head to the search box in the taskbar and typing “Uninstall”:

Click on the settings result:

There, you will be greeted with recently added programs. You can sort by “install date” and uninstall the last program added.

Get someone to look for hardware problems

If none of the above work or your computer won’t start, it may be caused by faulty hardware. The hard drive may have gone bad. It could also be a faulty memory stick. It’s possible the CPU could be overheating.

Don’t panic! While these scenarios sound bad, the components can often be replaced or upgraded.

Spring Cleaning – Reinstalling Windows

If all else fails and you can’t find a solution to what’s causing a blue screen of death, the last course of action is to try and reinstall Windows. Make sure to back up your important files, documents, and pictures.

Go to the settings app again, and back to Update & Security:

Click on Recovery:

Under Reset this PC, click “Get Started” to reinstall Windows:

Keep in mind that if you reinstall Windows, all your programs will be removed as well.

Take a Breather

A Blue Screen of Death may cause your blood pressure to rise, and rightly so. Thankfully, there are ways to recover from this infamous error. Together we’ve covered several reasons for why BSOD’s happen and how to get back on track. For more everyday tech basics tips, click the link below!

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