Imagine sitting down at your computer and tapping away at the keyboard on some task you’ve been meaning to finish.
As you move along at a steady pace, something happens that suddenly changes everything. Terror washes over you as it becomes clear that your work is gone. In its place is a blue screen informing you that an error has occurred.
If you’ve been an avid user of Windows for many years, it’s highly unlikely you don’t know – or haven’t experienced – the Blue Screen of Death.
What is a Blue Screen of Death?
Once upon a time, the Blue Screen of Death (or BSoD) was a more common occurrence. In fact, it became an infamous association of the Windows operating system itself – to some, it was considered a “feature” of the Windows experience.
While those days of prior versions of Windows have (mostly) faded into legend, fatal errors can still occur – and bring up that fabled screen.
Dawn of an Infamous Way to Crash
In 1995, a phenomenon swept the planet that forever changed the PC computing world. It was called (appropriately) Windows 95.
The operating system was like no other before it – for the PC, that is. Mac users would quickly point out that their O/S had been doing something similar for years.
Still, people lined up to grab a copy as if it were the hottest movie or game on the market. Its graphical interface and functionality had improved dramatically over prior versions of Windows – which, by comparison, seemed little more than glorified DOS shells.
Yet, as more and more people adopted this sparkling new version of Windows, something else happened. Beyond the icon-filled desktop there lurked a menace. It manifested itself in the form of an entirely blue screen – filled with white terminal-style fonts that displayed error messages.
A Legacy of Windows Crashes
These abrupt blue-screened crashes didn’t stop with Windows 95.
In fact, every Windows O/S since has had its share – with Windows 10, which displays and recovers differently, to a lesser extent.
These weren’t just normal errors, mind you. They were fatal, or “stop errors”, that (virtually) always required a reboot of the Windows operating system. Time and data loss were an all-too-common occurrence.
Common Causes of the Blue Screen of Death
Knowing what a Blue Screen of Death is doesn’t exactly explain what causes it. The underlying issue is basically an error that the Windows operating system cannot recover from.
These errors were quite common, particularly with versions prior to Windows 10 – Windows 95, 98, Millennium, Vista and XP. That is, of course, why the term became synonymous with Windows to begin with. Still, there were specific reasons why the operating system would fail so spectacularly.
Compared to other types of computer hardware owners, PC users enjoyed an abundance of available software. In fact, the library could be described as exhaustive.
Not all of these applications were built the same. Some had a tendency to create an unstable environment. To be fair, even poorly written code needed the right combination of ingredients to produce a critical error.
Typically, an application by itself wouldn’t cause an error as profound as a BSoD. This is because an application would need to be running in kernel mode – or at least access code running in the kernel – to cause the type of instability required to halt the system.
You are most certainly familiar with what a computer virus (or worm, trojan, etc.) is – and have a healthy fear of your computer contracting one.
These nefarious pieces of code are renowned to do a lot of mischievous things – a fatal error causing a blue screen probably being one of the lesser impacts. Still, the broad range of what malware tries to do on an unsuspecting system can cause stop errors to occur.
BSoD and Devices
You’ve arrived at probably the most common reason the Blue Screen of Death became so famous. While malfunctioning hardware might be the cause, a more likely scenario is the software that controls the device.
Every device on your computer requires software drivers in order to interact with the Windows O/S. If these drivers are poorly written, corrupted or (even) out of date, problems will likely ensue – even a blue screen event.
Examples of Errors Associated with Blue Screens
While the causes mentioned are what generally caused the Blue Screen of Death to occur, there are specific types of errors behind those causes. While not an exhaustive list, these are a few examples.
These types of errors typically come with hexadecimal error codes (such as 0x0000000A, 0x000000EF, and so on).
The Need for Healthy Device Drivers
As mentioned, devices (and their drivers) have historically been the main culprit behind blue screen errors. To avoid this and other potential issues, it’s imperative that these drivers are kept current.
There are a few approaches to ensuring that the devices connected to your computer continue to perform well – some easier than others.
Let Windows Search for a Better Driver
The approach is simple enough, though it doesn’t always produce better results. Still, it doesn’t take much effort to see if Windows can find a suitable driver. Just don’t get your hopes up and have a Plan B ready if your driver still needs updating afterward.
To give Windows a shot, bring up the Device Manager. For the sake of simplicity – and because most people should have upgraded by now – steps for Windows 10 will be used.
Using the search box on the taskbar, type Device Manager and click on it. From here, find the device you wish to update and right-click and choose Update driver.
You’ll see two choices – take the first one that allows Windows to do the searching. If it finds a better driver, you’ll be notified. Likewise, it’ll let you know if the O/S couldn’t find another driver.
Manually Locate the Driver Yourself
While this option may increase your odds of finding the right driver, you’ll need to search the manufacturer’s site. Before doing so, ensure you know the exact model of the device (sometimes the serial number helps too).
Once/if you do find the correct driver, download and unzip it to a location you can easily drill down to later. Afterward, go back in the Device Manager, right-click and select to upgrade the driver. This time choose the second option to manually find the newly downloaded driver.
Automate the Task of Updating Drivers
Any type of maintenance can be tedious – and device drivers can certainly fall under this category.
There is software, such as Driver Support, that can automate the upkeep of drivers. This can take the burden out of dealing with errors associated with devices – or having to update them yourself.