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The Dreaded Blue Screen Of Death

What's the blue screen of death and what does it mean?

The Blue Screen Of Death, or BSOD, is the half-humorous name for the stop screen in Microsoft Windows operating systems. The nickname might be humorous, but the BSOD isn't. If you get this screen, there has been a major problem with your computer and the operating system has crashed. You'll need to restart your computer to boot back into Windows, if you can.

Sometimes the conditions that caused your system to crash are transient and, in fact, many never happen again. That's why the first fix when your system crashes is to restart the computer and cross your fingers. Most of the time the system will reboot normally and away you go.

However, sometimes your computer will begin to crash regularly. Sometimes you won't be able to reboot at all. You just keep getting BSOD after BSOD if you try. When that happens, you need to figure out what is wrong. Here, the Blue Screen of Death is your friend.

Unfortunately, it's not a very good friend. While the versions of the BSOD in Windows XP and Windows 2000 are more comprehensible than those found in older releases of Windows, the BSOD is still a major geek territory. However, it does contain valuable information to help you figure out what went wrong and give you some advice on what to do.

The most valuable information is at the top of the screen, where you will see an error message and a bunch of numbers. Typically, the first of those numbers will be followed by four other numbers within parentheses. The error message tells you generally what happened and the numbers provide additional information.

For example:
**STOP 0x0000007F (0x000000XX, 0x00000000, 0x00000000, 0x00000000)
UNEXPECTED_KERNEL_MODE_TRAP

This usually means either that you had a hardware failure, or that you're overclocking your system and the system choked. (The capital Xs will be different numbers. The small xs are placeholders, like decimal points. The numbers include letters because the message is in hexadecimal.)

The easiest place to find out what the stop screen message means is to check Microsoft's Knowledge Base on the Web. By entering the error message and the numbers, you can get some idea of what's happening. Just don't expect an exact answer. What you'll get is usually a clue that will help you narrow down your problem. (Of course, this assumes you have another computer that will boot and has Internet access. If you have only one computer and you're not computer savvy, now might be a good time to call tech support or that 14-year-old kid down the block who builds computers for a hobby.)

Make sure to write down the error message, the numbers, and to save them. If your system crashes again, you can compare that information against what appears on the screen. Repeated crashes that display exactly the same message and numbers often mean you've got a bad memory module.

Further down the screen, underneath the advice, you'll get another string of techno gibberish. This refers to the drivers installed and running. Since drivers are often a source of crashes, this is also valuable information if you need to do further computer troubleshooting. Again, your computer support technician can help you understand the problems.