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First Aid

When a Windows system crashes, it produces a screen of information that strikes fear into the hearts of users and system administrators. This - all too well-known - screen has been coined the "Blue Screen of Death" (BSOD).

If I had an image of it, I would provide it. But, in this mode the screen capture functions do not work. Rest assured that if you get this screen, you will know that you received it. Do you see blue...and some letters and numbers? Yep. That's it.

While this screen and the seemingly incomprehensible text that accompanies it is a bit intimidating, it can be a very effective troubleshooting tool that can help determine what caused the crash. Often, it is a snapshot of memory (RAM) at the time the crash occurred, with some pointers to the possible causes. However, the screen will act differently on different systems such as Windows 3.1, 95/98 and NT (New Technology).

On NT systems there is a lot more going on. Translation: A lot more places to crash. NT will create a file called MEMORY.DMP and put all of the memory contents inside at the moment of crash. This will give us much more information as to what happened.

On non-NT systems it can come up for as simple of a reason as not having the CD in the drive when it comes time to access it. It also will come up and fuss over DRIVER issues, Windows initialization reasons, file corruptions and memory allocation foul-ups.

Typically, the immediate source of hope that is offered to us at this point is to PRESS ANY KEY TO CONTINUE. But FIRST! Write down what the screen says. This MAY help us iron things out later. And it may not. Chances are you won't see this exact screen again so you need to get the information that it is showing us.

If you are completely fed up with things and just don't give a crap, you can press CTRL+ALT+DEL (press the Control & Alt & Delete keys all at the same time). This will reboot your system and start all over. Maybe. If it isn't locked too tight. And, you will probably lose whatever you were working on and didn't save. Moral: Save your work often. It pays.

If you want to work through your problems PRESS ANY KEY. Did it come back? Another blue screen? Write it down again and press another key. Did it come back now? Yes? But now your screen won't come back correctly. It is blackened out in sections or some functions seem to not work right. OK. Try use the Task Manager to see if you can shut something off. Did that help? No? I'm really sorry. You will have to restart your computer. It is probably best that you shut it off completely for 5-10 seconds and let the memory clear out, just in case there were some issues there. When it restarts it will probably go through the SCANDISK routine. Just let it be and you will be on your way.

If you are a regular PC user and have not seen this dreadful screen, I'm surprised. You have a tighter system than I. 

If the BSOD comes up on occasion and that is it, you can typically restart your computer and almost ignore it. In fact, there is a chance that you will press a key to continue and things will work rather fine. Or it may act good for a while and act up in different ways later. Restart if necessary. And know that the blue screen hides behind a very thin veil of memory addressing and could happen to you at any time. Save your work. 

If this is happening on a daily basis you need to track down those error messages and follow up on them. These could take you in a multitude of directions. It could be a corrupted file, a driver accidentally deleted, a program conflicting with another one, a bad CD-Rom, a defective memory chip among many other things. Too many to include here.

If you see the term "kernel" in your BSOD and think of popcorn, you may as well hang your head low in sorrow and go get some. Best to gather a scientific buddy and have him help you out. Or get really smart at PC architecture and fix it yourself.