Unfortunately, with only that to go on, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of possible answers. To really diagnose, we’d need a lot more information about the system it’s happening on, the software and hardware installed, and what was happening at the time the problem happened.
I’ll throw out some guidelines, so perhaps you can narrow down the diagnosis.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
The most common causes for the fabled “blue screen of death” fall into four general buckets.
1. New Hardware
While the hardware can sometimes be bad, the real culprit is typically outdated, or just buggy, drivers. If you’ve just installed new hardware, then it’s likely to be related to the problem.
Make sure you’re running the latest drivers for that device. Check Windows Update, specifically for “Optional” updates, as driver updates are often classified as optional. Check with your computer manufacturer’s support site, or the support site for the specific hardware you recently added to your computer, for specific driver information as well.
Conversely, if you’ve just updated drivers, that would also be something to be very suspicious of. See How, and when, should I update drivers? for more information on driver updates. (Spoiler: don’t use driver update utilities.)
2. New Software
It’s rare these days, but occasionally software can cause blue screens as well.
If you’ve just installed new software, I’d be very tempted to immediately uninstall it and see if the problem goes away. I’d also make sure that Windows is as up-to-date as possible, once again by visiting Windows Update to check for both “important” and “optional” updates.
3. Viruses and Malware
Over the years, Windows has become much more resilient, but malware can still occasionally cause blue screens, even in the most recent versions of Windows.
Make sure your security software is as up to date as possible, and perform a full scan, in addition to the regular checks that the software might perform.
4. Old or Broken Hardware
If you’re positive nothing’s changed, you’ve been using your system like always, and these problems just started happening out of the blue, then it’s very likely that you’re experiencing a hardware malfunction of some sort. Unfortunately, it could be just about any hardware component of your system at fault.
One of the most common is a blocked, stuck, or broken ventilation fan, which is now allowing your computer to overheat. One of the first signs of an overheating computer is the unexplained crash, which often manifests as a blue screen.
The bottom line when experiencing blue screens and reporting the problem to anyone is to include enough information to narrow down the problem. Write down:
- your operating system version and how up to date you are
- your computer model and what additional hardware is installed
- what software is running at the time of the crash
- what you were attempting to do, if anything, at the time
- if the problem happens randomly, or if you can make it reoccur somehow
- any changes you made to your hardware or software recently
- any other problems or suspicious issues you’ve been experiencing recently
Do it yourself?
If you’re just itching to attempt to interpret all those numbers and what they mean in hopes of figuring out the blue screen yourself, I’ll direct you to Windows Crash Dump Analysis, a post on “Mike’s Technology and Finance Blog”.
I’ll warn you that actually decoding and understanding a Windows crash based on the information in a blue screen is incredibly geeky and not for the faint of heart.
Most folks are much better off looking at the types of symptoms and behaviors that I’ve outlined above, or asking for help.
If you found this article helpful, I'm sure you'll also love Confident Computing! My weekly email newsletter is full of articles that help you solve problems, stay safe, and give you more confidence with technology. Subscribe now and I'll see you there soon,