Posey’s tips and tricks
Windows 10 Blue Screen of Death Troubleshooting Part 1
There are three initial paths you can take to diagnose a BSOD issue.
When a Windows 10 machine encounters the dreaded Blue Screen of Death (BSOD), the best thing to do is to reimage the machine. However, while reimaging often fixes the problem, it’s rarely practical for anything other than domain-joined corporate offices.
Last week, for example, my normally reliable Surface Book started giving BSOD errors when I was 3,000 kilometers from home. If I had re-imaged the hard drive, I would have lost my applications and data stored on the machine’s hard drive.
Since re-imaging a machine isn’t always a good option, I wanted to show you some techniques that I like to use to resolve blue screen errors.
Understand where blue screen errors are coming from
When a blue screen error occurs, it means something has happened at the kernel level that has compromised the ability of the operating system to function. Normally, a buggy application will not cause BSODs. Blue screen errors are normally related to hardware issues, corrupted operating system files, or other low level issues.
Remember Occam’s razor
Occam’s razor is a scientific philosophy that is often paraphrased as “the simplest explanation is usually correct”. While the accuracy of this is questionable, the concept applies very well to blue screen errors.
For example, if you recently upgraded the hardware of a machine and suddenly started getting blue screen errors, the simplest – and probably the correct – explanation would be that the errors are caused by a hardware problem.
Of course, in the real world, things aren’t always that straightforward. In my case, I hadn’t changed anything on my Surface Book. I haven’t installed any new apps or updates, and there haven’t been any hardware upgrades. As such, it was necessary to go further.
The Windows Reliability Monitor
When it comes to finding the root cause of a BSOD, it may be helpful to take a look at the Windows Reliability Monitor, which I did for my situation. For those unfamiliar with the Reliability Monitor, this is a native Windows tool that tracks a PC’s reliability over time. When problems arise, the Reliability Monitor is sometimes able to correlate these problems with recent events.
To start the reliability monitor, enter the Check command at the Windows run prompt. This will cause the Windows Control Panel to open. Now click on System and Security and then click on Security and Maintenance. Now expand the Maintenance section and click on the View reliability history link.
You might be wondering why I started with the reliability monitor rather than starting with some other technique, such as reviewing event logs. There are actually two reasons why I chose to begin troubleshooting efforts with the Reliability Monitor. The first is that using the reliability monitor can simplify the troubleshooting process. This is because the reliability monitor is designed to bring up the information most relevant to the issues that are occurring. While this information does exist in the event logs, sometimes it can be difficult to sift through all the different events to find what you really need.
The second reason I chose to start my troubleshooting efforts with the Reliability Monitor was because I suspected that a hardware issue was the most likely cause of the BSODs.
The reason I suspected a hardware issue – aside from past experience with other hardware issues on other machines – was because my Surface Book started acting weird right before the blue screen errors . Windows was having difficulty turning on the camera used for Windows Hello authentication. I also noticed that the machine slows down tremendously especially when trying to copy files to external hard drive. I had used the computer almost exclusively offline, so I was relatively confident that I could rule out any sort of malware attack and my issues were most likely hardware related.
In case you were wondering, Windows Reliability Monitor has confirmed my suspicion. I’ll show you what Windows Reliability Monitor found and what I did to correct the problem in Part 2 of this series.
Brien Posey is 20 times Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of computer topics. Prior to becoming independent, Posey was CIO for a national chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the largest insurance companies in the country and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in computer science, Posey has spent the last few years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate to fly on a cloud study mission. Polar mesospheres from space. You can take his space flight training on his Website.