3 Jan 2017

How to Find Out Why Your Windows PC Crashed or Froze

Computers crash and freeze. Your Windows PC may have automatically rebooted itself, too — if so, it probably experienced a blue screen of death when you weren’t looking. The first step in troubleshooting is finding more specific error details.

These will help you identify the problem. For example, the tools here may point the finger at a specific device driver. This could mean that the device driver itself is buggy, or that the underlying hardware is failing. Either way, it will give you a place to start searching.


Check the Reliability Monitor

The Reliability Monitor offers a quick, user-friendly interface that will display recent system and application crashes. It was added in Windows Vista, so it will be present on all modern versions of Windows. To open it, just tap the Windows key once and type “Reliability.” Click or press Enter to launch the “View reliability history” shortcut.
 If Windows crashed or froze, you’ll see a “Windows failure” here. Application crashes will appear under “Application failures.” Other information here may actually be useful — for example, it shows when you installed various pieces of software. If the crashes started occuring after you installed a specific program or hardware driver, that piece of software could be the cause.
You can use the “Check for solutions to problems” link here for some help. However, this feature usually isn’t very helpful and it’s rarely found possible solutions in our experience. In a best case scenario, it might advice you to install updated hardware drivers.

The Reliability Monitor is useful because it shows events from the Event Viewer in a more user-friendly way. If not for the Reliability Monitor, you’d have to get this information from the Windows Event Viewer itself.
To do so, launch the tool with a Start menu search for “Event Viewer,” select “System” under “Windows Logs,” and look for “Error” messages. These are the same error messages you can view in the Reliability Monitor. However, many other messages you don’t need to care about are also displayed here.

View Blue Screen Crash Dump Details

Windows saves crash dumps from blue-screen errors to your system. For a more user-friendly way of examining these, we recommend NirSoft’s free BlueScreenView utility. (We don’t usually like recommending third-party software, but we do trust NirSoft.)
This tool will examine and memory dump files created during blue-screens and display a list of them. In particular, the important information here is the “Bug Check String” — the same message that’s displayed on your screen when the blue screen itself appears. Search for this message online and you’ll find information that can help you identify and solve your actual problem.
The list of drivers at the bottom of the window may also be helpful. For example, the blue-screens may consistently implicate a particular driver file, such as your graphics hardware driver. This may indicate there’s a problem with that specific driver. Or, that specific driver may be crashing because the underlying hardware itself is damaged. Either way, it can help point you in a more specific direction.

If you see a blue-screen while it happens, you can also just read the “Bug Check String” from it. On Windows 10 and Windows 8, Windows now displays a simple blue screen message with only a small note at the bottom of the screen with the message you might want to search. On Windows 7 and earlier versions of Windows, the bug check string appears near the top of the blue screen instead of at the bottom.
These blue-screen messages only stick around so long because Windows automatically reboots after a blue-screen. You could disable the auto-reboot feature to have Windows not reboot when it encounters a blue-screen. However, you can also just use the BlueScreenView utility to view the Bug Check String displayed on the blue screen after it happens.

But Why Is it Crashing?

The above tools can help you get more of a handle on the actual problem. With a specific crash message from the blue screen message in hand, you can at least perform a web search to discover what might actually be the problem. It’s a much better starting point than looking for generic information about why a computer crashes or freezes.
If your computer just crashed or froze once, don’t sweat it. Nothing is completely perfect — a bug in Windows or a hardware driver could have caused the crash, and you may never see it again. You should worry when your computer is crashing regularly and consistently. Modern Windows PCs should not be blue-screening regularly at all — this should be an extremely rare occurrence.

If you’re encountering a lot of crashes, you may want to skip most of the troubleshooting process entirely and perform a “PC Reset” on Windows 10 or Windows 8. This will quickly set Windows back to its factory-default state, fixing any system corruption problems and removing any buggy drivers or malware that’s causing problems. You will have to reinstall your installed applications afterwards. On Windows 7, you’ll just have to reinstall Windows. If this doesn’t work, you’re probably experiencing a hardware problem. (But, bear in mind that if you install the same hardware drivers after resetting Windows and experience the problem again, it could be those drivers.)
The Memory Diagnostics tool built into Windows can also help. It will test your memory to ensure everything is working properly. If your memory is damaged, this can cause system instability and blue-screens.

Ultimately, it’s impossible to give advice that will solve every problem. The tools here will help you nail down your issue to a more specific error message or hardware driver and give you a way to start troubleshooting. But not every problem can be fixed with some software troubleshooting — your computer may have a hardware problem and there may be nothing you can do about it beyond replacing or fixing the hardware itself. As Windows becomes more stable, regular system freezes and blue-screens often point to underlying hardware problems.

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