How To Understand Windows Blue Screen Error Codes

blue screen error codesThere it is — you’re staring at the infamous Blue Screen of Death (BSOD), wondering what to do. In this post, we’ll discuss basic strategies for dealing with blue screen error codes, and tell you what some of the most common codes mean.

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The Blue Screen: Terror In A 22-Inch Monitor

The Windows Blue Screen of Death (or BSOD) is Windows’ error message of last resort — it indicates an error from which the system cannot recover, and which will not allow Windows to load. Physically, it consists of white text on a blue background; the text tells you that there’s been an unrecoverable error, and gives you the name and/or code that identifies the error. Needless to say, most people who are faced with a BSOD find the error names and codes to be utterly cryptic, and are generally in no mood to try to figure them out.

The good news is that with recent versions of Windows, errors that result in a BSOD have become much less common, and with Windows 8, the formidable-looking blue screen itself has been replaced with a much less intimidating light-blue screen with less text, and a large “sad” :( emoticon (presumably to reassure the user that this is a problem that human beings can deal with, and not the beginning of the Digital Apocalypse).

The bad news is that BSODs still happen, and even the sad-smiley-face Windows 8 screen displays error names that the average user is likely to regard as incomprehensible.

The BSOD Error Format

The basic blue screen format didn’t change much from Windows NT through XP, Vista, and Windows 7 — it included the name of the error, along with the hexadecimal (base 16) code representing the error (followed long hexadecimal numbers representing parameters which may be relevant to the error), along with some general information about the error, and possibly some specific information about drivers or other components which may be affected by the error. The Windows 8 smiley-screen will give you the name of the error, along with the reassuring message that it will restart in a few seconds (which may or may not be true, depending on the nature of the problem).

The Error Codes

The blue screen itself is (in Microsoft’s technical terminology) a “Stop screen”, and the error codes themselves are called “bug checks.” There are several hundred error codes, so we’re only going to cover the most common ones here. Microsoft has a full list here, and there are several complete bug code references online.

Common Errors: Driver/Hardware Problems

The following errors typically come up in connection with incompatible or outdated drivers or malfunctioning hardware:

IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL (0x0000000A). This is a kind of memory access error (the system has tried to access paged/invalid memory with an Interrupt Request Level that’s too high), but it typically indicates a driver problem. if you installed a device or BIOS driver (or a system service) not too long before this error occurred, your first step should be to uninstall it, or roll back to a previous good version.

DRIVER_IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL (0x000000D1). This is very similar to the previous error; it basically says that it’s a driver that’s trying to address the wrong area of memory. The solution is to uninstall the offending driver. If you’re a developer, and it’s the driver that you’re working on that’s at fault, check to be sure that it (or anything it’s calling) can’t be paged.

Common Errors: Exception Not Handled

This error shows up an a variety of circumstances; it indicates that there was an error that the system couldn’t catch:

KMODE_EXCEPTION_NOT_HANDLED (0x0000001E). Something happened down at the kernel level, and the system’s error handler couldn’t catch it. The actual error could be one of any number of problems; it will be listed (in hexadecimal) as the first parameter after the 0x0000001E error code, followed by the address at which it happened, then the first two parameters of the actual error.

If you feel like you’re swimming in pretty deep (and not too safe) water at that point, you probably shouldn’t worry too much — chances are pretty good that it’s a driver or hardware problem and you can approach it as such, by uninstalling the suspect driver or removing the hardware, or by updating your system’s BIOS. The Microsoft error code list links to a page with greater detail on this error.

Common Errors: Memory

Some error codes involve memory access and related issues:

DATA_BUS_ERROR (0x0000002E). This is typically (although not always) the result of a hardware problem, and very often, the problem is defective memory; in most cases, you can start by swapping out (or removing) RAM to see if the problem goes away. It can also be caused by hard drive errors, cache errors, or in some situations, driver problems.

PAGE_FAULT_IN_NONPAGED_AREA (0x00000050). This generally means that a system service or driver tried to access invalid memory; it is frequently a hardware error, although it can also be a driver error; you can usually handle it much like the preceding error.

Common Errors: File System

Disk or file system errors can show up in a variety of ways (including as memory errors, due to paging). The following error is generally a pretty good indication of a disk error:

NTFS_FILE_SYSTEM (0×00000024). This error basically says that the NTFS driver can’t read the file system. It can be caused by a corrupt disk, a corrupt hardware bus driver, or defective disk or bus hardware. under some circumstances, it can be caused by depletion of available memory.

What Should You Do?

These are only a few of the most common errors; we don’t have the space to cover all of them, or to go into detail about the best ways to respond to BSOD errors. However, for the most part, if you’re going to try to tackle the problem on your own (without bringing in a repair technician) your best options are to:

  • Remove unsupported or possibly malfunctioning hardware.
  • Start Windows in Safe Mode, then remove software or drivers which could be causing the problem.
  • Restore the system to its last good point (System Restore with Windows 7 or earlier, Recovery with Windows 8).
  • Reinstall Windows.

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