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Why Did
Windows
Crash?
A Troubleshooting Guide
Written by Christian Bonilla
Published September 2016.
Read the original article here: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/why-did-windows-crashtroubleshooting-guide/
This ebook is the intellectual property of MakeUseOf. It must only be published in its original
form. Using parts or republishing altered parts of this ebook is prohibited without permission
from MakeUseOf.com.

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Table of contents
1. PC Crashes and You

1.1 What Is a PC Crash?

1.1.1 Software Failure

1.1.2 Hardware Failure

1.2Crash Indicators

1.3 Most Common Causes for a PC Crash

2. The Nitty-Gritty Troubleshooting

2.1First Crash

2.2Problem Persists

2.3Troubleshooting

10

2.3.1Analyzing Hardware Issues

10

2.3.2Analyzing Software Issues

12

2.4Asking for Help

13

2.4.1Preparing Precise Logs

13

2.4.2Tech Support Forums

14

We Wish You a Safe Flightwith Windows

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15

You were minding your business going through expense reports or browsing the internet
when the worst struck. Your PC crashed, and you dont know what to do. Confusion is typical
when your otherwise normal day gets interrupted. Yet, theres no reason to worry.
With this simple guide, youll be able to diagnose the case of a PC crash in minutes.

1. PC Crashes and You


This article will focus on what an unexpected computer crash is and how to identify the issue.
Computer crashes occur for a variety of reasons. To the average PC user, PC crashes are often
taken as signs that a PC is broken or damaged. In reality, PC shutdowns are rarely something
to worry about. As long as no immediate harm has come to the PC in the form of physical
damage, voltage spikes, or product defect, your PC should not be in any lethal danger.

1.1 What Is a PC Crash?


The simplest way to explain a PC crash is through the metaphor of a chain. There are two types
of chains in a PC: a hardware chain and a software chain. When you first boot up your PC, the
hardware chain activates. The BIOS checks to see which hardware components are connected
to the motherboard and powered by the PSU (Power Supply Unit). If a hardware component,
such as a hard drive, is not properly connected to the motherboard, you will be informed of the
issue through an error message.
Once the hardware chain finishes, the software chain initiates. The first link on the chain is the
OS (Operating System). If OS files are damaged in any way, you will receive an error on your
display. Afterward, drivers and startup items load. Finally, typical programs become available
for use and the chain ends.
A PC crash is caused by a break in this logical chain. Of course this can also happen while the
PC is already running. If any links are broken, damaged, or missing, your PC will crash.

1.1.1 Software Failure


The three main reasons for software failure are: OS corruption, program crash, and driver
failure. Out of the three, a driver failure is the most common. Different drivers connect with,
and control, different hardware components.
OS Corruption An OS error occurs in your operating system. This type of error indicates that
your system files are corrupted, damaged, or missing. OS files can become corrupt for two main
reasons: faulty disk drive sectors or deleted system files. Faulty hardware sectors occur when
the physical disk of your hard drive becomes damaged or worn. A damaged hard disk cannot
read files properly, which your PC considers a corruption. On the other hand, the issue may
stem from system files simply missing. Certain viruses aim to delete system files, which are
the most crucial files of a PC. If system files end up missing, the OS cannot perform and your PC
will crash.
Program Crashes Program crashes are often associated with hardware failure. Programs
rarely crash a PC in themselves. If a program fails, the program itself will crash, rather than the
PC as a whole. Instead, program crashes are a method of troubleshooting deeper problems. For
example, if your PC crashes every time you are using your Chrome web browsers, it may be a
result of RAM failure. If your PC crashes every time you begin playing a PC game, your GPU may
become easily over-stressed and shut down your PC.
Driver Failure The majority of PC crashes do not occur due to software or hardware failure.
Drivers allow for the use of hardware components. Driver failures are a type of software bug,
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wherein the connection between your hardware and software fails. Drivers may be faulty when
installed, or may corrupt over time. Outdated drivers may lead to PC crashes, as can the latest
drivers.
Driver hotfixes are often released by software developers when a driver works improperly or is
released unstable.

1.1.2 Hardware Failure


Unlike software failure, cannot be fixed through tweaks or downloads. If a component is
defective, the component will not work. Although under-clocking a method to reduce the speed
of a component may prolong the components use, it will not fix the component. The odds
that a hardware component has failed in your PC are fairly low.
Motherboard The motherboard allows for communication between the different hardware
components. Everything from your flash drives to your hard or solid state drive is connected via
the motherboard. A damaged (faulty capacitor, faulty inputs, short-circuited board, etc.)
motherboard will lead to frequent crashes and shutdowns. Power surges may burn the
motherboard. Faulty slots, such as PCI or RAM slots, may lead to issues as well. Motherboard
issues are tricky, but are rarely the cause of frequent PC crashes.
CPU (Central Processing Unit) / GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) Most PC crashes caused
by hardware problems will involve the CPU or GPU in some capacity. Any issues on behalf of
these two hardware components will lead to frequent shutdowns. The CPU handles most
processing tasks such as multi-tasking or video rendering. The GPU handles computer
graphics. Overheating is the main issue with these two components. CPUs or GPUs
automatically shut down when they reach a certain temperature threshold for protection.
PSU (Power Supply Unit) PSU provide the electrical power necessary to run your
components. A low-quality PSU can ruin a PC with frequent voltage spikes. Improper voltage,
voltage spikes, power surges, and the like can do serious damage to all PC components. Most
pre-built and factory-made PCs come with cheap power supply units, and are also poorly
ventilated. All of these factors may lead to crashes.

1.2Crash Indicators
Crash indicators are vital for troubleshooting and an attentive observer will spot them
immediately. These indicators act as information you can use to troubleshoot your crashing
issues. Crash indicators do not imply specific problems in themselves. They do, however, help
with gauging the severity of your issue.
Sound Stutter Sound stutter is a sure indication that your PC will inevitably crash or become
unresponsive. This may sound like a buzzing or a considerable slowing down of audio. Sound
stutter may be an audio problem, or may be coupled with another problematic component part.
BSOD The BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) is a notable indication of a PC crash. Comparatively
speaking, a BSOD is the most helpful of the available PC crashes you could have. BSODs will often
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provide users with an error code, or error message, which will direct you towards a possible
solution. The PC is then restarted.

!
Screen Shuts Off Sometimes a PC will not shut down completely during a crash. Instead, the
PC will continue running while the screen shuts off. A screen shutting off is very usually an error
with the GPU. This does not mean that the GPU is broken or defective, but that the GPU cannot
maintain its connection with the motherboard. It may mean that the GPUs drivers are installed
incorrectly, corrupted, or require a rollback. This assumes, of course, that your screen is properly
connected and your connecting cables are in working order.
Unresponsive PC An unresponsive PC is often the first indications of a PC crash. There are
several versions, however, of an unresponsive PC. Some may consider a still mouse
unresponsive, while others may be experiencing a complete lack of response both audio and
visual from their PC. In any case, unresponsive PCs are definite indicators that a crash has
occurred.

1.3 Most Common Causes for a PC Crash


PCs crash for many common reasons and with the right amount of patience and know-how
these types of crashes are easy to fix.
Overheating Overheating is possibly the most common issue. Overheating occurs when: PC
components are under heavy load, there is poor air circulation in your PC case, PC fans are not
working, and too much dust has collected in the PC. Cooling down a PC is a simple process, but
does require that the case be opened and components cleaned.

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OS Failure OS files, for one reason or another, have a way of becoming damaged or missing.
This may be due to a virus, malware, spyware, and so on. It may also be due to a simple
mishandling of important files on behalf of the user.
Driver Failure Driver failure occurs when a driver does not perform well with your PCs
hardware or with other installed drivers. This occurs for several reasons: the driver is defective
and requires a hot-fix, was installed incorrectly, is not compatible with your version of
Windows, etc. Rolling back drivers is a common exercise by PC technicians, and Windows even
includes this function in the OS itself.

2. The Nitty-Gritty Troubleshooting


The act of troubleshooting is best conducted through levels of urgency, rather than specific
issues. Some crashes are easily fixable, while others will require hours of troubleshooting.
Likewise, some may occur monthly, while others occur daily.
Follow each section to ensure that you are acting in accordance with the severity of the issue.
This is a general troubleshooting procedure. If one step does not work, continue on to the next.

2.1First Crash
Restart Your PC Seriously, restart your PC. If a crash has occurred and your PC is not
restarting automatically, press and hold your PCs power button to turn off the PC. Then, turn
the PC back on. One of two events will occur; either the PC acts normally and the crash was a
simple hiccup in the logical chain of command, or the PC crashes again.
Check Power Connections If a PC component is not receiving power, or not receiving enough
power, it will shut down. Before troubleshooting components, ensure that your components are
correctly plugged to the power supply. Power connections are listed separately from others
because it is easy to forget that components require both a connection to the motherboard and
a connection to the PSU as well.
Check Input Cables / Internal Connections Ensure that your input cables are in working
order. This includes all connections outside the case, such as VGA and HDMI cables, as well as
internal cables like SATA cables. Also, ensure that PC components are installed correctly. This
includes the GPU (PCI slot) and RAM (RAM slot).

2.2Problem Persists
WhoCrashed Download WhoCrashed, a valuable tool for diagnosing Windows crashes. The
program works by looking at your minidump folder. A minidump is a small file which holds
information created by a BSOD. WhoCrashed reviews minidump files and provides a reason for
why the crash occurred. Once open, click the Analyze button and read the results. WhoCrashed
will not work for all crashes.

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!
Anti-Virus, Anti-Malware, Anti-Spyware Running a single anti-virus software will not do. I
would recommend using three individual programs to ensure that your frequent crashes arent
malware-based. Download and run these three programs in order:

RKill

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware

Windows Defender

Run full scans with each one (RKill does not have a scan settings). Then, download and run
CCleaner. Continue doing so until all results come back clean. Ensuring that you have a clean PC
is the first step in limiting extraneous variables.

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!
Disable Non-Essential Startup Programs To continue minimizing extraneous variables,
disable all non-essential startup items. Windows Task Manager provides a simple and easy to
use interface for controlling startup items. To access the startup menu, right-click on your
task-bar and select Task Manager. Click on the Startup tab and begin disabling items by
double-clicking them. The startup tab will not show essential startup items, so feel free to
disable them all. Programs like CCleaner also have a startup function to configure startup
programs. For in-depth startup program analysis, the official Microsoft Autoruns tool allows
users more access to the running applications on a PC.

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2.3Troubleshooting
Thus far, weve been dealing with general PC crash issues, associated with common issues and
mistakes. If problems persist, it is no longer due to general PC issues.

2.3.1Analyzing Hardware Issues


Overheating Troubleshoot Overheating is simple to diagnose. If your PC is overheating, take
measures to cool it down immediately.
HWMonitor is an impressive, accurate software, which tracks the voltage and temperature
readings of your computer components. If any of the components within your PC are above 80
90C on idle not under heavy use take measures to cool it down. The main cause of
overheating is dust buildup, which can also render fans unusable and lead to even more
crashes.

!
GPU Stress Test The best way to see whether your GPU is causing a PC crash is to stress test it.
Stress testing will put heavy stress on your GPU, causing it to work harder than usual. If your PC
shuts down during gaming, its a good idea to check the stability of the GPU.
Furmark or Unigine: Valley are great stress-testing programs. During the test, ensure that your
PC is not overheating. If your PC shuts down due to these tests, and your GPU is not overclocked,
the GPU may be the problem. If that is the case, either under-clock your GPU or update/roll back
your drivers.
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CPU Stress Test CPU stress tests are like GPU stress-tests. CPU stress-tests test multitasking (among other things) rather than graphics ability. If shutdowns occur when you are
using several programs or are rendering files, your CPU may be the issue.
Prime95 or RealBench will stress-test your CPU extensively. CPU stress-tests are different from
GPU stress-tests in that CPU tests often take longer to complete. A thorough CPU stress-test will
take several hours to complete.

!
RAM Stress Test RAM stress-tests test memory errors. RAM errors will lead to frequent shut
downs unless the whole RAM stick is replaced. Windows Memory Diagnostic (WMD) is a
windows program which checks for errors associated with your RAM.
Open your Start Menu, type in windows memory diag, and click on the Windows Memory
Diagnostic tool to run WMD. WMD will check for memory errors itself, and only requires a
restart to run. Memtest is a better memory test than WMD, but requires an external USB drive to
download. You must also change your BIOS boot order to run Memtest.
Disk Drive Error Checking Hard disks, which is where your OS and programs are stored, wear
down over time. They may also be defective. Disk drive errors may lead to frequent shutdowns,
especially if shutdowns occur for no particular reason.
To scan a disk drive for errors, locate your disk drive (annotated as the C: drive or similar).
Right-click the drive, select Properties, click the Tools tab, and click on Check under the Error
checking category. Your PC will then restart. If this scan comes up with any errors, your crashes
may be caused by your hard drive.

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2.3.2Analyzing Software Issues


OS Troubleshoot If your PC ceases to start up, or crashes despite being idle, there may be
something wrong with your OS itself. To prevent or recover corrupted OS files, Windows comes
equipped with a system file checker. The System File Checker command will make Windows
check, repair, and replace damaged system files. Open the start menu and type in cmd. Rightclick on the cmd.exe program as select Run as administrator. From the elevated command
prompt window, type sfc /scannow and let the program run. It will scan and repair all damaged
system files.
If your PC is not booting at all, create a system repair disc or USB to re-install Windows. Luckily,
Windows installations will often create a backup version of Windows named Windows.old. This
backup version will save the documents and programs on your previous copy of Windows.

!
Driver Troubleshoot Before rolling back drivers, check WhoCrashed to see if your minidump
scan hails any results. You can check individual drivers by opening the Start Menu and typing
device manager. Select the Device Manager. This is where you can find all drivers installed on
your computer. Double-click on a category and right-click the device. Select Properties and
then Drivers to check which driver is installed for which device. In the same window, there are
two particular choices to note: Update Driver and Roll Back Driver. Update Driver will scan your
PC and the internet for driver updates, although this feature is rarely effective. Instead, type in
the name of the product with the added drivers tag to search for new drivers. If your drivers are
up to date, try installing an older version of the driver. This option should be present in the
driver website.

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2.4Asking for Help


Its virtually impossible to solve all PC crashes with one resource. The specific configuration of
every PC is different. Even if the internal components of a PC, in the case of pre-built PCs, are
the same, the possible combinations of software drivers and programs are immeasurable.
Thats why you should always consider asking for help when dealing with PC issues.
For the best results, you should follow a certain protocol you should follow when asking for
advice on a tech support forum. This protocol will allow even the most casual PC user to answer
troubleshooting questions quickly and efficiently.
Use Your Five Senses The process of troubleshooting a PC is fairly technical, and is often
comprised of jargon concerning PC parts, drivers, network configurations, and so on. The most
basic form of troubleshooting, however, doesnt require any tech-speak. Simply describing what
is occurring when a PC shuts down provides important information for an error troubleshoot.
For example, does the PC make any sudden noises before shutting down. Is there any particular
item, program, or behavior, i.e. a trigger that causes the crash? Does the screen freeze before
going blank? Are the fans in the PC whirring? These basic processes can narrow a PC
technicians troubleshooting to a defined list of possibilities. When asking for help, be as
specific as possible and use your five senses to gain an exact reading of the situation before
asking for help.

2.4.1Preparing Precise Logs


Sometimes, precise logs are necessary to detail exactly what is going on with your hardware
and software. System logs are technical accounts of your PCs software and hardware state. PC
technicians use these logs to parse out errors and issues in a system.
System Information Log In your Start Menu, type system information and click the System
Information program. This program allows users to check system information concerning
hidden facets like BIOS version and Serial Ports and copy the information as well. Click on a
subcategory, then Edit, then Select All, back to Edit and finally Copy. This will copy all the
content in the page you are viewing. When starting a forum inquiry, copy and paste the first
page of the System Information window, to offer others an idea as to the type of PC youre using.

!
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DirectX Diagnostic Tool The DirectX Diagnostic Tool also provides a log with system
information, and is more so directed towards sound and graphics card information. To check
this information, open the Start Menu and type in dxdiag. Select dxdiag.exe and you should see
your DirectX Diagnostic Tool (DDT). Click on Save All Information to save a copy of the DDT
analysis to your desktop. This log contains a comprehensive list of most drivers, peripherals,
controllers, decoders, and more present on your computer.

!
HWMonitor Log HWMonitor provides an excellent log which records voltage and temperature
readings, along with many other readings and system information. You can access this log by
opening HWMonitor, clicking File, and then Save monitoring data.

2.4.2Tech Support Forums


Outlets for Questioning You can ask for help with troubleshooting in various online tech
support forums. Some more notable examples are as follows: TomsHardware, HowToGeek,
SuperUser, SevenForums (focusing on Windows 7), and TenForums (focusing on Windows 10).
Less popular forums, which are no less effective, are Reddits /r/techsupport subreddit and
Microsofts own Community forum.
These resources are effective because they are easy to use and assistance is often only a few
days (if not hours) away. They also have an extensive library of questions which, more often
than not, are similar to your own. If a question has been answered, it will most likely be labeled
or tagged as Solved. This is commonplace for PC troubleshooting, so searching for the solution
to a problem with the added solved tag will lead to better results.

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We Wish You a Safe Flightwith Windows


PC crashed are rarely total failures; PCs are made of components, and one failing or
malfunctioning part does not mean youre at a complete loss. One might assume everything
from hackers to viruses. Luckily, most PC crashes are simply the result of out of whack drivers.
Rarely do they warrant actual part replacements.
Nevertheless, experiencing frequent shutdowns can be scary. One might think their personal, or
professional, work may be put at risk. Worse yet, frequent shutdowns may end up putting a
valuable PC resource out of commission. Fear no more! With these resources, youll be able to
troubleshoot, solve, and ask questions concerning PC shutdowns with the best of them.
Do you suffer from frequent shutdowns? Did this article help? If not, whats the issue? Let
us know in the comments?

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