Anatomy of a PC crash: 7 scenarios, and how to avoid them

Ah, the dreaded Blue Screen of Death. If you know its common causes, you can usually stop it before it borks your system.

First there's a little stutter. Next a program hangs, and a funny noise creeps from your machine. Then that familiar blue screen slaps you in the face. Your computer just crashed, and all you can do is sit in the awkward silence of a restart, and hope it wasn't fatal.

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There are many possible causes for these hellish episodes, and it's important to be educated on the why and hows of PC crashes to prevent them in the future. After all, the next crash could be your PC's last. Following is a rundown of seven common causes and solutions.

Hardware conflicts

Many blue screens are a result of hardware and installation conflicts. All of your system's components consume IRQs (interrupt request channels) when installed, and every device requires its own channel to function properly. When two devices share the same channel and are used simultaneously, a crash can occur.

Thumb through your Device Manager, and look for any devices marked with a yellow exclamation point. These are the ones with issues, and can usually be fixed with a driver update. Just search your device manufacturer's website for the latest driver software, or, in a pinch, reinstall the offending hardware itself.


Bad memory is to blame for many blue screens and failed boots. Fortunately, however, your RAM modules are some of the easiest components to check and replace.

First, use the software utility Memtest86+ to ensure your RAM is the problem. If errors arise, you next need to determine exactly which memory stick is to blame. To do this, remove all the sticks from your systemsave one inserted in the primary memory slot. If the system boots fine, and no errors are detected in Memtest86+, continue testing in the same fashionone stick at a time, inserted in the primary slotuntil the system fails to boot, or Memtest86+ indicates problems.

Eventually, you'll nail down exactly which memory module is causing trouble, and then you can replace it with a fresh, clean stick (just make it's fully compatible with your motherboard and other sticks of RAM).

Heat is thy enemy

Computers get hot. We know this from the loud fans bolted inside our desktops, and the alarming burning sensation we feel on our legs after using a laptop for too long. Everything inside a PC generates heat, and heat can cause components to become unstable and crash your PC. Indeed, computers are designed to crash as a last-ditch effort to protect their own internal components from permanent heat damage.

If you suspect your PC isn't effectively dispersing enough heat, first check to make sure all your fans are spinning properly. If one isn't moving, or appears to be spinning abnormally slow, check its connections to make sure it's properly powered. If all appears fine, but the fan still isn't doing its job, it's best to replace it.

Next make sure that all of your PC's vents, grates and filters are unhindered by dust, pet hair and other gross materials that prevent proper airflow. These areas are hotbeds (pun intended) for heat buildup. If you find any problem areas (see the disgusting example below), use a can of compressed air to clear the airways.

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