Picking up the pieces after a computer crash

Has this happened to you? It’s late and you’re trying to finish up a rush project for work. You decide to make one last little change, and then… your computer freezes ominously, or worse, you see the "Blue Screen of Death" (the blue screen with white text telling you that your computer has stopped working). It always seems to happen at the worst possible moment. In the aftermath, you are left wondering what, if anything, can be salvaged of the documents you were working on.

The fact is, bad things do happen to good people. Here’s how to survive a computer crash with your sanity and maybe even your sense of humor intact.

What causes a computer to crash?

First, let's review some of the dark forces at work behind a computer crash. A crash can be caused by a number of things, including:

  • An outdated or misbehaving device driver,

  • A computer virus,

  • A corrupted program, or

  • A problem with your computer's memory.

Not surprisingly, the solutions to these problems vary widely as well. For more information, see these topics:

The first thing you should do

After you stop sobbing, the first thing to do is write down any error messages, exactly as they appear. This can be very helpful if you need to speak to a technical support person about the problem. Having at least a few clues to the cause of the problem will help them help you better and faster.

Next, restart your computer, and then open any documents you were working on to see what, if anything, was lost. If you were working in Microsoft Office Word, for example, you might see a pane with recent versions of the document that were saved before or during the crash.

If your computer won't start, or it starts but Windows won't start, you might have a more serious problem. Try starting your computer using Last Known Good Configuration. This is a Windows startup option that uses the most recent system settings that worked correctly. For more information, see Using Last Known Good Configuration.

If using Last Known Good Configuration doesn't help, contact your computer manufacturer's technical support team. Even if your hard disk has failed, you can sometimes recover data from it. If you have another computer, you can search the Internet for “data recovery” or “hard drive recovery” to find downloadable tools for recovering the data yourself. Or you can find companies to recover data for you. Be prepared for the recovery process to take at least several days, and for the service to cost you some money.

What if you've accidentally deleted something you need?

You'll be happy to know that it's often possible to undelete a file. First, try to retrieve the file from the Recycle Bin. For more information, see Recover files from the Recycle Bin. Files deleted from network shares don't go to the Recycle Bin, but your network administrator might be able to help you retrieve a file deleted from a network folder. If the file was deleted from a folder on your computer and you can’t recover it from the Recycle Bin, try searching the Internet for "undelete" to find freeware and shareware tools that can do the job.

If you accidentally deleted text from a Microsoft Word document and then saved (but didn't close) the document, you can sometimes get that text back. First, try using the "Undo" function (click File, click Edit, and then click Undo in most versions of Word). If you didn't save the document, closing it without saving it undoes all the changes you made since opening it. For more information on recovering Word documents, go to Automatically save and recover Office files on the Microsoft Office Online website. If you've already closed the document, it might be too late to recover the deleted text, but just in case, see the section in "Automatically save and recover Office files" entitled "Use the file recovery converter."

What you can do to prevent future crashes

If you're using Windows Vista, the next time you start Windows following a crash, you'll see a dialog box asking you to send a confidential report to help Microsoft troubleshoot the problem. This is Windows Error Reporting. It won’t save you this time, but the information you send today might help prevent this type of problem in the future, either for you or for somebody else.

If you can continue using your computer after the crash, search Microsoft Help and Support for the most pertinent information you see in the error message. Or, if there was no error message, try searching for a description of the problem (for example, "computer crashes when printing").

If you're using Windows XP, go to Microsoft Update to find the latest drivers for your devices, or check the device manufacturer’s website. If you’re using Windows Vista, open Windows Update for driver updates:

  1. Avaa Windows Update napsauttamalla Käynnistä-painiketta Kuva Käynnistä-painikkeesta sekä valitsemalla Kaikki ohjelmat ja Windows Update.

  2. In the left pane, click Check for updates.