Resolving stop (blue screen) errors in Windows 7

Stop errors (also sometimes called blue screen or black screen errors) can occur if a serious problem causes Windows 7 to shut down or restart unexpectedly. You might see a message that says, "Windows has been shut down to prevent damage to your computer."

These errors can be caused by both hardware and software issues, and it can be difficult to troubleshoot the problem. The following tools and methods can often help get Windows up and running again.

If you can start Windows

These tools and methods can help you roll back your system to an earlier state, and help ensure your computer has the latest updates installed.

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Undo recent changes using System Restore

System Restore is the easiest thing to try first. It can undo recent changes to your computer's system files that might have caused the problem. System Restore doesn't affect your personal files, such as e‑mail, documents, or photos. For more information, see What is System Restore?

To open System Restore

  1. Open System Restore by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button. In the search box, type System Restore, and then, in the list of results, click System Restore. Administrator permission required If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

  2. Follow the instructions on your screen.

Use Action Center to check for solutions to problems

Windows creates a report when certain hardware or software problems occur. Action Center can check whether there's a solution to a reported problem. For more information, see How does Action Center check for problems?

To check for solutions

  1. Open Action Center by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, and then, under System and Security, clicking Review your computer's status.

  2. Click Maintenance.

  3. Under Check for solutions to problem reports, click Check for solutions. Windows will notify you if there are any solutions to problems available for your computer.

Note

  • Some problems and solutions can only be viewed and fixed by an administrator. Log on using an administrator account to view these problems.

Check Windows Update for software updates

Recent updates from Microsoft might help fix the problem. Windows Update helps keep your computer up to date with the latest system updates and drivers. You can check Windows Update manually to help ensure you have the latest updates to Windows 7 installed. For more information, see Updates: frequently asked questions.

To check for updates

  1. Open Windows Update by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button. In the search box, type Update, and then, in the list of results, click Windows Update.

  2. In the left pane, click Check for updates, and then wait while Windows looks for the latest updates for your computer.

  3. If you see a message telling you that updates are available, or telling you to review updates, click the message to view and select the updates.

  4. In the list, click an update for more information. Select the check boxes for any updates that you want to install, and then click OK.

  5. Click Install updates.

    Read and accept the license terms, and then click Finish if the update requires it. Administrator permission required If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

Search for drivers on the manufacturer's website

If you recently installed a hardware device, such as a sound card or video card, an incorrect or improperly installed device driver might be causing the problem.

Make sure you have the latest driver for the device installed. You can typically find drivers on the device manufacturer's website. Most drivers are self-installing—after you download them, you can usually just double-click the file to begin the installation. For more information, see Update drivers: recommended links.

If a driver isn't self-installing, follow these steps:

To update a driver

You must be logged on as an administrator to perform these steps.

  1. Open Device Manager by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking System and Security, and then, under System, clicking Device Manager. Administrator permission required If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

  2. In the list of hardware categories, find the device that you want to update, and then double-click the device name.

  3. Click the Driver tab, click Update Driver, and then follow the instructions. Administrator permission required If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

Use safe mode to troubleshoot problems

Safe mode starts Windows in a limited state. Only the basic files and drivers necessary to run Windows are started, which can help you troubleshoot software problems.

For example, if a program runs as soon as you start Windows and can't be shut down, you can start Windows in safe mode, and then try to uninstall the program. For more information, see What is safe mode?

To start your computer in safe mode

  1. Remove all floppy disks, CDs, and DVDs from your computer, and then restart your computer.

    Click the Start button Picture of the Start button, click the arrow next to the Shut Down button Picture of the Shut Down button, and then click Restart.
  2. Do one of the following:

    • If your computer has a single operating system installed, press and hold the F8 key as your computer restarts. You need to press F8 before the Windows logo appears. If the Windows logo appears, you'll need to try again by waiting until the Windows logon prompt appears, and then shutting down and restarting your computer.

    • If your computer has more than one operating system, use the arrow keys to highlight the operating system you want to start in safe mode, and then press F8.

  3. On the Advanced Boot Options screen, use the arrow keys to highlight the safe mode option you want, and then press Enter. For more information about options, see Advanced startup options (including safe mode).

  4. Log on to your computer with a user account that has administrator rights.

When your computer is in safe mode, you'll see the words Safe Mode in the corners of your screen. To exit safe mode, restart your computer and let Windows start normally.

Check your computer for hard disk and memory errors

Some errors can be caused by problems with your computer's hard disk or random access memory (RAM), rather than problems with Windows or other software running on your computer.

Windows 7 includes tools that can help identify and fix certain hardware-related errors. Serious errors might require you to contact the hardware manufacturer for support. For more information, see Check a drive for errors and Diagnosing memory problems on your computer.

To check for hard disk errors

  1. Open Computer by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then clicking Computer.

  2. Right-click the drive that you want to check, and then click Properties.

  3. Click the Tools tab, and then, under Error-checking, click Check now. Administrator permission required If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

    • To automatically repair problems with files and folders that the scan detects, select Automatically fix file system errors. Otherwise, the disk check will report problems but not fix them.

    • To perform a thorough check, select Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors. This scan attempts to find and repair physical errors on the drive itself, and it can take much longer to complete.

    • To check for both file errors and physical errors, select both Automatically fix file system errors and Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors.

  4. Click Start.

To check for memory problems

  1. Open Memory Diagnostics Tool by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then clicking Control Panel. In the search box, type Memory, and then click Diagnose your computer's memory problems. Administrator permission required If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

  2. Choose when to run the tool. If you choose to restart your computer and run the tool immediately, make sure that you save your work and close all of your running programs. The Memory Diagnostics Tool will run automatically when you restart Windows.

If you can't start Windows at all

The following tools can help you uninstall or roll back software changes, repair Windows startup files, and restore your system from an earlier backup. If none of those suggestions fix the problem, you can reinstall Windows 7.

Several of the following tools are located on the System Recovery Options menu. This menu is preinstalled on your computer's hard disk, and is also on the Windows 7 installation media.

When attempting to recover Windows:

  • If you use a Tablet PC or other computer with a touchscreen, you might need to connect a keyboard and mouse in order to use Startup Repair and the other tools in the System Recovery Options menu. For more information, see What are the system recovery options in Windows 7?

  • If Windows 7 came preinstalled on your computer, your computer manufacturer might have included other recovery options. For more information, refer to the documentation that came with your computer, or go to the manufacturer's website.

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Try safe mode to start Windows

Safe mode starts Windows in a limited state. Only the basic files and drivers necessary to run Windows are started, which can help you troubleshoot software problems.

For example, if a corrupted video card driver is preventing Windows from displaying, or if a program runs as soon as you start Windows and can't be shut down, you can start Windows in safe mode before the driver or program starts and then try to fix the problem. For more information, see What is safe mode?

To start your computer in safe mode

  1. Remove all floppy disks, CDs, and DVDs from your computer, and then restart your computer.

    Click the Start button Picture of the Start button, click the arrow next to the Shut Down button Picture of the Shut Down button, and then click Restart.
  2. Do one of the following:

    • If your computer has a single operating system installed, press and hold the F8 key as your computer restarts. You need to press F8 before the Windows logo appears. If the Windows logo appears, you'll need to try again by waiting until the Windows logon prompt appears, and then shutting down and restarting your computer.

    • If your computer has more than one operating system, use the arrow keys to highlight the operating system you want to start in safe mode, and then press F8.

  3. On the Advanced Boot Options screen, use the arrow keys to highlight the safe mode option you want, and then press Enter. For more information about options, see Advanced startup options (including safe mode).

  4. Log on to your computer with a user account that has administrator rights.

When your computer is in safe mode, you'll see the words Safe Mode in the corners of your screen. To exit safe mode, restart your computer and let Windows start normally.

Use Startup Repair to fix Windows startup files

Startup Repair can detect and fix certain types of system problems that might prevent Windows from starting, such as missing or damaged system files. For more information, see Startup Repair: frequently asked questions.

Startup Repair is designed to start automatically if certain system problems are detected, but you can also run the tool manually.

To run Startup Repair using preinstalled recovery options

  1. Remove all floppy disks, CDs, and DVDs from your computer, and then restart your computer using the computer's power button.

  2. Do one of the following:

    • If your computer has a single operating system installed, press and hold the F8 key as your computer restarts. You need to press F8 before the Windows logo appears. If the Windows logo appears, you need to try again by waiting until the Windows logon prompt appears, and then shutting down and restarting your computer.

    • If your computer has more than one operating system, use the arrow keys to highlight the operating system you want to repair, and then press and hold F8.

  3. On the Advanced Boot Options screen, use the arrow keys to highlight Repair your computer, and then press Enter. (If Repair your computer isn't listed as an option, then your computer doesn't include preinstalled recovery options, or your network administrator has turned them off.)

  4. Select a keyboard layout, and then click Next.

  5. On the System Recovery Options menu, click Startup Repair, and then follow the instructions.

To run Startup Repair using the Windows 7 installation disc or a USB flash drive, or a system repair disc

If your computer's system is severely damaged and you can't access the System Recovery Options menu on your computer, you can access it using the Windows 7 installation disc or a USB flash drive, or using a system repair disc if you created one earlier.

To use this method, you need to restart (boot) your computer using the disc or USB flash drive.

  1. Insert the Windows 7 installation disc or USB flash drive, or a system repair disc, and then shut down your computer.

  2. Restart your computer using the computer's power button.

  3. If prompted, press any key and then follow the instructions that appear.

  4. On the Install Windows page, or on the System Recovery Options page, choose your language and other preferences, and then click Next.

  5. If you're using the Windows installation disc, click Repair your computer.

  6. Select the Windows installation you want to repair, and then click Next.

  7. On the System Recovery Options menu, click Startup Repair, and then follow the instructions.

Undo recent changes using System Restore

You can use System Restore from the System Recovery Options menu. It's just like running System Restore normally, with one exception: System Restore can't create new restore points in this mode, so you can't undo a restore operation. However, you can run System Restore again and choose a different restore point, if one exists.

To run System Restore using preinstalled recovery options

  1. Remove all floppy disks, CDs, and DVDs from your computer, and then restart your computer using the computer's power button.

  2. Do one of the following:

    • If your computer has a single operating system installed, press and hold the F8 key as your computer restarts. You need to press F8 before the Windows logo appears. If the Windows logo appears, you need to try again by waiting until the Windows logon prompt appears, and then shutting down and restarting your computer.

    • If your computer has more than one operating system, use the arrow keys to highlight the operating system you want to repair, and then press and hold F8.

  3. On the Advanced Boot Options screen, use the arrow keys to highlight Repair your computer, and then press Enter. (If Repair your computer isn't listed as an option, then your computer doesn't include preinstalled recovery options, or your network administrator has turned them off.)

  4. Select a keyboard layout, and then click Next.

  5. On the System Recovery Options menu, click System Restore, and then follow the instructions.

To run System Restore using the Windows 7 installation disc or a USB flash drive, or a system repair disc

If your computer's system is severely damaged and you cannot access the System Recovery Options menu on your computer, you can access it using the Windows 7 installation disc or a USB flash drive, or using a system repair disc if you created one earlier.

To use this method, you need to restart (boot) your computer using the disc.

  1. Insert the Windows 7 installation disc or USB flash drive, or a system repair disc, and then shut down your computer.

  2. Restart your computer using the computer's power button.

  3. If prompted, press any key and then follow the instructions that appear.

  4. On the Install Windows page, or on the System Recovery Options page, choose your language and other preferences, and then click Next.

  5. If you're using the Windows installation disc, click Repair your computer.

  6. Select the Windows installation you want to repair, and then click Next.

  7. On the System Recovery Options menu, click System Restore, and then follow the instructions.

Restore your computer using a system image backup

If you've used Windows Complete PC to create a system image backup as part of your backup plan, you can use the system image to restore your computer.

A system image is a copy of the partition on your hard disk that contains Windows. It also contains everything on that partition on the date you created the image, including Windows, your programs, and user data—such as documents, pictures, and music. You need to have created a system image beforehand to use this option.

When you restore your computer from a system image, the contents of your hard disk are replaced with the contents of the system image. This means that any changes you've made, programs you've installed, or files you've saved after the system image was created will likely be lost unless you have a recent backup of your data.

To restore from a system image using preinstalled recovery options

  1. Remove all floppy disks, CDs, and DVDs from your computer, and then restart your computer using the computer's power button.

  2. Do one of the following:

    • If your computer has a single operating system installed, press and hold the F8 key as your computer restarts. You need to press F8 before the Windows logo appears. If the Windows logo appears, you need to try again by waiting until the Windows logon prompt appears, and then shutting down and restarting your computer.

    • If your computer has more than one operating system, use the arrow keys to highlight the operating system you want to repair, and then press and hold F8.

  3. On the Advanced Boot Options screen, use the arrow keys to highlight Repair your computer, and then press Enter. (If Repair your computer isn't listed as an option, then your computer doesn't include preinstalled recovery options, or your network administrator has turned them off.)

  4. Select a keyboard layout, and then click Next.

  5. On the System Recovery Options menu, click System Image Recovery, and then follow the instructions.

To restore from a system image using the Windows 7 installation disc or a USB flash drive, or a system repair disc

If your computer's system is severely damaged and you can't access the System Recovery Options menu on your computer, you can access it using the Windows 7 installation disc or a USB flash drive, or using a system repair disc if you created earlier.

To use this method, you need to restart (boot) your computer using the disc.

  1. Insert the Windows 7 installation disc or USB flash drive, or a system repair disc, and then shut down your computer.

  2. Restart your computer using the computer's power button.

  3. If prompted, press any key and then follow the instructions that appear.

  4. On the Install Windows page, or on the System Recovery Options page, choose your language and other preferences, and then click Next.

  5. If you're using the Windows installation disc, click Repair your computer.

  6. Select the Windows installation you want to repair, and then click Next.

  7. On the System Recovery Options menu, click System Image Recovery, and then follow the instructions.

Reinstall Windows 7

If you can't recover Windows 7 in any other way, you can reinstall Windows 7 using your original Windows 7 installation disc or setup files. For more information, see Installing and reinstalling Windows 7.

Reinstalling Windows 7 will delete any programs you've installed and will restore the default Windows settings. You'll need to restore your user files, and reinstall any programs you've installed using the original installation discs or files.

To install Windows 7 using the Custom option and formatting the hard disk

To format your hard disk during Windows 7 installation, you'll need to start, or boot, your computer using the Windows 7 installation disc or a USB flash drive.

  1. Turn on your computer, insert the Windows 7 installation disc or USB flash drive, and then shut down your computer.

  2. Restart your computer.

  3. Press any key when prompted, and then follow the instructions that appear.

  4. On the Install Windows page, enter your language and other preferences, and then click Next.

    If the Install Windows page doesn't appear, and you're not asked to press any key, you might need to change some system settings. To learn how to do this, see Start your computer from a Windows 7 installation disc or USB flash drive.

  5. On the Please read the license terms page, if you accept the license terms, click I accept the license terms, and then click Next.

  6. On the Which type of installation do you want? page, click Custom.

  7. On the Where do you want to install Windows? page, click Drive options (advanced).

  8. Click the partition that you want to change, click the formatting option you want to perform, and then follow the instructions.

  9. When you've finished formatting, click Next.

  10. Follow the instructions to finish installing Windows 7, which include naming your computer and setting up an initial user account.