Stump the Geeks

How to deal with the blue screen of death

July 9, 2012 

Q: Once in a while I get a blue screen when I start my computer in the morning, especially if it is off for three or four days when I go out of town. It gives a “STOP 0x0000007E (0xC000005, 0x806F6998, 0xF7C465DC, 0xF7C462D8)” code and nothing further. I have to hit the power button and restart. Any suggestions on this?

Buddy Y., Durham

Long-time users of the Windows operating system know this problem well. No other errors quite match the frustration triggered by this shade of blue now synonymous with Microsoft.

Unfortunately, the “blue screen of death” is about as ambiguous as it is iconic.

Stop errors can indicate a range of technological ailments that often require more information to diagnose – or a guess-and-test method of treatment. But that doesn’t mean those guesses can’t be educated ones.

The key is in the error codes. The first one, 0x0000007E, describes the broad category of the problem, while the rest are parameters dependent on your system and specific error. These parameters can show up in a ton of different combinations, so it can be difficult to find a fix online for your particular permutation.

Paul Rosenberg, owner of the Chapel Hill repair shop Love Your Computer, said the 0x0000007E stop error is prompted during startup when your system has trouble loading its basic drivers, the programs that control computer hardware like disk drives and sound cards.

Your problem could be as simple as timing – one of these programs may be starting up too early or too late, affecting others in the process. Microsoft Support does supply an easy fix that requires users to download and run a simple file ( support.microsoft.com/kb/900485). Even if this isn’t the cause, it won’t affect your system to try the solution.

A recently updated video or network driver also could prompt such an error, Rosenberg said, although fixing it requires that you know which device was updated. In Windows Device Manager, roll back to the previous driver by right clicking on the device, clicking on “Properties” and the “Driver” tab.

There’s another more serious possibility: a rootkit infection. Programmed to run undetected and load as a system driver, this species of malware is tough to eradicate.

“A poorly written/buggy rootkit would explain the erratic nature of the failure,” Rosenberg said in an email. “If it was a legitimate driver causing the problem, I would expect it to fail every time, not randomly.”

Free tools like TDSSKiller ( support.kaspersky.com/faq/?qid=208283363) from computer security firm Kaspersky Lab can help you track down and remove such an infection, but Rosenberg recommends seeking professional help.

“The overwhelming chance is that if there is a rootkit, the computer is compromised/infected in other ways and should be checked thoroughly in a shop environment where the drive can be pulled and scanned while inactive,” Rosenberg said.

To round off the list of dire diagnoses, he said a hard drive failure could be corrupting one of the drivers as the computer boots up.

How’s that for ambiguity?

If none of these solutions solves the problem, the best course of action is to hand things off to a computer repair shop that has the tools and expertise to dig up more clues than the blue screen of death can provide.

“I find that a lot of computers I work on end up with this kind of open-ended speculation,” Rosenberg said. “It really could be any of the few major things that always end up being at the root of computer problems, hard drive failure or malware being the top two.”

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