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Sunday, October 19, 2008

PostHeaderIcon 10 Reasons Why Computers Crash

10 reasons why PCs crash, you must Know

Fatal error: the system has become unstable or is busy," it says. "Enter to return to Windows or press Control-Alt-Delete to restart your computer. If you do this you will lose any unsaved information in all open applications."

You have just been hit by the Blue Screen of Death. Anyone who uses Microsoft Windows will be familiar with this. What can you do? More importantly, how can you prevent it from happening?

1 Hardware conflict

The number one reason why Windows crashes is hardware conflict. Each hardware device communicates to other devices through an interrupt request channel (IRQ). These are meant to be unique for each device.

For example, a printer usually connects internally on IRQ 7. The keyboard usually uses IRQ 1 and the floppy disk drive IRQ 6. Each device will try to use a single IRQ for itself.

If you have a lot of devices connected to your computer, or if they are not installed properly, two of them can end up sharing the same IRQ number. When the user tries to use both devices at the same time, a crash can happen. To check if your computer has a hardware conflict is through the device manager:

* Start/Settings/Control Panel/System/Device Manager.

If a device has a problem a yellow '!' appears next to its description in the Device Manager. Highlight Computer (in the Device Manager) and press Properties to see the IRQ numbers used by your computer, if no numbers appear select the "view" tab then "resources by type" and then interrupt request (IRQ). If the IRQ number appears twice, two devices may be using it.

Often a device might share an IRQ with something described as 'IRQ holder for PCI steering'. This can be ignored. The easiest way to fix this problem is to uninstall the problem device and then reinstall it.

If the device is a sound card, or a modem, it can usually be fixed by moving it to a different slot on the motherboard (be careful about opening your computer, as you may void the warranty).

When working inside a computer make sure its switched off, unplug the mains lead and touch an unpainted metal surface to discharge any static electricity in your body.

To be fair to Microsoft, the problem with IRQ numbers is not their fault. It is a legacy problem going back to the first PC designs using the IBM 8086 chip.

Initially there were only eight IRQs. Today there are 16 IRQs in a PC. It is easy to run out of them. There are plans to increase the number of IRQs in future designs.

2 Bad Ram

Ram (random-access memory) problems might bring on the blue screen of death with a message saying Fatal Exception Error. A fatal error indicates a serious hardware problem. Sometimes it may mean a part is damaged and will need replacing.

But a fatal error caused by Ram might be caused by a mismatch of chips. For example, mixing 70-nanosecond (70ns) Ram with 60ns Ram will usually force the computer to run all the Ram at the slower speed. This will often crash the machine if the Ram is overworked.

One way around this problem is to enter the BIOS settings and increase the wait state of the Ram. This can make it more stable. Another way to troubleshoot a suspected Ram problem is to rearrange the Ram chips on the motherboard, or take some of them out. Then try to repeat the circumstances that caused the crash.

When handling Ram try not to touch the gold connections, as they can be easily damaged.

Parity error messages also refer to Ram. Modern Ram chips are either parity (ECC) or non parity (non-ECC). It is best not to mix the two types, as this can be the cause of trouble.

EMM386 error messages refer to memory problems but may not be connected to bad Ram. This may be due to free memory problems often linked to old Dos-based programs.

3 BIOS settings

Every motherboard is supplied with a range of chipset settings that are decided in the factory. A common way to access these settings is to press the F2 or delete button during the first few seconds of a boot-up.

Once inside the BIOS, care should be taken. It is a good idea to write down on a piece of paper all the settings that appear on the screen. That way, if you change something and the computer becomes more unstable, you will know what settings to revert to.

A common BIOS error concerns the CAS latency. This refers to the Ram. Older EDO (extended data out) Ram has a CAS latency of 3. Newer SD Ram has a CAS latency of 2. Setting the wrong figure can cause the Ram to lock up and freeze the computer's display.

Microsoft Windows is better at allocating IRQ numbers than any BIOS. If possible set the IRQ numbers to Auto in the BIOS. This will allow Windows to allocate the IRQ numbers (make sure the BIOS setting for Plug and Play OS is switched to 'yes' to allow Windows to do this.).

4 Hard disk drives

After a few weeks, the information on a hard disk drive starts to become fragmented. It is a good idea to defragment the hard disk every week or so, to prevent the disk from causing a screen freeze. Go to

* Start/Programs/Accessories/System Tools/Disk Defragmenter

This will start the procedure. You will be unable to write data to the hard drive (to save it) while the disk is defragmenting, so it is a good idea to schedule the procedure for a period of inactivity using the Task Scheduler.

The Task Scheduler should be one of the small icons on the bottom right of the Windows desktop on the task bar.

Hard disks will slow down and crash if they are too full. Do some housekeeping on your hard drive every few months and free some space on it. Open the Windows folder on the C drive and find the Temporary Internet Files folder. Deleting the contents (not the folder) can free a lot of space.

Empty the Recycle Bin every week to free more space. Hard disk drives should be scanned every week for errors or bad sectors. Go to

* Start/Programs/Accessories/System Tools/Scan Disk

Otherwise assign the Task Scheduler to perform this operation at night when the computer is not in use.

5 Fatal OE exceptions and VXD errors

Fatal OE exception errors and VXD errors are often caused by video card problems.

These can often be resolved easily by reducing the resolution of the video display. Go to

* Start/Settings/Control Panel/Display/Settings

Here you should slide the screen area bar to the left. Take a look at the colour settings on the left of that window. For most desktops, high colour 16-bit depth is adequate.

If the screen freezes or you experience system lockups it might be due to the video card. Make sure it does not have a hardware conflict. Go to

* Start/Settings/Control Panel/System/Device Manager

Select the + beside Display Adapter. A line of text describing your video card should appear. Highlight it and press properties. Then select Resources and select each line in the window. Look for a message that says No Conflicts.

If you have video card hardware conflict, you will see it here. Be careful at this point and make a note of everything you do in case you make things worse.

The way to resolve a hardware conflict is to uncheck the Use Automatic Settings box and hit the Change Settings button. You are searching for a setting that will display a No Conflicts message.

Another useful way to resolve video problems is to go to

* Start/Settings/Control Panel/System/Performance/Graphics

Here you should move the Hardware Acceleration slider to the left. The most common cause of problems relating to graphics cards is old or faulty drivers (a driver is a small piece of software used by a computer to communicate with a device).

Look up your video card's manufacturer on the Internet and search for the most recent drivers for it.

6 Viruses

Often the first sign of a virus infection is instability. Some viruses erase the boot sector of a hard drive, making it impossible to start. This is why its a good idea to create a Windows start-up disk. Go to

* Start/Settings/Control Panel/Add/Remove Programs

Look for the Start Up Disk tab. Virus protection requires constant vigilance.

A virus scanner requires a list of virus signatures in order to be able to identify viruses. These signatures are stored in a DAT file. DAT files should be updated weekly from the web site of your anti-virus software manufacturer.

7 Printers

The action of sending a document to print creates a bigger file, often called a postscript file.

Printers have only a small amount of memory, called a buffer. This can be easily overloaded. Printing a document also uses a considerable amount of CPU power. This will also slow down the computer's performance.

If the printer is trying to print unusual characters, these might not be recognised, and can crash the computer. Sometimes printers will not recover from a crash because of confusion in the buffer. A good way to clear the buffer is to unplug the printer for ten seconds. Booting up from a powerless state, also called a cold boot, will restore the printer's default settings and you should be able to carry on.

8 Software

A common cause of computer crash is faulty or badly-installed software. Often the problem can be cured by uninstalling the software and then reinstalling it.

The System Registry can be corrupted by old references to obsolete software that you thought was uninstalled. There are plenty of free registry cleaners available Regscrub XP and easycleaner are two good one's.

Often a Windows problem can be resolved by entering Safe Mode. This can be done during start-up. When you see the message "Starting Windows" press F4. This should take you into Safe Mode.

Safe Mode loads a minimum of drivers. It allows you to find and fix problems that prevent Windows from loading properly.

Sometimes installing Windows is difficult because of unsuitable BIOS settings. If you keep getting SUWIN error messages (Windows setup) during the Windows installation, then try entering the BIOS and disabling the CPU internal cache. Try to disable the Level 2 (L2) cache if that doesn't work.

Remember to restore all the BIOS settings back to their former settings following installation.

9 Overheating

Central processing units (CPUs) are usually equipped with fans to keep them cool. If the fan fails or if the CPU gets old it may start to overheat and generate a particular kind of error called a kernel error. This is a common problem in chips that have been over clocked to operate at higher speeds than they are supposed to.

One remedy is to get a bigger better fan and install it on top of the CPU.

CPU problems can often be fixed by disabling the CPU internal cache in the BIOS. This will make the machine run more slowly, but it should also be more stable.

10 Power supply problems


A power surge or spike can crash a computer and damage the CPU and motherboard as easily as a power cut.

If this has become a nuisance for you then consider buying a uninterrupted power supply (UPS). This will give you a clean power supply when there is electricity, and it will give you a few minutes to perform a controlled shutdown in case of a power cut.

It is a good investment if your data are critical, because a power cut will cause any unsaved data to be lost.

12 comments:

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Sherman Unkefer said...

Anyone know how to recover missing emails from outlook express inbox after a computer crash?

Brad Fallon said...

How much more Ram can i put without making my computer crash?

Silver MLM said...

Why does my pc crash and then reboot itself back to the old webpage?

bala murugan said...

Your excellent guidelines will be of great help to many. Nice post. I enjoyed reading it. Thanks!

Computer Maintenance

sharma said...

My computer crashed last week and it's been said that one of the reason why is because of sites like YouTube.I tend to disagree with that notion because everybody goes on YouTube and if that was the case,nobody would have a working computer right now.Could this be the reason it happened?
Herman Miller Aeron


Shane Shaw said...

Hi Sharma no YouTube wont cause your computer to crash, most crashes occur with faulty hardware or corrupted software including windows components.

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Thank you for commenting on my blog, if you leave your URL somewhere in your comment i will visit your blog and leave a comment as well, cheers Shane.

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