How to fix the Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) error in Windows 11

Encountering Windows' dreaded BSOD error is never fun, but it's possible to diagnose the problem with a few simple steps

A screenshot of the Blue Screen of Death error in Microsoft Windows 11

PC users old and young will all have encountered the dreaded 'blue screen of death' (BSOD) error displayed regardless of the version of Windows they used. It's simply the operating system's way of letting a user know that something has gone wrong and the computer cannot continue to run without a reboot. 

The screen can appear without warning at any time and has doubtless angered many after appearing before being able to save work in whatever application a user was in prior to its appearance. To the trained eye, BSODs are actually very helpful in determining what went wrong with your computer and offering clues on how to fix it, preventing the same fault from causing a BSOD again.

But reading the error screen requires a little know-how in order to decode the jargon. We'll explore the BSOD's features and explain how to properly use the nuisance to your advantage. 

BSOD in Windows 11

Prior to Windows 8, the BSOD was a little less user-friendly than it is today and Microsoft's latest build of its operating system, Windows 11, brought in a few new changes too. One such change was to replace the iconic blue background, turning the BSOD into a 'black screen of death' instead, matching the operating system's black log on and shut down screens.

In a later build of Windows 11, released towards the end of 2021, Microsoft reinstated the classic blue background without explaining the reason behind it. If you're currently encountering black screen of death, it's likely you're running an older build of Windows 11 and you will want to update to the latest version at the earliest to enjoy up-to-date security protections and all the latest features.

Green Screen of Death on Windows 11?

If you’re a Windows Insider, the BSOD becomes the GSOD. Not only is the error screen green, it also features additional information for identifying bugs in the operating system.

If you encounter a GSOD, you may find that there is no fix yet for your issue as the build is still being beta tested. On these occasions, we recommend you seek support from the Insider Community.

Understanding a BSOD screen in Windows 11

Although the current BSOD screen is far more user-friendly than in the early days of Windows, it can still be a bit intimidating, especially as it’s likely to pop up without warning and will always require immediate attention.

Before you do anything, you should wait for the system to back itself up, which will be tracked for you on screen with a percentage. That should ensure you don’t lose any work.

Once that's done, it's time to interrogate the screen in front of you. There are three bits of information on the screen that can help resolve the issue.

What makes up the Windows 11 BSOD?

A screenshot of the Blue Screen of Death error in Microsoft Windows 11

The Error Code

This is the series of numbers and letters that usually starts “0x”. It’s important to take a note of this number, as it tells us exactly (but sometimes cryptically) what’s gone wrong.

The Stop Code

This is a series of words in block capitals, sometimes shown in [square brackets]. It tells you the type of error. It’s not as specific as the code, but it’s a good starting point.

For example [CRITICAL_PROCESS_DIED] tells us that something went wrong with an aspect of Windows 11 itself.

Don’t worry if you don’t know what the stop code tells you. It’s worth keeping a note of as it will be useful to a technician if you need outside help.

The QR Code

Introduced in Windows 8, this handy feature means that by using your phone’s barcode reader, you can use the QR code to take you straight to the support page for the error code on the screen. Sometimes this can be incredibly useful - especially if you can’t get your machine to reboot.

Troubleshooting the BSOD in Windows 11

Now you’ve got the error codes, it’s time to find out what they mean. The information isn’t always specific, and in most cases the code will just point you in the right direction, rather than state the precise cause.

For example, a common Windows error code is 0xc000000f, which usually appears when Windows has failed to start correctly. If you’ve installed new software recently or updated your version of Windows, this is likely to be interfering with Windows' startup routines, resulting in an error.

Some errors are harder to diagnose, however. The error code IRQL_not_less_or_equal, for example, usually relates to a hardware fault, such as corrupted memory modules. However, it can also be triggered by faulty drivers, or even faulty antivirus software.

Aside from using the QR code, the quickest way to check the error is to type the code into a search engine. It’s best to find the Microsoft Support page for that code first and foremost, before looking at third-party sites that will either try and sell you a quick fix, or get you to try every fix possible.

The Microsoft support page will be able to explain the error, the circumstances that triggered it, and if there is a fix or workaround to resolve it. Follow the step by step instructions on screen.

If there are no fixes, or if the page only offers vague information like “driver issue”, it’s time to think back to any recent installations or changes you made to your machine, and if need be, uninstall them.

If the BSOD appears before login, and therefore is preventing you from accessing your desktop, you will need to boot into Safe Mode and try again, or use System Restore to roll back to before any errant changes were made.

Troubleshooting BSOD: Windows 11 Memory Dump

If the Support Page doesn’t answer your question, you can find a lot more information by looking through the Memory Dump, an error log that’s automatically created whenever Windows encounters an error from which it’s unable to recover.

You’ll find it on the same drive that holds your Windows 11 installation, in a folder called %SystemRoot%\MEMORY. DMP or %SystemRoot%\Minidump.

To open the file, you’ll need an app called WinDbg from the Microsoft Store. We won’t go into detail on how to decipher a memory dump in this article, but if you need to, call in a technical support person or system administrator.

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Alas, Windows can only diagnose so far and if it’s still not clear at this stage what the issue is, you’ll need to ask for outside help. Microsoft has forums for this sort of issue, staffed by the community and Microsoft engineers. To use them, it’s really important to be as thorough as possible about what you were doing when the BSOD appeared, and remember to include both the Error Code and Stop Code.

You can find a guide on how to access help in Windows here.

Overall, the key rule for the vast majority of BSOD issues is simple - whatever you installed, uninstalled, cleaned, updated, or otherwise changed before the crash happened is probably the cause. Start by either reversing that action or rolling your machine back using System Restore and you’ll fix most issues.

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