If Windows keeps crashing and you've seen the blue screen of death, don't despair - we've got a couple of tricks that will help your restore you OS, even if you’ve lost the original disc.

These days, our lives are stored on our PCs. From business associates and friends' contact details to very important contracts, it can all be found on our hard drives. And while we may take precautions in backing up our data, there's no accounting for Windows if it decides to have a funny five minutes and crash.

If you're only seeing the Blue SAcreen of Death (BSoD) with its white text, don't panic because all is not lost just yet. We've got some crafty tricks that will help you restore your OS, even if you don’t have the original disc.

Why does my PC keep dying with a blue screen of death?

What's worse than the sudden, unexpected appearance of a blue screen filled with white text? Recurring appearances of blue screens filled with white text. The fewer times you have to read the maddeningly passive-voice observation "A problem has been detected and Windows has been shut down…," the better.

Microsoft calls these freeze-frame moments "stop errors," but everyone else uses a much more descriptive title: The Blue Screen of Death. They occur whenever Windows senses a problem that won't let it operate properly.

When you encounter a BSoD, there's not much you can do except mourn your lost data (whatever was in memory but not yet saved to disk), reboot your machine, and go on with your life. If you start getting them regularly, however, you have a problem that must be addressed.

The question is, what's causing the problem?

Believe it or not, BSoD screens actually contain some useful information, albeit not much. The next time your monitor and mood suddenly turn blue, grab a pen and a sheet of paper and jot these items down before rebooting:

  • The problem description: Write down whatever text appears between the boilerplate first paragraph ("A problem has been detected…") and the one that begins "If this is the first time…"
  • Technical details: Write down everything that appears under the heading 'Technical information'.

Once you've rebooted, use your favourite internet search engine to find pages that mention both BSoD and some of the terms that you jotted down. The statement in all caps with underlines instead of spaces will likely be useful here.

If a web search doesn't yield helpful information, ask yourself what has changed on your PC lately. Did you add hardware or update a driver just before the problem became common?

NEXT PAGE: Installing older drivers and overheating may be the cause of the BSoD

  1. The Blue Screen of Death isn't always the end
  2. Installing older drivers, and why overheating may be the cause of the BSoD
  3. Restoring Windows without the CD

Visit PC Advisor's Microsoft spotlight for the latest Microsoft news and opinion

If Windows keeps crashing and you've seen the blue screen of death, don't despair - we've got a couple of tricks that will help your restore you OS, even if you’ve lost the original disc.

Bad drivers often give Windows the blues. If you recently updated a driver, try reverting to an older version. <

Select Start, Run (in Vista, Run is enough), type 'devmgmt.msc', and press Enter. Double-click the device in question, click the Driver tab, and then click the Roll Back Driver button.

Conversely, if you recently added hardware to your system, installing a more recent version of the driver may fix the problem. Check the vendor's website to see whether there's an update.

A bad RAM module is another potential cause of BSoDs. You can test your modules easily with Memtest 86. Memtest isn't a Windows program, and you must boot it before running it. You can download it as a CD image .iso file. Nero, Easy Media and other disc-authoring programs can easily burn this .iso file into a bootable CD. Once you've burned the CD, boot and see whether Memtest finds any problems.

Overheating is another common culprit. Check your computer's air vents for blockage. If you have a desktop, open it and use an air cannister to remove any dust you find. (If you have a laptop, check with your vendor to see whether you can clean out dust without resorting to professional intervention.)

And while your desktop is open, check the internal connections to confirm that all of them are firmly attached. A loose connection is yet another possible cause of Blue Screens of Death. As with virtually every other major Windows problem, the fault may lie not in your hardware, but in your Registry. If you can, use System Restore to return that great compendium of necessities and problems to the state it was in on a date before the problem arose.

Or you can try running a Registry cleaner. We recommend ToniArts' free EasyCleaner and ChemTable's Reg Organiser for this purpose.

If all else fails, back up your data and take your PC to a professional. It's OK to admit that you can't fix some things yourself.

NEXT PAGE: Restoring Windows without the CD

  1. The Blue Screen of Death isn't always the end
  2. Installing older drivers, and why overheating may be the cause of the BSoD
  3. Restoring Windows without the CD

Visit PC Advisor's Microsoft spotlight for the latest Microsoft news and opinion

If Windows keeps crashing and only displays a blue screen, you may be thinking that its all over. But before you put your head in your hands and despair, we've got a couple of tricks that will help your restore you OS, even if you’ve lost the original disc.

How do I restore Windows if I've lost my restore CD?

When Windows misbehaves and nothing else works, restoring the operating system via your restore CD or hidden hard drive partition may be the last resort. So what do you do if you can't find that CD? Or if some program that wrote to the boot sector scrubbed the special keyboard sequence for recovering everything, so that it no longer works?

The first thing to do is get in touch with your system's manufacturer and find out its policies. In most cases, there'll be a fallback option. We checked with a number of PC manufacturers, and some of them will sell a recovery CD for between £10 and £20. Recovery media may not be available for older PCs, however. Also, several companies include software on their PCs for creating a recovery disc.

If consultation with the vendor doesn't work out, you might be able to create an installation CD from files on your PC but be warned: this method isn’t guaranteed to work.

If your copy of Windows is currently in good working order, but you worry that you don't have a recovery tool and that someday you'll desperately need one, create your own with a good backup program. The resulting recovery disc is arguably better than a factory-issued backup tool, because it will restore a version of Windows that includes all of your personalised settings.

You'll need a backup program with good disaster-recovery capabilities. Image-based backup programs such as Symantec's Ghost and Acronis's True Image do nicely. I'm partial to Genie Backup Manager, which doesn't use images but still reliably restores Windows. You may already own a simple image backup app; such programs come with Vista's Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate editions; with Nero Burning; and with several external hard drives.

The trick is to make a single image or disaster recovery backup of your drive (I have yet to find a program that can create a reliable backup of everything except your data; when I find one, I'll let you know) and then put it aside. You should also, of course, create regular daily backups with the same program or another one, but you should keep your recovery backup separate from these, in a place where it won't be overwritten.<

When Windows becomes too broken to fix, restore it from your recovery backup, and then restore your more recent data from a recent data backup.

  1. The Blue Screen of Death isn't always the end
  2. Installing older drivers, and why overheating may be the cause of the BSoD
  3. Restoring Windows without the CD

Visit PC Advisor's Microsoft spotlight for the latest Microsoft news and opinion