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How do I stop my computer randomly crashing ?

by Tom Cumming



One of the most common problems people experience with home computers are the random unexplained crashes. These can take the form of:

- The computer just freezing and refusing to accept input
- The screen suddenly going blank or filling with garbage
- The computer spontaneously restarting or turning off
- Applications crashing with a "This program has performed an illegal operation......" error or similar
- "Blue screen" error messages
- "Stop" error messages, followed by a subsequent system shutdown or restart

Unfortunately there are lots of different possible reasons why these things can occur, and it would be impossible for me to detail all of them in one article. Therefore, I am going to restrict this FAQ to *random* crashes. In other words, if you are finding you get any of the above symptoms fairly often, but there does not seem to be a pattern in it (ie, it does not happen at regular intervals or when doing specific tasks) then this is the FAQ for you. If you are experiencing crashes when doing a specific task (eg, your computer gives a blue screen error message every time you try to use the floppy disk drive) then this FAQ is not targetted towards this kind of problem, because this problem is more likely to be related to this particular job. That is not to say the suggestions in this FAQ will not help: they are still worth trying, but less likely to solve your particular problem.

The suggestions I have listed are not listed in order of likelyhood or fault category, but are listed in the order I think you should check them. The reason being, some of these possible faults are quite easy to check, whereas some are much more complicated, so it will of course be best to try the easy suggestions first so that you do not waste too much time.

Memory faults

If your memory is faulty, it can mean that when files are written to the hard drive, they may not written totally accurately, and so this can mean the potential for data corruption, and if this data happens to be important system files, dlls, drivers, programs, then the potential for an unstable PC.

To find out if you have faulty memory, goto HERE where there is a freeware memory testing utility available for download. Full instructions on how to use it are on the website. Let the utility complete several passes and if it manages to get through them with the "errors" figure still reading zero, your memory is almost certainly not at fault.

However, if this utility comes up with any faults whatsoever, then you need to bin your RAM and replace it. If you have more than one DIMM or SIMM of RAM, then you may not have to replace all of it, so what you could do is just remove one DIMM/SIMM, test again, and see if the errors still appear, to diagnose which DIMM/SIMM is the faulty one.

Once you have replaced the faulty RAM, it is essential that you then reinstall all your software, because the faulty RAM may have compromised the data integrety which will not be restored until your software is reinstalled. As far as possible, you should reinstall software from the original CD-ROMs, not CD-Rs you have made yourself, as the corruption may have spread to these as well. If you have software or drivers downloaded from the internet, download them again, just in case. For your own personal data, if you have backups of older data going back a long time, try to restore from before the RAM went bad, if you can.

If your motherboard supports it, it is a good idea to replace your faulty RAM with ECC (Error Checking and Correction) RAM, provided your motherboard supports this option, and enable ECC in the BIOS, as this RAM will automatically correct memory errors, and if another fault occurs you will get an error when your PC is switched on, before your data becomes damaged. It really does save a lot of hassle. For more information on this, see your motherboard manual or motherboard manufacturer's website.


Make sure you have a virus scanner and a firewall installed, and regularly update your computer using the Windows Update site. HERE If you suspect you may have a virus, it is a good idea to scan the PC whilst disconnected from the internet, so that any virus that is present cannot "phone home".


An overheating processor, or sometimes some other PC components, are a common cause of system instability. See my seperate FAQ on this subject:HERE

Inadequate or faulty power supply

If your power supply is not supplying enough power to your system, either because it is faulty, or because you have upgraded your system and your power supply is no longer powerful enough, then you will need to buy a new power supply for your system.

Poorly written device drivers

Every peripheral device in a computer system, and some more fundamental parts such as the graphics card and motherboard chipset, all have to have a device driver for your operating system. If you have installed the wrong driver, or you have an out-of-date one, one for a different operating system (eg you are using a Windows 95 driver for your sound card, on a machine that is running Windows 98) or one that is just not very well written, you may experience problems. You need therefore to do the rounds of going round the websites of manufacturers of all your PC's hardware components and seeing if there are better drivers available for you to download and install.

Incorrectly clocked processor

Some PC magazines and websites have promoted the practice of "overclocking" a processor, meaning that you set your motherboard up as though you have a faster processor installed than you do have, thereby running the processor at a faster speed than it was designed for and getting a faster PC for free. However, by doing this your are exceeding the speeds the processor was designed for, so if stability is important to you, just don't do it. If you want a fast and stable system, you have to pay for it!

Need for a stable operating system

Some operating systems are are more prone to crashing than others. The Windows 95/98/ME product line is *not* renowned for its stability, but the Windows NT/2000/XP line is much better, as are Unix/Linux based operating systems. Whilst it is not an option that should be taken lightly, as it requires a lot of technical knowledge, time and patience, if it is important to you that your system is very reliable, and you currently use one of the "Win9x" range, you should seriously consider changing to another operating system.

Copyright © 2001-2006 © Copyright Karl Davis.

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