“The Blue Screen of Death” or BSOD with Microsoft Windows computers are also known as STOP errors. These well-known problems and notorious computer failures made the phrase “just reboot” famous because of its easy fixability.

However, sometimes rebooting will simply not resolve the issue. Further steps could be needed to not only fix the problem but to also get to the deeper glitch and prevent it from reoccurring.

This is a simple guide for navigating the first steps of BSOD errors.

Disclaimer: Every computer is unique and so is each failure. This guide is just a starting place. Additional assistance may be required.

Step 1: Stay Calm

When a system fails, the first step is to calmly recount what was happening when the failure occurred. Had new hardware or software just been installed? Were there a large number of programs running simultaneously? These can be clues to uncovering the problem. Uninstalling or undoing any recent changes to the system might be helpful.

Review what you know and stay focused on finding a solution based on the information you have. If it turns out to be a larger problem and an IT professional is called, you will have accurate information to share.

Step 2: Boot In Safe Mode

One of the first things to determine is if this issue is a software or hardware problem. The easiest and most effective way to do this on a Windows machine is to turn the computer off, wait five seconds, and then turn it back on while holding down the F8 key as it reboots.

If done successfully, a boot-command prompt will asks which way to load the computer. Select the “Safe Mode” option. This launches Windows with the basic applications running. If the computer successfully loads this way, the problem may very well be software.

Step 3: Check for Updates

If booting in safe mode was successful, there is one option to try before completely reformatting the hard drive and starting over: updates. The first update that is suggested is the Windows Update found on the Windows Update page. Performing regular updates can help with performance issues, though I know that many people find Windows updates cause problems too. Unfortunately, both are true.

Many times hardware drivers also need to be updated. To update the drivers for your computer, Windows offers easy to use instructions and support that walks through this process. After doing so, turn the computer off, turn it back on in normal boot mode, and see if your computer is operating properly.

(Some people also find that their problems may start after installing new drivers and a rollback is needed to remove the new driver and revert to the older version. This Roll Back Driver process requires a little time and exploration, but can be helpful with Windows 10 updates.)

Windows 10 also offers the Fresh Start option that will reinstall and update Windows for you. This is found in the Windows Defender Security Center. Please read the fine print on this, as Fresh Start will remove apps, third-party software, and even Microsoft Office from your computer and may require additional time to complete this process and re-install applications.

Step 4: Scan for Viruses

Virus protection can play a part in preventing stop errors. Once your system has rebooted, scan your system using the Windows Defender or your own third-party anti-virus software of choice. It is especially important that your virus scanning software is completely up to date and configured to scan the master reboot record (MBR) which can become infected.

Regular virus scans are essential for keeping systems clean, clear, and healthy.

Step 5: It Is The Hard Drive?

Finding out if the hard drive is working properly and if you can safely recover data or if you will need to replace the hard drive altogether may be the next step.

Depending on the hardware, this can be done in many ways but all will require that the hard drive is removed from the computer. The optimal method is to use an external hard drive casing, connect your computer’s hard drive, and plug it into a separate computer to see if you can access the data on it. If you need the hardware to connect it, and do not feel comfortable tinkering with the hard drive after you have it connected, downloading Recuva which is free and only available for Windows could help. If the hard drive works, it is recommended that a full backup of the device is made immediately before any additional work is done. If not, you will be needing to purchase a new hard drive, reinstall Windows, and start from scratch. Sorry!

And, if at this point you do not know what is wrong with the computer, another common cause of the repeated stop errors and BOSDs may be that newly installed hardware was not installed correctly.

Again, this article is only a guide to exploring the initial steps to exploring the issues with blue screens of death on your computer. Understanding your system, taking precautions like running regular system backups, virus scans, and updates can provide much-needed information, maintenance, and comfort when problems and glitches arise and can even be preventative.