What might cause a stop error in Windows?

A stop error, more commonly known as a Blue Screen of Death (BSOD), occurs when Windows encounters a critical system error that forces it to shut down or restart. Stop errors can be caused by a variety of issues, ranging from faulty hardware to corrupted system files. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the most common causes of stop errors in Windows and how to troubleshoot them.

Hardware Issues

Hardware problems are one of the most common causes of stop errors in Windows. Issues with components like the RAM, hard drive, motherboard, CPU, or graphics card can trigger a BSOD. Here are some specific hardware issues that may lead to stop errors:

RAM Issues

RAM (Random Access Memory) is vital for the smooth functioning of a computer. Faulty RAM sticks or slots can cause stop errors in Windows. Specific BSOD error codes linked to RAM problems include PAGE_FAULT_IN_NONPAGED_AREA, IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL, and KMODE_EXCEPTION_NOT_HANDLED.


  • Test RAM sticks individually using the Windows Memory Diagnostic tool
  • Try reseating the RAM sticks in their slots to make proper contact
  • Replace faulty RAM sticks

Hard Drive Issues

An unhealthy hard drive is another source of stop errors. A failing hard drive can trigger BSODs like UNEXPECTED_STORE_EXCEPTION or KERNEL_SECURITY_CHECK_FAILURE. Issues could range from bad sectors to corruption in critical boot files.


  • Run CHKDSK to detect and repair hard drive errors
  • Back up data and replace old, failing hard drives
  • Update hard drive drivers to the latest available version

Motherboard Issues

As the main PC circuit board, motherboard issues can cripple the entire system. Faulty CPU slots, damaged BIOS chips, and PCI expansion card problems are known to cause BSODs.


  • Update motherboard drivers and BIOS firmware
  • Reset BIOS settings to default
  • Replace defective motherboard if necessary

CPU Issues

Central Processing Unit (CPU) failures can also lead to sudden stop errors in Windows. Overheating, firmware bugs, and cache errors in the processor can trigger critical system crashes. BSOD codes linked to CPU issues include CLOCK_WATCHDOG_TIMEOUT, BUGCODE_USB_DRIVER, and HAL_INITIALIZATION_FAILED.


  • Update CPU and chipset drivers
  • Monitor CPU temperature and reapply thermal paste if overheating
  • Reset CPU settings in BIOS to default

Graphics Card Issues

Graphics card problems commonly produce stop errors like VIDEO_SCHEDULER_INTERNAL_ERROR or TDR_FAILURE. Display driver crashes, GPU overheating, memory leaks, and hardware defects are likely culprits.


  • Update graphics card drivers
  • Improve GPU cooling and airflow inside PC case
  • Underclock GPU clock speeds
  • Replace faulty graphics card

Software Issues

Apart from hardware, software bugs and system file corruption can also trigger BSODs. Here are some key software issues that lead to stop errors:

Driver Issues

Outdated, missing or corrupted drivers are a prime BSOD cause in Windows. Key drivers that often cause stop errors are display drivers, storage drivers, motherboard drivers and WiFi/network drivers. The DRIVER_IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL BSOD is specifically linked to driver problems.


  • Update all drivers to latest stable versions
  • Reinstall drivers like chipset, SATA and graphics drivers
  • Disable problematic third party drivers

Windows System File Corruption

Corrupted Windows system files can cause critical stop errors. The files may get damaged from sudden shutdowns, malware attacks or botched updates. SYSTEM_THREAD_EXCEPTION_NOT_HANDLED and other BugCheck codes point to system file errors.


  • Use SFC and DISM tools to scan and repair corrupted files
  • Restore Windows system image to undo system file damage
  • Clean boot and troubleshoot software issues

Malware Infections

Viruses, spyware and malware can certainly interfere with Windows system files and trigger BSODs. The CRITICAL_STRUCTURE_CORRUPTION error is one sign of malware activity.


  • Scan PC for malware using Windows Security or antivirus software
  • Boot into Safe Mode and run scans to remove malware
  • Wipe hard drive and reinstall Windows if needed

Software Bugs and Compatibility Issues

Software bugs in a Windows update or an incompatible app can also cause stop errors. BSODs linked to software include PAGE_FAULT_IN_NONPAGED_AREA and IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL.


  • Uninstall recently added apps/drivers
  • Roll back Windows or driver updates
  • Update apps and games to latest stable versions

Advanced Troubleshooting

If you face persistent BSODs even after trying the above solutions, here are some advanced troubleshooting steps to identify the culprit:

Analyze BSOD Error Codes

Dig into the actual BSOD error message. Error codes like 0x000000D1, 0x0000001E and 0x0000003B point to specific failed system components.

Check Reliability Monitor

Open Reliability Monitor in Windows and check the history of system crashes, errors, and issues. Any pattern will reveal the failing component.

Test Hardware with Live CD

Boot your PC from a Linux live CD like Ubuntu. If it runs fine here, then the BSOD cause is a Windows software issue. Hardware problems will remain.

Stress Test Components

Use tools like Prime95 and Furmark to stress test CPU, RAM, GPU and hard drives individually. A component that fails the stress test is faulty.

Update BIOS

Outdated motherboard BIOS versions are notorious for compatibility issues and BSODs. Fully update BIOS firmware to latest available version.

Preventing Stop Errors

You can help prevent BSODs in your PC by following these tips:

  • Install Windows and driver updates promptly
  • Use reputable anti-malware software
  • Clean dust, check cooling and monitor temperatures
  • Shut down properly, avoid force shutdowns
  • Back up data regularly
  • Fix hardware issues like bad RAM promptly


Stop errors or BSODs can arise suddenly and disrupt your work on Windows. However, they actually indicate a underlying problem with a hardware component or system file. By methodically troubleshooting and analyzing the BSOD error message, you can zero in on the root cause. Rectifying issues like outdated drivers, faulty RAM sticks, malware infections, or faulty hard drives will get rid of the BSOD permanently. With some diligence and preventive care, you can avoid those Blue Screens for good.

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