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Does the “Blue Screen of Death” Mean Lost Data?

August 7, 2023

The infamous “blue screen of death” (or BSOD) occurs when the Microsoft Windows operating system (OS) must shut down or restart unexpectedly. 

Contrary to its name, a BSOD doesn’t mean the “death” of your computer (or your data). It simply means that the OS cannot perform an essential operation — in many cases, simply restarting the machine will resolve the error. 

We should note here that the BSOD may not actually be blue. In 2021, Microsoft’s Windows 11 introduced black error screens, which serve the same purpose (Microsoft switched to black for aesthetic reasons). 

If you’ve encountered a blue (or black) screen of death and you haven’t backed up your data, we strongly recommend that you keep your computer powered off. A failing hard drive or solid-state drive (SSD) can cause your computer to crash, and running a physically damaged drive can lead to permanent data loss.

However, if you’re confident that the issue isn’t your storage device — or you’ve already backed up your data — you can try to diagnose and fix the BSOD:

1. Disconnect any new peripherals or hardware. 

USB drives, scanners, printers, and other devices may cause boot issues. If your computer boots normally after disconnecting the peripherals, check for updated drivers for the device that’s causing the issue.

If you’ve recently installed new internal hardware (such as a new hard drive), remove the hardware. Once again, if your computer boots with the hardware removed, you’ve diagnosed the problem — check that the hardware is properly configured.

2. Run Windows Memory Diagnostic. 

This can address issues with random access memory (RAM), provided that your RAM is still functional. Of course, your operating system needs to be operational to run the utility — but if you’re dealing with frequent BSODs, it’s a good place to start.

  1. On the Start/Search bar, type Run.
  2. Type mdsched.exe.
  3. Select Restart now and check for problems.

If the Memory Diagnostic fails to find an issue, you can rule out your RAM as the cause of the issue.

3. Update Your Drivers.

Most Windows installations will automatically update drivers unless you’ve disabled that functionality. If that’s the case, you can update your drivers by following this process:

  1. Open Device Manager.
  2. Right-click any devices with yellow triangle icons (which indicate a performance issue).
  3. Select Update driver. 

After updating your drivers, restart your computer.

4. Follow Windows’ Instructions for Resolving BSOD Errors.

Many BSOD errors will provide an error code — and on more recent Windows systems, a QR code, which you can scan with your phone to visit a troubleshooting site.

Windows Report provides a list of common Windows 11 and Windows10 BSOD errors, which is a great starting point if you can’t find a QR code (or if Microsoft’s instructions aren’t resolving the problem).

If a Windows BSOD error occurs due to failed storage media, you have options.

System crashes are problematic for data integrity. When your OS fails, data corruption is likely — though the extent of data corruption will vary depending on a number of factors. 

And if your BSOD is caused by a failing hard drive or SSD, running the device could exacerbate damage. In some cases, permanent data loss can occur, particularly if you’re operating a hard drive after a read/write head failure. 

Related: How Can I Tell If My Hard Drive is Broken?

If you have a backup, you can simply replace the failing device. Otherwise, follow these steps: 

  1. Keep your computer powered off. Don’t try to restart if you suspect a storage device failure or if you’ve noticed unusual sounds, excessively slow operation, or other symptoms of hard drive failure.
  2. Contact a professional data recovery provider to schedule a media evaluation. Look for a firm that provides risk-free price quotes. Read why flat-rate data recovery is a bad idea.
  3. Note any symptoms that occurred prior to the BSOD. That might include physical symptoms (such as sounds), error messages, and any steps you’ve taken to attempt to restore the data.
  4. Package your hard drive or SSD in an anti-static bag with at least 3-5 inches of bubble wrap. provides free media evaluations, and we support all of our services with a no data, no charge guarantee: If we’re unable to recover your files, you don’t pay for the attempt. 

With decades of experience and full-service laboratories at every location, we provide peace of mind during data disasters. Get started by scheduling an evaluation online or call 1-800-237-4200 to speak with an expert.