Update: If you’re puzzled because you’re getting STOP errors (the Blue Screen of Death) and they scroll off your screen before you can read the details, here’s the solution: Get details about the Blue Screen of Death.
Trying to figure out what’s causing a Windows STOP error (more commonly known as the Blue Screen of Death, or BSOD) can be a challenge. One likely candidate is bad hardware; if the error messages are random and the shutdowns appear unpredictably, you should suspect a faulty power supply or bad RAM.
Another common BSOD cause is a faulty device driver. Typically, you should be suspicious of any installed drivers that are not digitally signed, especially if they were written for an earlier version of Windows.
Windows XP includes a powerful troubleshooting tool called Driver Verifier (Verifier.exe). It’s a terrific way to identify flawed device drivers. It’s also a surefire way to screw up your system if you use it incorrectly. Read on for the details and important cautions.
Driver Verifier works by testing each driver you specify at startup; if it finds a problem, it stops your computer predictably with a BSOD that accurately explains the true problem. Although this doesn’t sound like a huge improvement (your system still won’t work, after all), Driver Verifier performs a critical troubleshooting step: identifying the problem. You can then correct the problem by removing or replacing the offending driver. (If you’re satisfied that the driver really is OK despite Driver Verifier’s warning, you can turn off Driver Verifier for all drivers or for a specific driver. Any driver that Driver Verifier chokes on should be regarded with suspicion, but some legitimate drivers bend the rules without causing problems.)
Driver Verifier works at startup to thoroughly exercise each driver. It performs many of the same tests that are run by the Microsoft Windows Hardware Quality Labs as part of the certification and signing process, such as checking for the way the driver accesses memory.
Beware: If Driver Verifier finds a nonconforming driver – even one that doesn’t seem to be causing any problems – it will prevent your system from starting. If you use the advice in this article and have trouble starting your system, I won’t be able to help you. Use Driver Verifier only if you’re having problems. In other words, if it ain’t broke …
To enable Driver Verifier, click Start, Run. In the Open box, type verifier and press Enter. In the Driver Verifier Manager dialog box (shown here), select Create Standard Settings.
Click Next and select the type of drivers you want to verify. Because unsigned drivers are the most likely cause of problems, I recommend that you choose the default option: Automatically select unsigned drivers.
When you click Next, you get a list of all unsigned drivers on your system. Note that the list will contain some hardware drivers and some file-system filter drivers, such as those used by antivirus programs, CD burning software, and other low-level system utilities.
At this point you have two choices:
- Go through the list and make a note of all drivers identified and then click Cancel. No changes are made to your system configuration; all you’ve done is gather a list of suspicious drivers, which you can then try to remove or disable manually.
- Click Finish to complete the wizard and restart your computer. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS OPTION, for reasons that will become obvious with the remainder of this article. If you choose this option, don’t blame me if things get even messier than they already are.
Did you ignore my advice and choose Option #2 anyway? Fine. If your computer stops with a BSOD when you next log on, you’ve identified a problem driver. The error message includes the name of the offending driver and an error code. To resolve the problem, boot into Safe Mode (press F8 during startup) and disable or uninstall the problem driver. You’ll then want to check with the device vendor to get a working driver that you can install.
To disable Driver Verifier so that it no longer performs verification checks at startup, run Driver Verifier Manager again and select Delete Existing Settings in the initial dialog box.
Alternatively, click Start, then Run, and type verifier /reset in the Open box. (If you haven’t yet solved the driver problem, of course, you’ll be stopped at a BSOD, unable to disable Driver Verifier. In that case, boot into Safe Mode and then disable Driver Verifier.)
You can configure Driver Verifier so that it checks only certain drivers. To do that, open Driver Verifier Manager, select Create Standard Settings, click Next, and select the last option, Select driver names from a list. This option lets you exempt a particular driver from Driver Verifier’s scrutiny – such as one that Driver Verifier flags but you are certain is not the cause of your problem.
For much more detailed information about the Verifier utility, including command-line options and error codes, see Microsoft Knowledge Base article 244617, “How to Use Driver Verifier to Troubleshoot Windows Drivers.”
[This material was adapted from Windows XP Inside Out, Second Edition.]