Why Do Computers Crash?

The computer crash – the bane of anyone who’s ever used a computer. We’ve all been there, head down typing away, only to be greeted by the Blue Screen of Death upon looking back up; the power light on the front of the PC balefully winking away at you, almost as if it knows that you’ll be jabbing it in frustration in a few short seconds. With any luck you were saving regularly, but it’s still a pain to have to reboot and get back to where you left off. Of course if you’re really unlucky, a catastrophic crash could have damaged system files meaning you can’t even boot the computer, forcing you to perform a system repair or even recovery costing time and money.

It’s not only the traditional Windows PC that crashes either; tablets, phones and game consoles are all afflicted by the curse of the crash, so I thought I’d take to the time to go through the most common reasons for a device to crash.

Incorrect/Outdated Device Drivers

A device driver is a bit of software that tells the computer’s operating system how to interact with a specific piece of hardware. You could liken a device driver to someone translating English to French and vice versa – if they make a mistake, the structure of the sentence is changed and the meaning of the phrase could change to something that isn’t desired or expected. When this happens to a computer, the computer doesn’t know what to do and simply halts. Graphics drivers are usually the biggest culprits here.

Failed/Failing Hardware

The job of computer memory is simply to store 1’s and 0’s for use later on. Imagine the memory in your computer is failing and not storing these values correctly. Your computer looks for these values and either gets the wrong one, or no value at all, causing it to do something it didn’t intend to. If you get a “Fatal Exception Error” on a crash, it’s worth testing the memory in the first instance.

Failing hardware could also be something much more mechanical, like a fan wearing out. Computers generate a lot of heat, so if they can’t cool themselves they’ll literally cook themselves. If this happens, the damage is usually pretty serious as computer components are very sensitive to heat. The original Xbox 360s were particularly prone to heat damage, allegedly due to the wrong type of solder used in the internal components.

The Human Condition

As much as it pains us to hear, we aren’t perfect. When you consider that millions of lines of code, written by hundreds of developers over many, many years can go into an application, it’s understandable that a single mistake or oversight can cause something unexpected to happen, and when something unexpected happens to a computer, well, you know the rest. As time goes by programming methodologies improve and quality control becomes more rigorous, but ultimately humans are fallible, and as long as it’s a human writing the code, few pieces of software will be truly perfect.