Fatal Error: Your PC's down. Now what?

Here are some first steps to pull yourself out of the blue-screen blues.

Go to the source

David Keyes, who runs Keyes Enterprises, a four-year-old online retail shop, says he relies exclusively on Microsoft's online help site when problems arise with either his desktop or laptop PCs.

So six months ago, when Windows unexpectedly shut down and gave him the dreaded "fatal error" message, he knew how to get started.

He restarted the computer in safe mode to work directly in the operating system . He then deleted a recent software update -- the most recent change he had made to his computer. Next he ran an antivirus software program, which found and deleted a tracking cookie.

Confident that he had solved the problem, Keyes rebooted his computer, installed the software update and was back online.

Everything worked smoothly from there, although Keyes says the whole project took about three hours out of his normal workday.

If the evidence is pointing to specific hardware or software, visit your vendor's online help center. Microsoft's support site, for instance, can let you search for solutions by typing in the text of an error message or specific problems, such as Outlook blocking some attachments. Trouble with your accounting software? Take a look at support sites such as QuickBooks Pro to search for way to address error messages. Problems with your HP printer? Check out the vendor's troubleshooting site for advice.

Or try a general online search, using your error message or a description of the problem as a search term, to get some advice on how to fix it.

Turn to peers

Filippo Pistone, managing director of Bacchanal Wine Imports, says he frequently turns to the Internet when the computers at his business aren't working right. He just enters in a summary of the problem -- such as "e-mails won't come through" -- and checks out whatever pops up.

"It's amazing how many people have the same issue," he says, noting that he has learned how to troubleshoot various problems based on what he has learned from vendor Web sites and from other PC users posting information in chat rooms.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags office pcs

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Mary K. Pratt

Mary K. Pratt

Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers


This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang


It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries


As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr


The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?