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Issue #732 – Publication Week: August 1-7, 2021

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Q: Yesterday my Windows 10 computer had a blue screen crash and restart. Unfortunately the restart only went as far as the scenic photo image screen and then stopped short of allowing me to access the login screen. My repeated attempts to left click mouse, Ctrl/Alt/Del, Esc Key & Win Key taps only caused the image screen to blink and briefly display the login screen for less than a second. My attempts to restart and access the BIOS with F2, F7, F8, and F10 only allowed me to view the Boot options screen. I did the Microsoft Windows 10 update to 21H1 last week. Have you encountered this problem and will your advertised update install tool work understanding I cannot access the functionality of Windows? Or do I need to reinstall Windows 10? 

– Ed P.
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

A:  I’m going to answer the last part of your question first, Ed, as I’m very much confused over what “advertised update install tool” you’re talking about.  Although I am a Software Engineer by trade, these days most of my programming efforts are for my employer, or for my own, personal use.  It has been many years since I released any software on my own, and when I did, none of the titles I had anything to do with assisting with Windows updates, or performing installations.  I can’t help but wonder if you’re perhaps referring to some third-party title that I mentioned in one of the previous issues of It’s Geek To Me?  If so, I can’t say with any certainty whether it will work under the unknown circumstances that you described.

Speaking of which, let’s move on to your primary question.  Honestly, the first thing that came to my mind is that you might not be waiting long enough for the system to recover.  When a crash occurs, especially one serious enough to cause a Blue Screen of Death (BSOD), it often takes time for Windows to boot back up to a useable state, and it’s not very good at telling you what’s going on while it does.  I can’t tell you all the things it might be doing behind the scenes, but suffice it to say that depending on how severe the crash was, it’s not just Windows that needs to recover.  Any number of drivers, services, programs, add-ons, etc. that keep your system running the way you want it might be queued for servicing, and it simply takes time to get to them all.

Picture this:  Your computer crashes – hard.  A bunch of system processes lose their current state, and every system service and startup program you have – which normally shut down gracefully so they can start up in the same context at the next boot – suddenly have their electronic framework ripped out from under them.  This can sometimes be disastrous, resulting in all kinds of weird errors, but for the sake of argument, let’s say everything can recover.  So, your system starts the process, but every time it tries to make progress, someone kits Ctrl+Alt+Delete, or Esc+WinKey, or forces it to shut back down again.

So, this begs the question of how long is one expected to wait in this circumstance?  Well, I can’t answer that, because every computer is different, and every crash, and every recovery are also different. What I can say is that there are usually “signs of life” in a computer that tell you it’s not locked up, but is actually working, even though you might not be seeing much of anything on the screen.  First, watch for the Windows “Wait” cursor.  Whether it be an hourglass, or a spinning circle, or a hand making a “stop” gesture, it’s usually pretty obvious when the computer is not ready for you.  Also, look at the hard drive activity light.  If it’s frantically blinking, it means the computer is reading and writing data, which in a crash situation is usually the sign of files being re-built, and crash reports being generated.  Another, less reliable one is your Caps Lock and Num Lock keys.  This assumes you have an indicator built-into the keyboard that shows the state of the keys.  If you press either of these, and the corresponding LED doesn’t change state, then you know that the very core of the operating system is either down, or so busy it can’t spare even a tiny slice of the CPU’s time, since it can’t even service the simple task of keyboard input.

My advice in this situation is to just be patient.  Give the system an hour, perhaps two, knowing higher-end hardware will probably recover faster than bargain PCs.  If you still don’t get results, then perhaps you really do need to re-install Windows.

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