Q: I'm an oldie (88) and my PC is an oldie Gateway (2gb) and we're both very slow. All of a sudden a blue symbol appeared with the words that there is a problem and Windows will seek the answer and restart the PC. The notice – "Stop code: IRQL NOT LESS OR EQUAL" also appeared. I waited over an hour and apparently Windows couldn't find the answer. This has now become more frequently appearing. I Googled the problem and got many responses that the fix can be made in a matter of minutes but all responses wanted a fee to correct the problem. However, I am Scottish and need HEEEELP!

– Herb G., Destin

A: Sounds to this Geek like you need “HEEEELP” no matter what your nationality is, Herb. Before we can get you there, let’s clear up a few things. First of all, I’d like you to visit my column archives at ItsGeekToMe.co (not .com!) and go check out Issue No. 367, from the week of August 3-9, 2014. In that issue, reader Richard T. was having pretty much this exact problem. I did my best in that issue to answer the problem, along with expressing a good bit or ire with Microsoft for the inanity of their error messages, which don’t actually tell you anything about what’s wrong.

As you’ll see in that issue, what you are experiencing is a classic “Blue Screen of Death,” or BSOD – the bane of Windows users everywhere. It occurs when something in Windows has gone so wrong that the operating system has to shut things down to prevent catastrophic damage to itself. When it happened to you, I can’t imagine what you saw that implied to you that it was looking for an answer, but I’m fairly sure it wasn’t. That’s kind of what the “Stop” in the phrase “Stop code” was trying to tell you. Oh well – could have been worse. Still, that’s an hour you’ll never get back again.

Now, one BSOD is bad, but a recurring BSOD is much worse. That it’s appearing with increasing frequency is something that should not be ignored either. Unfortunately, I don’t have a specific fix for you, because that message is not specific about the problem. Even if it was more specific, there can be a vast difference between a problem, and that problem’s cause. In other words, the BSOD you’re experiencing is only a symptom of something else happening.

It concerns me that you’re running what sounds like a positively ancient computer, even though it is loaded with Windows 10. The Gateway brand name was purchased by Acer way back in 2007, making your PC at least 11 years old. At the rate in which computer hardware obsolesces, you, at 88 are a veritable spring chicken by comparison. 2 MB is the absolute bare minimum required to run Windows 10, and that doesn’t leave much room for programs. I would guess the system probably takes forever to boot-up, and once it does, is barely stable. That’s one potential source of not just a BSOD, but failed Windows updates, problems loading and saving files, and lots of other stuff. I hate to say it this way, but even without a recurring BSOD, that computer is on its last legs. It’s a prime candidate for a hard drive failure if nothing else.

If you insist on trying to keep that old wood-fired, steam powered computer chugging along, there are two things I can recommend to try and solve your BSOD problem. One is a Windows repair. This will only be effective if the problem is occurring because something has gone wrong with Windows, and you will only know that by trying it. You can ask Windows to fix itself by using the Windows System File Checker tool. You must have administrator privileges to do this. Press the Start button, and enter “cmd” in the search box. Right-click on “Command Prompt” in the search results, and select “Run as administrator.” After you get through all the User Account Control protections, the command window will appear. Enter “SFC /scannow.” This will scan all system files, and find and repair any that are corrupted, which as I said, may or may not fix the problem.

The other option is a Windows re-install. This is a destructive operation, meaning you’ll lose any programs and saved files, such as documents, movies, and photos. It’s an inelegant, strong-arm solution to the problem, but highly effective in making stubborn problems go away.

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