Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

The place to start is with your hard drive although this error can also come from RAM and the motherboard. But, start with that hard drive...

I bought a PC about two years ago. In the beginning, everything was OK, but now I get two errors: blue screen and CRC fail. My question: How do I know if the problem is in my hard disk, my motherboard, or my RAM?

In this excerpt from Answercast #20, I look at a Blue Screen error that could be coming from several directions. I walk through a few steps a technician might take (and oh yes, are you backed up?)

Hard drive, motherboard, or RAM?

The short answer is that ultimately, you do not. There is no simple way to determine where the error is.

The most common approach to this particular kind of problem (where you've got a blue screen specifically for a CRC error) is to immediately suspect the hard disk and start doing some diagnostics on that.

Diagnosing the problem

Diagnostics would include things like:

  • Running chkdsk /r
  • Or potentially even going so far as to run SpinRite on the drive.

A CRC error on the drive can in fact cause system crashes and blue screens. The problem is if the bad sector that a CRC error represents is a portion of (or is supposed to contain a portion of) Windows itself and it cannot be read properly. Then it's very possible for that CRC error to cause Windows to crash and crash hard; in other words, create a blue screen.

Unfortunately, the same can be said for RAM and the same can be said for motherboard failures.

Hard disk is the first place that I'd look. Then, having eliminated that as a suspect, I would then start to look at RAM. Then, I would start to look at the motherboard. Pretty much in that order.

Technical support

Failing all of that, ultimately, there really is no good substitute for having a technician actually lay hands on the machine and look at it; and see if there's something he can detect with electronics equipment to determine what is or is not failing.

You'll find, I suspect, that the most common diagnostic approach is to replace the parts. In other words, while your hard disk has information on it that you don't want to replace, swapping out RAM is one approach that you'll find a technician will often use. If they happen to have spare motherboards for that machine lying around, they may in fact even go so far as to swap that out just to see if the problem goes away.

Article C5379 - May 23, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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1 Comment
Michael Horowitz
May 24, 2012 9:22 AM

In this case, booting to Linux, either on a CD or DVD or USB flash drive, provides two benefits.

First, many Linux Live CDs come with an option on their boot time menu for Memtest, which can be used to run a diagnostic on the ram. Second, if the computer can run Linux, from an outside source, for hours on end without a problem, then its likely that the motherboard and ram are OK and the hard drive is the problem. Anyone who knows their way around Linux would be best off logically dismounting the internal hard drive to insure that Linux never touches it.

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