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

I'm hoping that you have backed up. If not, this is a very good reason to do so. We don't know that your data hasn't been completely overwritten!

I went to grab a file from my wife's computer that I've done thousands of times. The screen showed them, and then the screen went blank. All of the icons went away. The screen is just white now. This week, last week, they've not come back. I've no access to her files now. Any idea what happened? I'm running XP Home, SP 3. In fact, we both are. I gave up on Windows 7 when nothing worked.

In this excerpt from Answercast #64, we look at what happens when a screen goes white and what that means.

Can't access files

So when you say that the screen just went white, I'm assuming you mean the entire computer screen. That there is nothing at all visible on the screen whatsoever. There's no remnant of Windows.

To me, that says either of two things:

  • Either your computer simply crashed and it's not coming back;

  • Or the connection to the monitor's been harmed and it can't display properly what you're computer is trying to display or the monitor itself has failed.

So, I'm assuming that you've tried rebooting the machine. If not, reboot the machine.

Test monitor and cables

If that doesn't solve anything, then I would do something like take the monitor and its cables and try them on a different computer - to make sure that they're working. Or the other way around, borrow a monitor, connect it to your computer, and make sure that's working or not.

If the replacement monitor works, that tells you that your monitor is toast. If your monitor works on somebody else's computer, that tells you that the problem lies elsewhere.

Data backed up?

I'm hoping that you have backed up. If not, this is a very good reason to.

It's unclear exactly what's going on. We don't know, for example, that your data hasn't been completely overwritten. So, one lesson to take away from this is of course to start backing up and backing up regularly. That way, you'll have access to your files, your wife's files, whatever, on a regular basis no matter what happens to your computers.

Live CD boot

Finally, the other thing that comes to mind for self-diagnosis would be to go out and grab what's called a "Live CD." It's something that you download and burn to a CD-ROM and boot from that CD-ROM. There are several:

  • Ubuntu Linux is one (that might require a live DVD; they just exceeded the size of a CD). But there are others.

  • There's the Ultimate Boot CD.

  • There's Knoppix.

  • There's a bunch of different alternatives to this.

The bottom line there though is to see if you boot from some other operating system. Does the display work? Can you see what's on your hard disk? Does the computer work at all?

If it does, then you've at least defined the problem to be probably, software related and not hardware related. If the live CD doesn't work at all, then you've probably got yourself a hardware problem.

Unfortunately, given the description we're working with, about all I can suggest you do in either case (software or hardware) is that you then consider seeing if you can't find yourself a good local technician to have a look at the machine. This definitely feels like one of those situations where you want to have someone lay hands on the machine, examine the machine, poke around on the machine physically, and see what's going on in a way (obviously) like I can't do here from the other side of the internet.

Article C5954 - October 25, 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.

Not what you needed?

October 26, 2012 3:24 PM

(1) Disconnect the monitor data cable from the computer.
Power up the monitor. If it is working a 3 colored screen saver will be displayed advising no data received.Reconnect data cable
(2) Try to boot into BIOS. Usually this is done by pressing delete{del) key or the F1 or F2 key.
If the BIOS set up menu is displayed, the monitor & video hardware on your computer are working.

john neeting
October 26, 2012 6:32 PM

had the same problem many moons ago, tracked it total collapse of memory chip [ the first one since it shares video ]. Swaped chips leaving minimum memory and got video back [ but min processing mem ] try this [ couldn't hoit ]

October 27, 2012 4:16 AM

An old, insecure trick is to set the screen colors to white print on a white background. Would your wife want to keep you out of her files? She, or some April Fool's joker, or maybe even a virus, might do that. Mouse around the screen to see whether the cursor changes when it goes over a clickable spot.

November 15, 2012 11:19 AM

The question didn't say if the monitor was to a desktop or a laptop, but I'm willing to bet it is an LCD-type flat panel display either way.

My experience has been that an all white screen usually implies a bad board inside the monitor (or bad caps on that board) while a black screen may mean anything from a bad inverter to somebody redirecting the display data to a non-existant external screen or even a total system crash. Whether it's a temporary swap or a permanent replacement, you're probably looking at a new monitor.

Troubleshooting this issue for a laptop can be challenging since you can't see what's happening. The best aproach is to do as Leo suggests and hook up an external monitor. Use your keyboard to send the computer's data to that monitor instead of the one built into the laptop. This usually requires using a combination of keys--like Function and F7, which cycles the machine through options like "local display only," "external display only," and "both displays" each time you type them. You'll need a manual or to do a little online research to see what the proper key combination is to redirect your computer's display output. Give each one a second or two to work--it sometimes takes a few seconds for the new monitor to pick up the signal.

On LCD-type flat screens, a totally white screen often means failure of some component part of the monitor. If you're lucky, a few inexpensive capacitors can be replaced to revive it, but unless it's a documented fix or you're an electronics buff, testing and replacing the caps is cost-prohibitive. Sometimes a more expensive part called an inverter is bad--replacing one often costs almost as much as a new monitor, but not always. You can buy cracked screens online and pull the inverter to use on your monitor, but you must match the parts exactly. The wrong inverter can do more damage, so don't guess at the answer--get the proper part.

If these aren't attractive solutions replace the monitor. It's very easy for a desktop; almost any monitor using the same type of cable as the old one will do. It can also be done on a laptop without replacing the entire laptop and losing all the files--it really isn't all that hard, but you must obtain the proper EXACT match replacement part. An online search will pull up plenty of tutorials on replacing the screen on a laptop. It boils down to some screws and a plug or two. Remember to remove the battery before you start taking apart the machine.

Mike Noone
November 16, 2012 4:39 PM

This is similar to my windows 7 pro experience. Occasionally the computer will generate a translucent white overlay and stop responding. (even to ctrl alt del) I have an i5 with 8gig ram windows 7 (64bit) 1gig graphics card, no on board video. This happens when I leave the computer idling for over 30 min. no screen saver. power settings put the monitor to sleep after 10 min.
Please try to answer this for me. I'm at a loss as to what is happening.
Happy to provide more specs and info if required

No, this is something different. Translucent white, where you can see what's "behind" it, is different than completely white. Translucent means this article: "(Not Responding)" - What does it mean, and what do I do about it?

chuck sunder
March 17, 2013 6:00 PM

RE: white screen. Leo, sometimes when my Windows 7 computer comes back from "sleep" , all the icons will show up normally but the screen is white....icons look like they're under a cloud. Computer frozen, can't open anything. I finally found a way to "cure" it: HOLD DOWN the ctrl, alt, delete. After being held down for at least 10 seconds, everything back to normal. Can't explain it. Happens a couple times a month. Thank you, Leo.

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