Black Screen of Death or Boatload of Advertising?


“Black Screen woes could affect millions on Windows 7, Vista and XP”, is the title used for a post to Prevx’s website describing what they feel is a very troublesome problem. Prevx offered a download to fix the bug, and within a day fear was blogged far and wide blaming the problem on Microsoft, of course, and their darned security patches. Prevx has since backed off a little from their initial claim but you can get a taste here.

The truth is actually a little different than the initial hysterical reports. From what I can tell there are considerably fewer affected than the millions conjured by Prevx. In fact I think there are millions fewer than millions, if you know what I mean.

The basic problem is that upon booting your Windows system and logging in, there is no desktop. You see only a black screen. You will, however, be able to bring up the task manager and you will be able to start Explorer.exe and access the internet. At that point you can use the free Malwarebytes software that we regularly recommend for those with no paid AV program.


1. Press: CTRL/ALT/DEL keys all at once

2. Click: Start Task Manager

3. Click: Application Tab

4. Enter: explorer.exe

5. Click: OK

You should now see your desktop and be able to access the Internet to download the Free Malwarebytes or even the free Prevx fix if need be. It’s quite likely that your existing paid AV software is able to fix the problem but I have not had a chance to test them all.

If you are like the millions I know, and haven’t had the problem, don’t do anything and Microsoft will have a patch for it next week. Sometimes truth is funnier than fiction.

Is it a big problem? NO.

Is it caused by MS patches? Maybe, Maybe not.

Did Prevx get a boat load of Free Press? Yes.



Prevx Fix


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58 thoughts on “Black Screen of Death or Boatload of Advertising?

  1. Windows has never given me any problems!! I have had allmost every version of windows throughout the years. The only problems I have ever had was with hardware that was cheap. Don’t buy cheap junk!!! You know who I’m talking about you acer and e machine users. When you only spend $500 for a whole system, what do you expect? You get what you pay for!

  2. Michele,

    Yes!! I will now spend money that I really don’t want to at this time for a APPLE!! I just wish they would get a little more price friendly, if you know what I mean.

  3. I never saw a Black Screen until Sept. 10 2009, what a nightmare. Try backing up all your files & reinstalling all your software & that’s all Professional Software. They are really something. Vista is a total nightmare…They should test their products before jumping to the market. Then they lie & say, never heard of a Black Screen or a computer crashing. That was a total lie, I goggled it & was shocked that very same day. It started at 7:45 AM & still at 6:45 PM my computer was still updating with a black screen, a circle spinning, & the circle was huge. They forget to tell people that it causes a crash due to a virus….SHAME!! I have a Professional Anti-Virus Program for my company that I paid serveral $$$$.$$ for. So, Microsoft really did everyone wrong. Maybe Bill Gates should stop traveling & helping the world & help all of the people her in the USA that purchased his product & it failed…constant!!

  4. The Black Screen of Death has been happening since Sept 2009 when my Microsoft update for SP2 for Vista it took me over 30 days to finally get Microsoft to assist me, & the final result was a total nightnare. I have to remove my operating system & all my software and start from day one, never ever using anu CR-ROM that has come with my computer…What a nightmare. Microsoft should be placed in the naughty chair for serveral years.

  5. Very good info, but i hate when someone tells readers how too access some kind of settings area of windows and they give the wrong info, as when you spoke of
    1. Press: CTRL/ALT/DEL keys all at once
    You do not press CTRL/ALT/DEL all at one, you press them one key after another. CTRL then ALT then DEL

  6. well this advice is too little too late for me unfortunately. I have a 4 year old acer desktop running vista. More appropriately, it ran vista, it does nothing but collect dust now. In response to the “black screen” and lack of of any desktop icons, I did try the obligatory ctrl/alt/del but did not know the right click “new task(run)” command to get to Explorer in order to run a clean up.
    SO… I in desperation I ran the acer recovery disks–assuming all was lost anyway— now my computer is completely unresponsive. By that I mean,I rebooted and –I unplugged everything and started from scratch, thinking all would reset and the system would go through its “recognizing” stage– but to no avail –when I plugged everything back in, the computer booted back up and went to the sign in screen, but I can not communicate with it as neither the mouse or the keyboard will “talk” to it or show any signs of life at all, no lights, no action. (I even tried using the alternate USB port on the front-nothing)
    Did someone say “APPLE?”

  7. Why does this not surprise me? I was a beta tester from the word go. I now use the RC and am constantly looking for any problems that might emerge. I have my new copy of Win & Ultimate upgrade just waitiing for March to arrive when my RC will become annoying. I experienced the black screen in the earlier releases and only with the RC when attempting to make a dual boot disk with XP Pro.
    I believe one of the best things with Win 7 is that if your PC wont boot the way it should, all you have to do is boot from the install disk and it detects the reason and askes if you would like it to fix your install. Select the option and you are good to go again.
    Love that 7!!

  8. Black screens of death have been the least of my problems. In factat times in the last two weeks I would have welcomed it. I could have went to bed and forgot about all the other problems Win 7 has created around here.

    DVDs that don’t like CD-R disc. HD that puke. Softward that says WTF.

    Three system crashes that windows couln’t repair.
    I even had the OS load on both the C and D partation after giving up on upgradeing. I did get a good laugh when update sent fixes to my D drive for a while and then swithched over to my C drive. I sat and watched in utter amazement.

    Hours on the phone with support wasted. None of the problems have been fixed.

    The way too early release of this “OS” is nothing but a cash cow to support MS and the industries that follow.

    The reviewers of this system should be beat for the lies that they have told. It is a piece of crap.

    Buy an upgrade for your favorite a-hole and send them to PC hell for a while.

    My wife and kids spit if I mention that companies name while they standby angerly waiting for me to dig out their treasured files from from RTF backups that are useless. Nice of Microsoftinthe head to dump NTBackup on us and not mention it.

    Black screen of death, Ha. You haven’t ran into anything yet boys and girls.

  9. I have Windows 7 on a dual boot system with XP ( I simply installed a second drive, and put windows 7 on it. My computer simply asks me which I want to boot to when I power up. AND I have never arrived at anything but a normal desktop when I choose Windows 7. No black screen (and no 20 minute boot times. It boots much faster than xp!) And anyone who ever rebooted with control/alt/delete knows how to get to the task manager!

  10. Well, I disagree that it isn’t a big problem. I spent a good three days working to solve this problem on my Vista Ultimate machine.

    I usually don’t do the MS update because I have been burned before. Well, I wanted the security patches, so I trusted them this time and BAM! the problems started.

    In fact, this is such a problem, that I am honestly considering getting an Apple. I’m sick of having to spend days trying to fix a problem that MS has caused to my system.

    For the reporter….do a search of the internet for the other problems associated with the black screen of death and you will see so many posts where people are trying to fix from Windows 7 users that you will realize that Windows 7 is no different than other Windows products….fouled up!

  11. I figure a lot of people are just spazzing out about this Black screen issue. First of all any computer regardless of it’s power is going to have what would be considered an extended period of pure black screen time during boot in Win 7, as compared to earlier versions of windows, which always had something on the screen during the entire process. Secondly, people stupidly do not read the minimum system requirements and try to load newer versions of an MS based OS on an older machine. Unless you really know what you are doing and can edit the Registry to force the machine to comply with the new demands this will lead to headaches. If a machine is not up to the task then it is better to run the OS it was designed for and if you want to newer os, get a new machine designed to run it. Integrated video is not a good idea with either Vista or Windows 7 and yes this includes most laptops. Vista and Win 7 will run with integrated video, but not at optimum because the os needs to share RAM, and it was designed to “prefer” not to do so. In such a case the OS will need to figure a way to work around the blocks dedicated to video, this slows the machine down as these clock tics add up, especially with multiple apps running, as each call will require this same time to stop and think. Your best bet is to read the MS white papers from Microsoft and then apply what they say, always being certain that the machine and the OS were meant for eachother. Computing costs money, spend it and do not be a cheapskate, if you can not afford to do it right, go to your local library to do what you need to do.

  12. This is the first time I have heard anything about this, and I frequent/assist at 2 different highly active Windows 7 Forums… Not to mention all the clients I have (all of whom are not computer literate) and not one has called or emailed…

    So my guess is that someone at Prevx (never heard of them till now) didn’t install an AV product on one of their boxes, and got hit with this minor issue. Then decided they were going to save the world and blew it all out of proportion.

    Just another validation for making sure you install an AV, I use the freebie from Microsoft “Security Essentials” and install it on any new/upgrades I do. No “Black Screens of Death” for me or anyone else (except Prevx) yet.

  13. Hey Steve,
    Thanks for being a source of common sense and sanity. Sometimes I think we’re all just looking for a panic point. Unfortunately, there’s always someone willing to exploit these social phenomena for publicity, or just crass cash.

    A lesson for all of us hyperactive geeks, Chill, already!

  14. theres something you missed, in the applications tab of the Task Manager theres nowhere to enter “Explorer” into so you need to add an extra step to the list, “right click the list and select “New Task (Run…)”” that will be a bit more helpful.

  15. I had the black window after Windows updates were apllied. It would stay black for about 2 to 3 minutes, until the desktop came up. I knew I could use task manager to bring it up. After system restore, using Vista CD and sfc /scannow, it did the same thing upon restarting each time. Reinstalled the system. No problem now. Will keep an eye on updates more closely. I have them set also for notifying me when available.

  16. You guys may already know this, but you can go directly to the task manager by hitting [shift]+[ctl]+[esc]. I have Vista Ultimate x64 on my PC and Win7 home premium x64 on the portable. I have never had a problem with either. That is after the Vista drivers finally came out.

  17. OK so what do I do when ctrl alt del doesn’t work. It’s vista. It goes to boot, gets the Microsoft running bar then goes to a black screen and the arrow for the mouse but you can press any keys till the cows come home and it just sits there. Start up repair – doesn’t do a cracker. System restore has no restore points. Removed the hard disk and ran a check disk from a test pc and all ok. Just a black screen and white arrow that you can move around.
    Totally stumped!!!!

  18. Whenever I boot up Windows 7, my screen goes black and a message tells me that Windows Explorer has stopped working. After it “troubleshoots” itself, the desktop comes on, minus icons, freezes, then a message tells me that Window Desktop Manager has stopped working. This troubleshoots itself, resulting finally in a desktop with icons. The next problem is that Aero is not working, so to get that feature going I launch the transparency troubleshooter. Six minute after booting up, I finally get the windows 7 Operating System running properly. I’ve reinstalled Windows 7 and run AV and malware programs. After a few days it reverts back to its 6-minute boot up sequence. I contacted Microsoft, gave them my Product Key (I purchased 7 directly from them), and have been informed there’s a problem with it, thereby necessitating a $49.95 charge for any assistance with Windows 7. I have switched back to XP. When support for that ends, I am switching to Mac.

  19. Only had this once and a reboot cleared it. however I do have a problem with my Creative Xtreme Music card with Win 7, it corrupts the “Windows Audio” file which then prevents me from using the Control Panel. Ihave installed both on a clean disk using Creative’s latest driver(2.18.0013)and still get this fault.getting no help from Creative so has anybody got a solution.

  20. jajajaja,see that?I have a home network with 5 pc’s windows xp pro sp 3 installed,completly updated and protected by mc afee
    and a lot of programs in there, and I must say that have no problems,any kind or any trouble;no virus,no spywares,no hackers,
    New Operative Systems will always bring initial troubles till
    time has pass,than can think if would upgrade,not me.
    I will keep on Xp
    It’s the best O.S.
    Windows 7 is a remix,windows xp-windows vista + visual programs
    as docks and /or windows blinds that can find in the web,those included for xp or vista
    wanna expend money on hardware to better perfomrmance ? no way,troubles? no way
    My systems :
    windows xp pro sp3 up to date
    intel p4 1.7 to 2.8
    hdd 20,40(2)80, and 120 gb
    mem ram 512 to 1 gb ,very fasters
    object dock,rocket dock,windows blinds,side bars, etc
    If want a pc with no problems,must have an xp pc.
    Every time a new O.S. come,it will be a lot of troubles till next 2 or 3 years,remember xp? Now is the best O.S.

  21. When I first started using VISTA, I had an AMD processor, and it gave me some problems, then my MOBO died (not related to VISTA) and I decided to rebuild with an Intel processor. The few problems that I had before with the AMD disappeared, and it was smooth sailing. I purchased a copy of Win 7 Ultimate and have had no problems of any kind with it so far. I kept the VISTA drive and now run a dual boot syste. No problems with either OS.

  22. I did not have any problems with any of Microsoft updates on any of my computers, however I had two of my neibors bring me over their PC’s to fix the problem. I started both computers in safe mode and ran MSRT which I burned to disk from my computer and in both cases their was malware which MSRT removed from the computers. Both PC’s started up normally with no problems. I also downloaded Advanced System care and Security 360 and ran both. Advanced system care corrected the registries on their computer and dramatacally increased the speed of both computers and Security 360 found additional low level trojans on both computers and removed them as well.

    So in my openion, Windows Update may had exposed the malware that may have been hiden in all of the computers that were effected with Black Screen. Only time will tell.

  23. i did encounter a problem or major system slow with windows 7 during an update of the malicious removal tool update one time and restored my computer to the previous day and that problem or glitch i had went away.

  24. i get the black screen with a cursor blinking when a game i play Call of Duty4:modern warfare, gets a directx error when changing to a new level(map). i wait for a sound and press ctrl+alt+del and open task manager and the error dialog shows that directx has encountered a problem and the game for some reason is running multiple instances of itself about 15 or 20 times. i click ok on the error dialog and all instances of the game shut down. i restart the game and it asks me if i want to run the game in safe mode, which means it will run at the default game resolution(1024×768) and i click no because i want to run in the highest resolution that my monitor supports(1680×1050). i installed all the previous directx components and i still get that error from time to time. it’s not windows 7 only. i got directx errors with XP professional for Call of Duty4 also. when i get that black screen if i dont wait for the sound first and press ctrl+alt+del then the game automatically runs at a lower resolution. then i have to go to the game graphics options to set it to the higher resolution again.

  25. I have had it happen once and by habit went contrl,alt del.Fired up explorer.exe and away I went. I did not know it was an issue, Thanks for info.

  26. Ron Graves Says:
    December 9th, 2009 at 1:12 pm
    While Windows updates screwing things up isn’t entirely unknown, I wonder if the difference between having this problem and not having it is having Windows Update on full automatic?

    Mine is set to download and show me, then I check to see what I’ve got – and delete anything that’s not relevant. In recent weeks, though I’m running XP, it’s tried to foist a whole raft of Win7 updates on me, and for Office 2007, too (I have Office 2003), all of which have been consigned to oblivion.

    It’s a thought, because I can’t see that Win7 and Office 2007 updates, automatically dumped into machines not running them, will do them a great deal of good.

    Ron, I have to say…. you are a liar. Those things are checked by comparing the version number of your OS to the updates…. if it is downloading things for Office 2007… you had that on your system at one time and not everything for it was uninstalled.

    As to the Windows 7 updates….. uh, many of the updates now are COMBINED UPDATES… meaning, that they are for Windows XP, Vista and 7…. so you most likely are not running updates that your system actually NEEDS!

  27. I have had this problem myself, and it’s usually because some registry entries get borked in some manner that makes this happen…. a quick pass through with Baku or some other registry entry cleaner and the problem disappears forever in most cases.

  28. I have not had a black screen but I did lose the desktop. Upon bootup of my new week old computer, I got a message saying that it could not find my desktop. I had to go back and completely reset the machine to its original brand new out of the box condition. I am not impressed with Win7. Its pretty but…..

  29. I love your newsletter BUT if you continue to get sponsors like Sprint, whose elf keeps coming back interfering reading the article, you can scratch me off.

  30. Black screen of death is nothing new I had that in XP once or twice, it is caused with mainly drivers, never had it in Vista although and never had it also in Win 7 what I did experienced is a games that crash my video drivers and that it recover gracefully inside Win 7, not bad, not bad at all.

    I did post that fact in a MS forum and to Nvidia and they were baffle about this, although a new drivers later one from Nvidia a week ago did fix it, so I am not going to blame Win 7 for drivers of my video card as they had almost a year and half to get it right and that goes to every hardware supplier, mind you that I am a very satisfy user of Win 7 and using it right now to record a TV program and typing here my answer at the same time so not bad, not bad at all.

  31. I had this problem, but not at start up. It would be random while on a website. I would manually shut down and it would start back up ok until it would happen the next day. I have a new HP TouchSmart with Win 7. I used the fix from Prevx, because at the time there were no other people addressing this problem. So it was not a huge deal, but was disruptive. I have not had a problem since. So appreciate the Prevx fix.

  32. Even a minor problem is major to many poeple I know. My mother didnt even know what the “desktop” was and still forgets. I cringe when she calls with a computer issue. whew!

  33. I had the black screen of death but after checking my settings i found that the issue was with my graphics card. It was seeing 2 displays and defaulting to display 2. After I made corrections in control panel, it was fixed and i have had no issues since. I recommend that people check their display settings if they get the screen. For those that get to the logon screen but cant see it, just type your password and press enter. it should go to masin windows screen but it may be black too. Hit alt Ctr Del at that point.

  34. t. schrover: i have the same problem… after about 15-20 minutes the computer finishes booting up and works. i have been on the phone with bill gates in new dehli, but they can’t seem to isolate the problem yet either.

  35. While Windows updates screwing things up isn’t entirely unknown, I wonder if the difference between having this problem and not having it is having Windows Update on full automatic?

    Mine is set to download and show me, then I check to see what I’ve got – and delete anything that’s not relevant. In recent weeks, though I’m running XP, it’s tried to foist a whole raft of Win7 updates on me, and for Office 2007, too (I have Office 2003), all of which have been consigned to oblivion.

    It’s a thought, because I can’t see that Win7 and Office 2007 updates, automatically dumped into machines not running them, will do them a great deal of good.

  36. I have experienced the problem a couple of times last week. I thought it was caused by a program I downloaded. Glad to hear that it was not the the cause of the Black Screen. I will wait for the patch.

  37. It is a real and tiresome problem for many with Nvidia onboard video (nope, we are not all gamers). It boots just fine and runs great until the screen saver (or power saver) screen kicks in … then no amount of coaxing, keystokes would bring back the desktop. I upgraded drivers but the only thing that worked as a fix was a different vid card (pcie) instead of using the onboard.

  38. I have the problem and the solution is not that simple. I only see a black screen with a mouse pointer where usally a login screen should appear. Cnrt-Alt-Del does not help in this case.

  39. re: Hershe Master “I’m astounded that information would be blown out of proportion in order to attain product advertising”

    You obviously live in a very nice cave. 🙂

    The workaround is a very common way for the slightly savvy to circumvent issues with a few viruses, some shell glitches of yore and now this. But I agree with Bruce (up top). Most users don’t know where much beyond the location of the keyboard. If Microsoft is going to tout itself as the premiere user friendly OS then they seriosuly need to step it upa notch. I’m a freakin’ tech genius (/modesty) and even I switched to Linux simply because the learning curve is about equal (concerning Debian/Gnome at least) and I don’t have to shell out $200 for every computer I own.
    How much longer must we suffer at the hands of corporate America? We can get glitches and workarounds for free. And they come with flexibility 🙂

  40. Had the same problem with my Dell upgrade CD. Turned out it was the ATI Catalyst program in my Dell that caused it so I started from scratch and allowed the Installer to remove Catalyst (which I did not let it do the first time around) and it automatically reinstalled it when the install of Win7 was complete. Haven’t had a problem since and I am liking 7.

  41. I had a porblem with a Vista computer the week before last which sounds very similar. After a few attempts Startup Repair was able to fix it via System Restore. I firmly believe there are many occasions when Windows Updates cause more problems than they solve. I am far more wary about having Windows update set to automatic than I used to be.

  42. I can only imagine the panic I,and millions of other non-computer savvy folks, would experience at the sight of a black screen. The fact that few people will actually experience the problem does make me wonder about Prevx’s real motivation – perhaps some good exposure for their website????

  43. I have run the Beta and also the RC versions of WIn 7 and never ever had any problems. Although I am still using XP I was enamoured with Win 7 and its performance. I have a copy of Win 7 Unltimate but have not yet installed since I have been experienceing a hardware problem and have not adequately isolatedit to memory or motherboard.

  44. Sounds like a advertising hype!! Average users will take their computer to a shop to repair, and advanced users now how to search for the solution. Thanks for the fix!

  45. I’m not scared of the dark screen of death. Hysteria comes easy with computer as its kinda like the dark most of us don’t know where we are or how to turn on the lght. Thanks for the directions

  46. I’m astounded that information would be blown out of proportion in order to attain product advertising. Oh well the newness of Win 7 is now gone and I must face the reality that it too may have some flaws.

    Thanks for the update and now I will be on the look out and won’t panic for

    “THE BLACK WINDOW OF DEATH” which by the very name sounds more looming than the blue window of death.

  47. It may be a problem to the rare few who have encountered this problem but me, I’ve never heard of it happening to anybody until now.

  48. I got that a few times with the beta’s and did the ctrl-alt-delete for the Task Manager. After logging and then back in the desktop alwys showed up. It hasn’t happened with the RC yet but the boot files have disappeared a few times and I’ve had to use a start-up disk to fix it.

  49. Just in case you’re asking, what Prevx patch do is only one single thing: resetting the value “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindows NTCurrentVersionWinlogon” “Shell”
    to “explorer.exe”. Maybe this can help someone who want to try to fix by himself without executing third-part software.

  50. Is it a big problem?

    Absolutely it is. For the average user! Average user of course not even knowing what a task manager is, not knowing a thing about key strokes and short cuts…….. All they know is the shiney new PC they have purchased is now a black screen displaying doorstop.

    I think many, many people with experience forget that the average computer user is illiterate when it comes to computers. In fact my experience has been that not only average users are computer illiterate but many if not most of the ones who think they experienced are computer illiterate.

    So is it a big problem? Yep it sure is.

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