Nobody likes the BSOD, but the worst thing about it is when it comes sporadically and for seemingly no reason at all. When you've made a change to your system that results in errors, it's pretty easy to diagnose. Otherwise, oh god, it's awful.

Recently my IBM Thinkpad T42 (2373-3VU, for those who care), started acting erratically. It would freeze at random moments, shut down spontaneously and then fail to start up again, and sometimes not come on at all. Then, of course, I got the dreaded BSOD a couple of times. I called IBM (Lenovo) customer support and got nowhere. They did, however, inspire me to reseat my RAM. I thought that fixed the problem, but then the BSOD reappeared. I nearly cried.

The irritating thing about the BSOD is that it's full of useful information for diagnosing your problem, but it flashes off so quickly, as the computer reboots, that you have no time to read it. Thank goodness for Win XP's 'Watchdog' feature, which will log the text of each BSOD you get into text files with the extension '.wdl'. Find these in: /WINDOWS/LogFiles/Watchdog.

My latest BSOD contained the following:

//
// Watchdog Event Log File
//

LogType: Watchdog
Created: 2005-06-23 20:51:48
TimeZone: 480 – Pacific Standard Time
WindowsVersion: XP
EventType: 0xEA – Thread Stuck in Device Driver

//
// The driver for the display device got stuck in an infinite loop. This
// usually indicates a problem with the device itself or with the device
// driver programming the hardware incorrectly. Please check with your
// display device vendor for any driver updates.
//

EaRecovery: 1
ShutdownCount: 108
Shutdown: 0
EventCount: 3
BreakCount: 3
BugcheckTriggered: 1
DebuggerNotPresent: 1
DriverName: ati2dvag
EventFlag: 1
DeviceClass: Display
DeviceDescription: ATI MOBILITY RADEON 9600 Series
HardwareID: PCI\VEN_1002&DEV_4E50&SUBSYS_05501014&REV_00
Manufacturer: ATI Technologies Inc.
DriverFixedFileInfo: FEEF04BD 00010000 0006000E 000A1953 0006000E 000A1953 0000003F 00000008 00040004 00000003 00000004 00000000 00000000
DriverCompanyName: ATI Technologies Inc.
DriverFileDescription: ATI Radeon WindowsNT Display Driver
DriverFileVersion: 6.14.10.6483
DriverInternalName: ati2dvag.dll
DriverLegalCopyright: Copyright (C) 1998-2004 ATI Technologies Inc.
DriverOriginalFilename: ati2dvag.dll
DriverProductName: ATI Radeon WindowsNT Display Driver
DriverProductVersion: 6.14.10.6483

Most of that doesn't make sense to me, but it did help me isolate the problem down to my video driver. A quick Google search reveals that other folks have had problems with the ati2dvag driver and the BSOD. No one with a Thinkpad, though. I was optimistic about the fix I found here, but no joy. So I upgraded to the latest driver through IBM's site – that's 6.14.10.6512. Find the update insteller here.

So that seems to have done the trick, though I need to run it through the ringer. I'm not sure what caused the conflict, but if you're like me MS just hit you with a rash of Windows Updates. I'm guessing one of them caused the problem. Who knows.

So, hopefully this is helpful for someone out there.

Update: Of course, nothing is as easy as it seems. The problems with my machine are reoccuring. However, I've recently noticed that the erratic behavior only occurs when I'm running on battery power, and then only when I am not stationary at my desk. Is something loose? The video adapter, perhaps? I can remember a slightly unusual ding that I gave the machine by accident several days back, but it was nothing drastic. It might have been just enough, though. I'm calling IBM (Lenovo) back. I'll report!

Update (again): A more knowledgeable and well spoken IBM/Lenovo employee suggested that there could be a conflict with my embedded controller or BIOS. My embedded controller was already up to date, but my BIOS was 3 versions old. I upgraded from 3.13 to 3.16. It remains to be seen if that will solve the problem, but it's worth a try. He is also sending me a new memory chip in case that is the culprit.

Final Update: After all this, the laptop finally just died, and I took it in. They replaced my motherboard (for the 2nd time in the year that I've had this laptop), and everything's dandy now. I think, basically, when there is so much random and erratic behavior, there can be no other explanation.

Final Final Update (6.16.2006): After more than a year and many, many comments on this post, Soren seems to have come up with the first definitive cause of these problems – if we believe Lenovo knows what they're talking about. Unfortunately, it sounds like if you have the defective part, there's nothing much you can do to prevent the chance of a problem, and nothing to be done short of a new mainboard when it happens.