All Windows users at some point have had problems with a Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) caused by incompatible drivers or hardware malfunctions, and Windows 7, 8.1, 10 users have not seen the end of it. If you recall, we’ve previously talked about how you can fix the DPC_WATCHDOG_VIOLATION error, but some Windows 7, 8.1, 10 users have reported that they have been encountering the irql_not_less_or_equal BSOD. In this guide, we will try to shed some light on how to fix this issue.
As we’ve gotten used to by now, there are many causes and just as many solutions for these kinds of Windows errors. We’ve even seen a similar irql_not_less_or_equal error in the form of the ntoskrnl.exe, which was most likely caused by Realtek HiDefinition Audio drivers.
Here are some of the most common situations where this error occurs:
- irql_not_less_or_equal ntoskrnl.exe
As a quick reminder, this executable file is the kernel (core) of the operating system and usually indicates that the issue is pretty severe.
- irql_not_less_or_equal overclock
Many gamers confirmed that they often experienced this error after overclocking their computers. As a result, disabling overclocking may fix this error.
- irql_not_less_or_equal cpu overheating
If your CPU is overwhelmed, it overheats and that may actually cause this error. As stated above, do disable overclocking to reduce overheating. Check if there are any particular apps and programs that are putting a strain on your PC and disable them as soon as possible. Using a dedicated cooling software and a cooling pad may also reduce the frequency of this issue.
- irql_not_less_or_equal after RAM upgrade
Some users reported that this BSOD error occured shortly after they upgraded their RAM. Make sure that the new RAM is compatible with your device and that it’s properly installed.
- irql_not_less_or_equal after Windows update
In rare cases, this error may occur after installing the latest Windows updates. As a result, uninstall the updates and check if the issue persists.
- irql_not_less_or_equal and memory_management
Sometimes, these two BSOD errors go hand in hand. Users reported that when the first error occurs, the second one follows it after reboot. We have a dedicated troubleshooting guide on how to fix MEMORY_MANAGEMENT errors on Windows 10. Do follow the instructions available in that guide as they may help you solve the problem.
If you have already ruled out that driver as the cause of the error, then this guide will explore some additional causes which might return this BSOD.
We’ll start by looking at a few quick fixes which might fix the irql_not_less_or_equal error and then move on to more advanced options. But before that, let’s look at some of the reasons why this error occurs. Like most other Windows errors, incompatible or badly installed drivers can be the cause, but at the same time, faulty hardware (in this case RAM or peripherals) or even a Windows upgrade can be blamed.
When a device driver or kernel process would try to access a memory location which it isn’t authorized to have access to, the operating system will issue an error, and the same is true if a piece of software is corrupted and tries to access wrong memory addresses. This is the short version of what is happening when you see a irql_not_less_or_equal error. Now let’s move on to fixing the problem.
How to fix irql_not_less_or_equal BSOD in Windows 7, 8.1, Windows 10
Like I mentioned before, there are lots of causes and therefore, different solutions for this problem. We’ll try to cover all basis and troubleshoot each cause individually, so you can apply the fix which best suits your needs.
Before we begin, like with all Windows errors, verify that you have installed all updates and have up-to-date drivers installed for all your devices.
Run a System Update which will apply all the new patches for your operating system and look for the latest drivers of your components and peripherals (visit the manufacturer’s website to see which is the latest driver for each device).
Additionally, you can check for updates on the third party software you are using and if you have the possibility, try updating your BIOS.
Another step to take which might help you bypass most of the troubleshooting process is to search the “Event Viewer” for information regarding the error (to open Event Viewer, open the Search charm and type “Event Viewer” and select the utility).
In the window which opens, search the logs for the error you’ve encountered (each log has a timestamp, which will help you determine which device caused the issue) until you find the error. In the details, you will see where the problem originated, and you find a recurring error caused by the same device, then that was the cause.
1. Start your computer in Safe Mode
Windows 8.1, Windows 10 offers users the possibility to start their computer in the so-called “Safe Boot” configuration, which is the old Safe Mode we used to have in the older versions of the operating system. By using this method, and setting it to the “Minimal” configuration, you can start your Windows 8.1 computer with the bare minimum of features, drivers and processes. This ensures that you are using a clean environment with no third party drivers and applications.
This method can have one of two outcomes: either the system will work as intended, therefore the problem must lie in one of the third party apps or drivers you have installed on your computer, or it will once again crash, telling you that the problem has a more deeper root, maybe within the hardware. Once you have an answer to this question, you can move on and troubleshoot it by eliminating any other possibilities.
Here are the steps to follow to start your Windows 10 computer in Safe Mode:
1. Hold down the shift key and click the on-screen power button
2. Select the restart option while holding the shift key
3. Select Troubleshoot > Advanced options > Startup Settings > hit Restart
4. Wait until Windows 10 reboots, and select Safe Mode.
5. Check if the problem persists.
2. Check your Memory and Hardware
If Step 1 has showed you that the problem is not related to the software you have installed on your computer, you can now try to debug your computer at the hardware level.
As we’ve mentioned at the beginning, the irql_not_less_or_equal error usually occurs when something tries to access a memory location which it doesn’t have permission to.
The first thing you should do in this case is to test the RAM of your device. Windows offers a utility which can do this for you.
Here’s how to use this utility:
- Open the Search charm > type in “Memory Diagnostic” > open the Windows Memory Diagnostic utility.
- In the new window which opens, select one of the two options available. The first one will restart Windows immediately and let the system scan the RAM.
- If it will return an error, then you have your answer. Replace the RAM of your computer and everything should be working properly.
- On the other hand, if the scan didn’t return any errors, then the problem resides elsewhere.
Optional: If your motherboard’s BIOS has the Memory Caching feature, then you should disable this feature. Keep in mind that operating in the BIOS environment can be dangerous, so do not attempt to modify other settings if you don’t know what they do.
Checking the hardware is somewhat of a tedious process. You will need to unplug all connected and non-essential devices from your computer (which basically means everything except your mouse and keyboard) and then disable their drivers. After a reboot, check to see if all the drivers are still disabled and one by one, re-enable and reconnect the devices.
Do not plug in or enable more than one device at a time! Only one at a time and use the computer and the device after you have plugged it in.
If the error does not appear, then that driver is clear and you can move on to the next one. Do this until you have either added and enabled all the devices, or until the BSOD appears. If the latter happens, this means that the last driver enabled is the problem. Enter Safe Boot and completely uninstall the driver and try downloading the latest one from the manufacturer and install it. If it still won’t work, then that driver has a compatibility problem with Windows 8.1 or Windows 10.
Optional: If the BSOD appears after a driver update, try rolling back the driver and see if the problem persists. Enter Device Manager and locate the driver in question, then right click it and select “Properties”. Under the “Driver” tab, you will find the option to roll back the driver.
3. Refresh or Restore
Windows 8.1, 10 offers users the possibility to refresh computers, which resets all the settings to their default values. This option will not affect any personal files you have on your computer, so you can run it without the fear of data loss.
A system restore is a viable options if the error manifested itself after you have installed multiple drivers and third party software. In order for this to work, you would need to have created a restore point prior to the install of the software.
This is a good habit to have, and creating restore points can prove a life saver. If you do have a restore point, you can revert back to that state, but all information added to the drive after the restore point was created, will be deleted.
Here’s how to run system restore on Windows 10:
If System Restore is enabled, follow the instructions listed below for Windows 8.1:
- Go to Search > type system properties > open System Properties.
- Go to System Protection > click on System Restore.
- Click Next > choose the preferred restore point in the new window.
- Once you’ve select your preferred restore point, click Next > click Finish.
- Your PC will restart and the restoring process will start.
Windows 10 offers a series of advanced recovery option that allows users to clean install the OS. If you’re a Windows 10 user, you can also use ‘Reset this PC’ recovery option.
- Go to Settings > Update & Security > click on Recovery under the left pane.
- Click on Get Started under Reset this PC > choose to Keep your files.
- Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the reset.
4. Repair your registry to fix corrupted files
As stated at the beginning of this guide, file corruption issues may also cause the irql_not_less_or_equal error. As a result, you can fix it by repairing your registry.
Note: Don’t forget to first backup your registry in case anything goes wrong so that you restore a working version of Windows.
The quickest way to do that is by using the System File Checker command in Command Prompt:
1. Go to Start > type cmd > right-click Command Prompt > select Run as Administrator
2. Now type the sfc /scannow command
3. Wait for the scanning process to complete and then restart your computer. All corrupted files will be replaced on reboot.
If you prefer to repair your registry automatically, you can use one of these registry cleaners.
5. Check your disk for errors
Speaking of corrupted files and errors, your disk may also trigger the irql_not_less_or_equal error. If you already applied the first solution listed in this guide, and checked your RAM, try checking your disk as well.
On Windows 10, you can quickly run a disk check using Command Prompt.
Start Command Prompt as administrator and type the chkdsk C: /f command followed by Enter. Replace C with the letter of your hard drive partition.
As a quick reminder, if you do not use the /f parameter, chkdsk displays a message that the file needs to be fixed, but it does not fix any errors. The chkdsk D: /f command detects and repairs logical issues affecting your drive. To repair physical issues, run the /r parameter as well.
On Windows 7, 8.1 , go to hard drives > right-click the drive that you want to check > select Properties > Tool. Under the ‘Error checking’ section, click Check.
6. Run a full system scan
Malware may cause various issues on your computer, including the irql_not_less_or_equal BSOD error. Perform a full system scan in order to detect any malware running on your computer. You can use Windows’ built-in antivirus, Windows Defender, or one of these third-party antivirus solutions.
Here’s how to run a full system scan on Windows 10:
- Go to Start > type ‘defender’ > double click Windows Defender to launch the tool
- In the left hand pane, select the shield icon
- In the new window, click the Advanced scan option
- Check the full scan option to launch a full system malware scan.
7. Perform a clean Windows install
If everything else fails, and the error still appears even after you have exhausted all alternatives, the only thing left to do is to perform a clean Windows install.
This means you will need a Windows installation disk or USB drive and you will delete everything on your C: drive and install a fresh version of Windows 8.1, but as mentioned, this should be left as a last resort.
The easiest and quickest way to do that is by using the Windows Refresh Tool. We’ve got a step-by-step guide on how to use the Windows Refresh Tool to clean install Windows.
Follow the steps listed in that article and let us know if that solution fixed the problem.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2014 and has been since completely revamped and updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.
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