If you’ve played games on a PC for some time, you’ll find that games crash. It happens on consoles too, but it would be foolish to say that it happens more often than on PC. PCs can have thousands of different configurations with significantly more variation in software layers on top of that.
Hi, I’m Aaron. Crystal Caves, Commander Keen, and Doom 2 were among my first games and I got to play them at launch. They all hold a special candle for me. I’m excited to have experienced them when I did. It also means I have decades of PC crashes while playing games under my belt.
Let’s cover some of the common reasons your PC can crash while you’re gaming and how you can diagnose and fix them. I’ll address them in ascending complexity and cost to find and address.
Table of Contents
- Key Takeaways
- Reason 1: Bugs
- Reason 2: Driver Issues
- Reason 3: Incompatible Game Settings
- Reason 4: Thermal Interface Material
- Reason 5: AIO Cooler
- Reason 6: Unstable Overclocks
- Reason 7: Equipment Issues
- Your game may crash because of software issues with the game or your graphics drivers.
- You may also be trying to drive graphical fidelity or other settings your GPU and CPU can’t handle.
- If it’s not that, it might be a thermal issue.
- Where it’s not a software or a thermal issue, it could be a hardware failure.
Let’s dive in and figure out why your games might be crashing. The most straightforward is…
Reason 1: Bugs
Fun aside: they’re called computer bugs because they used to be actual bugs. In the early days of modern computing, tubes and other components drew moths and other insects into room-sized computers. Those moths and bugs would fly into components, meet an untimely demise via electric shock, and require operators to find the bug and repair the component.
Today’s bug hunting isn’t much different in a lot of ways. Industrious users experience a crash, evaluate the error message or log file, and begin diagnosing.
If your game is well-played, then it’s likely you’re not the first to experience your crash. If an error message comes up, you should search the internet for it. Even searching for your game’s name and crash could come up with relevant results.
You may also want to take the opportunity to uninstall and reinstall your game, just to validate some of the game files aren’t corrupted. Depending on how your purchased your game, that could differ, so follow your gaming platform’s instructions for how to do that.
Remember: if your game saves are local and you want to save them, copy them somewhere else on your PC before reinstalling!
If you’ve tried all of those steps and it’s not bugs, then it could be…
Reason 2: Driver Issues
I never rule out driver corruption, especially after an update, and think it’s easy enough to reinstall your drivers that it’s worth it to give that a try. If you want to do that with…
Open GeForce Experience, click Drivers, click the three dots next to the driver, and click Reinstall driver.
Click Custom Installation.
When selecting your installation options, click Perform a clean installation.
If there’s a graphics drive update, run that instead.
Your GPU may alternatively be made by…
AMD provides a proprietary tool, the AMD Cleanup Utility, which will fully uninstall your AMD Radeon drivers and let you reinstall them cleanly.
If you have neither an Nvidia or AMD GPU, then you have…
Intel provides very detailed instructions along with necessary downloads. Follow those to the letter and you’ll be all set!
If a graphics driver clean install didn’t solve your problem, then it might be…
Reason 3: Incompatible Game Settings
PC games tend to allow for a lot of settings customizability, especially with respect to visual fidelity. There are a few things that might cause the game to crash, starting with…
You’re Running an Unsupported Version of DirectX, OpenGL, or Vulcan
DirectX, OpenGL, and Vulcan are graphics software interfaces that let your GPU render content in different ways. Your GPU needs to be able to support those features, however. If you have an older GPU, for example, you may not be able to render DirectX12 or Vulcan. If you have a newer GPU, you may not be able to render below DirectX 9 without special emulation.
It’s really difficult to provide generic advice on how to diagnose this other than changing software interface settings in your game’s settings. You could also search the internet for compatibility issues.
Instead of graphical interface incompatibility, you may have the problem of…
You’re Driving Too High Graphics Settings
A Radeon HD 5850 was prime in its time–a decade ago–but it doesn’t hold a candle to the GTX 4090. If you tried running a modern DirectX11 game on an HD5850 with the highest graphical fidelity settings possible, chances are the game would crash.
The HD5850 lacks the hardware to drive modern games. It only had 1GB of VRAM–where most modern games demand more, especially at the highest resolutions and performance–and lacks the speed and complexity of modern GPUs.
Even more modern GPUs than the HD5850 will have similar problems. Driving visual fidelity in excess of what your VRAM and GPU can handle will lead to significant performance issues ultimately leading to the game freezing or crashing.
Your best bet, if you have these issues, is to turn down settings. You can also search for a game’s recommended settings for your CPU and GPU.
I didn’t cover CPUs extensively because they tend to have more longevity in games when compared to the GPU. It’s less likely your CPU’s the issue, but it could be.
Age might not only be highlighting your GPU and CPU’s performance. It may also impact…
Reason 4: Thermal Interface Material
Your CPU and GPU use thermal interface material to help improve heat transmission between their components and their heatsinks. Thermal interface material fills air gaps with materials that more efficiently transfer heat.
CPU and GPU dies will typically use thermal grease, while GPU memory modules and power MOSFETs will use thermal pads. Over time, the grease and pads will dry and degrade. If they’re unable to effectively transfer heat, then the CPU and GPU will slow and may even halt (e.g.: crash).
You’ll be able to tell this is an issue by running GPU and CPU-demanding software. You can also look at temperatures. Most CPUs are throttled at 100 degrees Celsius, or 212 degrees Fahrenheit, and have thermal switches that will shut down the computer not far after that. GPUs do the same, though their thermal ranges may differ between models.
Removing your CPU and GPU heatsinks may take some effort and may not be for everyone. However, that might be all it takes to refresh an older CPU or GPU. It’s even a valuable work effort for CPUs and GPUs that haven’t had their thermal interface material changed in the last three years.
If it’s not the thermal interface material, it might be another age-related issue with your…
Reason 5: AIO Cooler
AIO Coolers are all-in-one water cooling solutions that use a pump and heatsink connected to a radiator. The assembly moves coolant from the radiator into the pump and heatsink, which transfers heat from the heatsink into the coolant, which is sent to the radiator to be cooled by fans.
AIO coolers have a typical lifespan of five years. They could last longer and can also have a shorter lifespan. While they’re mostly airtight, they’re not completely airtight and the coolant evaporates over time. When it does, the AIO cooler ceases to function.
You’ll be able to tell this is an issue similar to diagnosing thermal interface material issues, by running CPU-demanding software. If the computer shuts down, or if you hear grinding from your AIO as the computer ramps up CPU load (but you may not hear this) then you may need to replace your AIO cooler.
Alternatively, your thermal interface material and AIO cooler may be ok. Instead, your issues may be related to…
Reason 6: Unstable Overclocks
Some computer equipment can be overclocked, or run at higher frequencies, in order to drive additional performance. Stabilizing overclocks at higher frequencies requires driving more voltage to support those frequencies. Higher voltage means more waste heat.
Your overclock may be unstable because you’re trying to drive frequencies unsupported by your hardware or voltage that can’t be managed by your cooling solution. Overclock instability can cause your computer to crash. If your computer frequently crashes during demanding tasks and you’ve overclocked it, then the overclock is unstable.
If you’d like to test the stability of your overclock, specifically, here’s a great YouTube video about doing that.
If your overclock is unstable, you should back off the frequency and then the voltage. There are many guides online dedicated to achieving overclocking stability and I’d recommend finding and following it.
If you’ve ruled out an unstable overclock, then it could be…
Reason 7: Equipment Issues
If you’ve gone through your software diagnostics and come up blank, then it may be a hardware issue. There are a few different kinds of hardware issues, each of which can be diagnosed with its own set of tools, starting with…
CPU and GPU
Diagnosing your CPU and GPU will leverage a similar set of stability tools to those highlighted above. The difference is that instead of looking for temperature spikes, you’re looking for any red flags with each prior to the crash. Those could include voltage spikes, performance dips, and other indicators of problems.
If it’s not your CPU and GPU, then it could be faulty…
RAM issues will manifest as system errors, including crashes. Your system will attempt to load information to RAM and read that information. Faulty ram scrambles or fails to store that information. If that happens and a process attempts to read that information, it will fail. If the failure is critical, it could result in a crash.
Windows Memory Diagnostic and MemTest86 both test ram for integrity issues. You can’t go wrong with either, though MemTest86 has been around longer. Both operate in the same manner.
If it’s not your RAM, then that leaves your…
Unfortunately, there’s no software to readily evaluate problems with your power supply. If everything else is inconclusive, then the problem may be your power supply. Alternatively, if you’re seeing voltage issues with both your GPU and CPU, that could be indicative of a power supply issue.
Replacing your power supply will likely also be less expensive to replace than other components. As a result, it might be a good first step to try if you’re otherwise stumped.
Unfortunately, most hobbyist and enthusiast gamers won’t be able to do more than make a very educated guess about specific hardware issues. Most of the time, it’s likely that guess will be correct. Sometimes it won’t be.
Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get it right the first time. That kind of troubleshooting and diagnosis is critical to learning how to fix and maintain your PC.
There are many causes for your PC game to crash. Some of them are related to the game itself, while others involve your computer’s hardware failing. Persistence is key and you will be able to diagnose your issues. You just need patience and the right tools.
What do you use to diagnose hardware or software faults? Let me know in the comments!