I've been suffering from this problem for a couple weeks now. I've followed all the suggestions I can find from simple Google searches, Microsoft Knowledge Base searches, and ATI Knowledge Base searches.
For the sake of completeness, I'll try to recall how things have progressed. I won't leave out any details, on the offchance that they'll be important. I'm sorry this post is so long, but I hope some of the gurus here will have the patience to slog through it all.
A couple months ago I moved. I figured this would be a good time for a long-needed reformat/reinstall. My computer was bloated and sluggish. So I backed up all my important data and wiped the drive. Everything worked perfectly at this point.
Everything seemed to work, but a couple days later I stupidly cliked on an .exe downloaded from a warez site. You can guess what happened - a cascading sequence of virii, trojans, spyware, malware, adware... I did what I could, but I had some nasty self-healing varieties and even running scans in safe mode didn't get rid of them all.
So, back to the drawing board. Nuke it from orbit, it's the only way to be sure. So I reformatted/reinstalled again.
In theory, my computer should be clean now. I can't imagine that anything has survived this process. But stranger things have happened.
Now things start to get interesting.
I found that with my latest Catalyst drivers, and the latest DirectX (9.0c) I couldn't run ANY DirectX games - whenever it reached a point where 3d graphics had to be initialized, it would crash. DirectX itself was crapping out on me. I ran dxdiag, and both DirectDraw Acceleration and Direct3D acceleration were grayed out - I couldn't even test them. It was as if I was running a machine that didn't even have 3d capabilities.
After much googling, and much finding people with the same problem, I found an obscure fix. It said to download an older version of the Catalyst drivers and install them.
Voila! The "fix" (more of a workaround) seemed to work. I was playing my games again.
(NOTE: I have since reformatted and this weird directX/driver problem DIDN'T crop up again. I installed the latest versions of both drivers, and for some inexplicable reason the conflict I observe here isn't happening anymore. DirectDraw and Direct3D both test out fine. It's the damndest thing. This information presented out of order just so I won't forget to mention it later.)
So I thought all was well.
That's when the random crashes started. Just a crash here and there, at first only when I was playing a 3d game. It wasn't bad enough to **** me off, so I just kept on going.
They only got really annoying when I tried to play X3: Reunion. It would crash anywhere from 2 minutes to 30 minutes into playing. This was aggravating, because it was difficult to get anything done. So I started hunting for a patch or fix. Now, X3 uses StarForce protection, and when I first played it the copy protection installed its nastiness on my computer. I found out that the latest X3 patch removes this protection, and also fixes several crash-worthy bugs, but I'd have to download a special app to remove StarForce from my system entirely. So I install the patch and run the special app.
But X3 still crashed. Also, at this point I've largely stopped playing World of Warcraft because of the crashes.
My wife started complaining about crashes, too, when she was trying to play her Age of Mythology game.
It was just getting to be too much.
A buddy of mine came over and we spent an evening trying to fix it. He used to work as a computer tech, and I hoped he would think of something I didn't. We spent hours downloading video drivers, messing with BIOS settings, blowing dust out of my box, but nothing helped. I also messed with all the video settings I could get my hands on in the ATI control panel. Any game that used 3d would eventually crash. The maddening thing was that the only way I had of testing a fix was to play a game for a while and see if it would crap out on me.
It was during this time that we turned off automatic reboot and observed the error messages on the BSOD. Usually they were 0xc0000005 or 0x0000008e. Once I saw a 0x000000D1.
I tried to boot into safe mode that evening, and it wouldn't do it. It stopped loading on a particular driver. At that point I figured I had a bad trojan/virus/malware problem, but a google search indicated that Safe Mode could hang where it did for various other reasons, including a bad sector on the hard drive. So I used my Windows disk to load the recovery console, and ran chkdsk from there. It said my hard drive had some errors but it fixed them all.
After that, safe mode worked and I ran a scan. Sure enough, I had a lot of spyware. Most of it was just tracking cookies, but WildTangent was there and I couldn't figure out how since I hadn't downloaded anything. A few other weird ones, too. So I removed them all.
At this point I was pretty confident I'd figured out what had gone wrong. I'd reformatted and assumed I was running clean, but somehow been infected, and that was causing my problem.
But, alas, I was wrong. The crashes continued.
In fact, they started getting worse. I'd get crashes just running windows apps, now, without any 3d at all. Firefox would crash! And all would return the same 0xc0000005 code. Even as I type this post, I'm copying and pasting into a notepad document every so often in case it crashes and I lose what I've typed.
Infuriatingly, I couldn't make any backup CDs or DVDs. Every time I tried to burn one, the burner would crash on me before it was completed. The good news is that with my previous reformat/reinstalls, I wouldn't lose more than a week or two of data, since I have a nice stack of backups on hand already. But there were some downloads I really wanted to save, in case I had to reformat again, but I wasn't able to.
Then my hard drive failed. PLEASE INSERT SYSTEM DISK. Now, I don't know of any software issues that can kill a hard drive, so I figured either my drive had been bad all along (there WERE those errors the chkdsk picked up...) or all the constant crashing and restarting finally got to it.
Luckily, at all times I keep my secondary hard drive with a bootable XP partition intact. It's a cute little 10GB drive, but it's saved my butt in the past. So I hook it up as the Master, set my dead drive to slave, and get back online to troubleshoot this.
And the crashes start happening again.
This old drive, with its old drivers and software that worked perfectly on this EXACT HARDWARE SETUP in the past, is getting the same errors that I was getting on the other drive.
So now I know it's not a software/driver issue.
It's either a hardware or a BIOS issue.
I don't want to buy a new hard drive, so I boot with my Windows disk and reformat my dead drive. As far as the Windows disk is concerned, it's totally unpartitioned and contains no data. So I figure what the ****, the worst thing that can happen is that my hard drive IS going bad, and this won't work and I'll have to replace it. So I start installing Windows on it again.
It works fine. Windows installs without a hitch. I'm using this installation right now.
The errors are still occurring, however. They seem a little bit better than right before the drive crapped out on me. The program World Wind (it's a kind of Google Earth-ish program from NASA) would crash the machine INSTANTLY right before I rebooted, and now it actually runs, like X3 used to, for anywhere from 2 to 30 minutes before crashing.
I made a special point, here, of downloading all Windows updates. I know sometimes those updates actually fix blue screen problems, and I wasn't 100% sure I'd had them before. They didn't help. Even if it IS a hardware issue, maybe an update to the OS can bypass it...
No luck, of course.
So now I'm suspecting, as I'm sure you have been all along, a memory problem. It's not unheard of for memory to just fail. A bit of static here or there, and the darndest problems can crop up. In fact, I'm almost certain enough to just buy a new stick flat-out. But I figure I better check first, just to be sure. So I ran Windows Memory Checker and MemTest 86.
To my amazement, my RAM was fine.
I ran MemTest overnight just to be sure. Not a single error.
(Oh, and I forgot to mention, ever since my most recent hard drive wipe and reformat, I've been unable to install World of Warcraft. I've tried from my original disks, some downloaded .iso images, a borrowed one-DVD version. It gives me an error that it can't read one of the files and suggests I check my disk for smudges or that I have a bad hard drive sector. Strangely, depending on what disks I use to try to install it, it stops installing at a different point
. The WoW forums say that this is almost always a bad memory issue. I just checked that! Gr.... As a WoW addict, I'm sure you understand that my inability to install the game is distressing me... All other applications are installing just fine.)
So now I'm seriously confused. Could it be the memory in my graphics card? Could it be the motherboard? Could it be my BIOS settings (I reset them to defaults but it didn't help)
(oh, about a week and a half ago, in the middle of all these problems, my monitor burned out. I'm using a borrowed one from a friend. I'm 99.99% certain this is totally unrelated, but figured I'd mention it.)
In summary: I've ruled out:
Bad Hard Drive (since my other hard drive had the same errors)
My system is:
Video Card: Radeon 9600 SE 128MB
Memory: 1x512 MB chip
Let me know if there's more info you need, I suddenly realized I'm late for work after typing all this.