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Surface 3, Surface Pro 3 blue screen of death: Microsoft offers fix for firmware update headaches

Surface 3 owners who installed a Surface Pen driver intended for the Surface Pro 4 have seen their efforts to gain new functionality hit a wall by Microsoft's January firmware update.

Since the January firmware update, Surface 3 Pro and Surface 3 users have complained of issues such as blue screen of death, booting into a black screen, and random crashing.

Sarah Tew

Microsoft has blamed problems caused by its latest firmware update for Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3 devices on users wrongly installing a driver for the Surface Pro 4's pen.

Microsoft's January firmware updates for its two third-generation tablets offered a huge list of fixes and features for drivers, spanning audio and graphics to Wi-Fi and Surface Pen pairing.

Surface 4 owners are still waiting for the update. However, judging by the issues reported by Surface 3 owners since System Firmware Update 1/19/2016 arrived on Friday, it may be just as well.

Shortly after the January update arrived, Surface 3 Pro and Surface 3 owners piled onto Microsoft's support pages to complain of problems, including blue screen of death issues, booting into a black screen, and random crashing.

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As one Surface Pro 3 owner reported on Microsoft's forums: "After hitting the reboot button the machine shuts down but does not come back. I have to press the power button for 30 seconds and use 'power + vol-' buttons to turn the device back on. Pressing the shut-down button will also cause the same. A single click on the power button just won't boot up the device normal."

Some were incredulous that they were experiencing stability issues on Windows hardware designed and built by Microsoft.

A Microsoft support engineer, who identifies himself simply as 'Jerry', initially attempted to determine whether the problems stemmed from the official Windows build number 10586.3 or some Windows Insiders build. Most users on Microsoft's forum confirmed they were on build 10586.3.

However, Jerry returned later to report that the source of the problems had nothing to do with Windows but a Surface Pen Settings driver intended for the Surface Pro 4 that some Surface Pro 3 users had installed independently, apparently on the hunt for new functionality.

That driver, version 10.0.302.0, was released in Microsoft's November update for the Surface Pro 4.

Jerry said the driver "was inadvertently being installed" as part of the January firmware update for Surface Pro 3 "or manually installed by some customers" who wanted Surface Pro 4 customization options on the older device.

However, confusingly, he also said that Microsoft had included the driver in its January update for Surface 3 devices.

"This driver is not intended for Surface Pro 3 and is no longer being offered as part of the update. If you had manually downloaded and installed the Surface Pen Settings driver from the Surface Pro 4 Drivers page in an effort to enable Surface pen button customization through the Surface app on Surface Pro 3, you will need to roll back and remove the driver."

Microsoft has provided instructions detailing how to roll back Surface Pen Settings, which should be available in version 4.0.112.1 released in March, dated 3/30/2015. It's also working on an update to resolve the issue if its manual rollback instructions don't work for users.

To roll back manually, users should go to Device Manager by clicking on the Windows Start Menu, and from there expand Human Interface Devices, and then double-click on Surface Pen Settings.

If the driver version is 10.0.302.0, the user will need to click Uninstall and then restart but not shutdown the Surface. That should restore the settings to driver version 4.0.112.1.

Read more about Microsoft's Surface Pro 3

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