This week, the ultra-secure, bulletproof PC I use to evaluate graphics cards died on me. I tried everything, but I couldn’t even get the computer to boot into Windows’ repair mode so I could diagnose the problem. who is to blame? Adrenalin 23.2.2, AMD’s latest WQHL-certified Radeon drivers, has a rarely occurring bug in its interaction with Windows. After a quick online search, I learned that this has been happening to a select group of users ever since Adrenalin 23.2.1 was released in the middle of February.
For anyone who isn’t the executive editor of a computer magazine with an extensive rolodex, this would be a terrible experience (though AMD representatives are very responsive to driver feedback on social media). Fortunately, I had the chance to collaborate closely with AMD to resolve the issue.
AMD engineers not only identified a possible cause for this rare bug, but they also uncovered a rare troubleshooting workaround that allowed my computer to be revived. Although researchers are looking into a more permanent solution, affected users can use this workaround in the meantime to fix their systems without having to reinstall Windows completely.
What went wrong, why it went wrong, how to prevent it, and how to fix it if it happens to your computer are all detailed below.
How AMD’s Radeon Drivers Broke My Windows Install
This week, I was sent a custom Radeon RX 7900 XT to benchmark, so I followed my standard, meticulous procedure for preparing a testing PC. To prevent problems from occurring when switching between different GPUs of different brands, I take several measures to make the system as “like new” as possible before installing a new graphics card or new drivers, while my existing, stable setup is still in place. (The hardware remains unchanged and only necessary software (such as benchmarking tools) is installed on the system to guarantee reliability.)
Trying out Nvidia’s fantastic RTX Video Super Resolution, I had a GeForce RTX 4070 Ti set up and ready to go. In the end, I installed it and manually updated Windows 10. Then I shut down the computer and swapped out the 4070 Ti for a Radeon RX 7900 XT. It started up normally after the reset. After that, I restarted my computer and used the Add or Remove Programs feature in Windows 10 to remove all traces of Nvidia’s software. That old standby. After making sure that all traces of Nvidia had been removed, I restarted the computer and utilised the excellent DDU Uninstaller tool. We had no problems at all.
How can I enter safe mode before booting in Windows 10? AFAIK You can do that in Windows 7.
— Tridashie (@Tridashie) November 25, 2019
To get the WQHL-certified Adrenalin 23.2.2 drivers the site suggested for a 7900 XT, I fired up Chrome, went to AMD’s site, and downloaded them. After that, I ran the driver installation, selecting the option to perform a “factory reset” clean installation rather than an upgrade-in-place. It seems that selecting that option contributed to the demise of my computer, along with a background Windows update that I was unaware of.
Until the programme informed me that I needed to restart my computer in order to complete the driver installation, everything had gone smoothly. My PC restarted normally, showing the MSI BIOS splash screen, but when it tried loading Windows, I got the dreaded Blue Screen of Death with the “Inaccessible Boot Device” error message depicted in the tweet below (which is unrelated to this AMD issue). Ugh. Without initiating automatic repair attempts or presenting me with the usual Windows troubleshooting options, the system began an endless cycle of BSOD > reboot > BSOD > reboot.
Not having the time to investigate the issue further, I shut down the machine and gave it another go the following day. in the same vein. I swapped in a stock Radeon RX 7900 XT from AMD in place of the custom one I had been using for testing. Upon the second BSOD > reboot cycle, Windows attempted automatic repair after the BIOS splash screen. Or so I thought it was a success. However, I was horribly mistaken.
By choosing Startup Repair, the problem was actually made worse. As soon as it finished, the screen went black and unresponsive (while still powered on). When I tried to boot the computer recently, I saw the “Windows thinking about it” circle spin for a second after the BIOS screen, and then nothing. The BSOD crashes never happened after I messed with my Windows installation, and I couldn’t even try the usual Windows troubleshooting steps because of how badly my OS was messed up.
— CapFrameX (@CapFrameX) February 15, 2023
After exhausting all other options, I decided to swap out the Radeon RX 7900 XT for the RTX 4070 Ti and an Intel Arc A750, both of which have passed my testing over the past two weeks and proven to be reliable replacement GPUs.
This WCCFTech article from mid-February, along with plenty of other coverage, can be found by searching for the aforementioned issue; it details how many users have reported that Adrenalin 23.2.1 has completely destroyed their Windows installations. For the average PC gamer, this would be the worst possible scenario because of how frustrating it is.
After I tweeted about my problems, an AMD representative got in touch with me shortly afterwards. Of course, as the PCWorld executive editor, I may get a priority response (though again, AMD representatives are very responsive to driver feedback on social media). Due to the high profile of my problems, AMD was able to investigate their root cause; as a result, I am able to offer solutions that have helped me and am relieved to say that a long-term solution is being looked into.
How to Fix Radeon Drivers Breaking Your Windows Install
While AMD engineers spent two days trying to reproduce and diagnose the problem, I could have just thrown in a new SSD and reinstalled Windows from scratch. Nothing worked; I tried a different graphics processing unit (GPU), a different monitor, yanked the display cable at different times, reset the CMOS, and made sure UEFI was selected instead of CSM in the BIOS.
However, AMD’s team responded this morning with another suggestion: when the BIOS splash screen appears immediately after turning on the PC, slam the power button in an effort to persuade Windows to force a manual recovery attempt. There was no success after four attempts. That if I kept at it, things would improve in the end was the advice I was given. After a total of fifteen tries, it finally worked!
Time seemed to play a role, but I can’t say for sure what triggered its spread. While the BIOS keypress options were displayed, pressing the power button shut down my computer instantly. My system would stay on, but after the spinning “Windows thinking” icon appeared, it would immediately black out again no matter how many times I pressed the button. In the end, I timed it so that I pressed the power button just as the BIOS options vanished and the Windows circle appeared, and that triggered an automatic recovery.
After Windows had finished booting up, I was taken to the Windows recovery tools menu, where I could choose to restart my computer or access more advanced settings. Since Startup Repair had previously made things worse on my computer, I went into the troubleshooting menu and chose System Restore. After two excruciatingly annoying days, my test rig was back in action after I picked a restore point in the middle of February and loaded it up.
This procedure can help you restore your Windows installation if it has been damaged by the recent Adrenalin drivers. You can also use the “Use the Startup Repair function” section’s occult instructions to launch Windows’ recovery tool. (However, you shouldn’t use Startup Repair. Restore to an earlier point in time. Simply follow these steps to access a menu that displays both possibilities.
How to Avoid Radeon Drivers Breaking Your Windows Install
Due to its extreme rarity, AMD told me it took dozens of attempts to recreate the issue in their labs. During our conversation, the agent referred to me as “patient zero.” While the company is still conducting its investigation, it has provided me with the following statement:
We have replicated an issue that occurs in a very small percentage of cases when installing AMD Software: Adrenalin Edition and are looking into it. It is strongly suggested that the “Factory Reset” option be unchecked prior to installing the AMD driver, and that all system updates be either applied or paused. We’re here to help, so if you’re having trouble with AMD Adrenalin Edition, please use our Bug Report Tool so we can get to work fixing it as soon as possible.
I should mention that I had already updated to the latest version of Windows 10 before attempting to install the Adrenalin Software, but it’s possible that the Game Bar or some other part of Windows was updating in the background and causing this disaster to occur.
Just don’t check the box to perform a factory reset when installing new Radeon drivers. If you already have a Radeon GPU installed and are only updating to the most recent drivers, there is no need to install a new GPU. Put simply. After reviving my test system, I was able to successfully install and start using Adrenalin 23.2.2.
A Damned Shame
What a terrible shame this is. Most agonisingly, of course, for AMD and other gamers who had their Windows installations severely damaged.
Over the past few years, I’ve been an outspoken supporter of AMD’s excellent driver and software updates. For a long time, people complained about the reliability of Radeon drivers. AMD took the feedback to heart and improved the products accordingly. In June 2022, AMD was confident enough in its software to claim it offers “industry-leading stability,” with “99.95% of users experiencing no crashes when AMD Software is installed.” These days, Team Red’s drivers are even better than Nvidia’s popular Game Ready drivers in many ways.
After years of intensive refinement, there is no doubt that AMD’s drivers and overall stability are now among the best in the business. That’s a rare outlier, for sure. Being in the bottom 5% is a real drag. No matter how infrequent, problems of this magnitude damage the reputation of the Radeon software. Whether Windows or AMD is to blame, this is the kind of thing that would make many PC gamers never want to use a Radeon GPU again and would make them tell all their friends about it. It’s too bad about that.