A kernel panic is a computer error from which the operating system (OS) cannot quickly or easily recover. The term applies primarily to Unix-based systems and to Mac OS X. In other systems, the equivalent of a kernel panic is known by slang terms such as blue screen of death, sad Mac or bomb. In Windows 3.x, this sort of malfunction was called a general protection fault.
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A kernel panic produces a message or set of messages on the computer display. This information can be useful to technicians in diagnosing and resolving problems but it means little to the inexperienced user.
Kernel panic can be triggered by an inappropriate attempt by the operating system to access or write to memory. Sometimes kernel panic can be caused by software bugs or malware. Common hardware causes include failure or improper installation of random-access memory (RAM) chips, hard disk damage or data corruption, a defective microprocessor chip or incompatible device drivers.