If you’ve used a computer with any flavor of the Windows Operating System, you’ve certainly experienced the infamous Blue Screen of Death (BSOD). These BSODs or Stop errors, as Microsoft calls them, occur when the Operating System detects a problem with either hard-ware or software, and it “stops” to prevent damage to the system. Depending on the computer configuration the computer may restart or simply wait for your input. It also writes a file to the hard-drive. This file is called a memory dump file, small memory dump file, or minidump file. This file contains information that may help you identify why your computer stopped responding.Your computer has to be configured to write this memory dump. It also needs to have a paging file of at least 2 MB on the boot drive.
To verify that your computer is set to write the minidump file and that the paging file is the correct size and in the right location follow the next steps:
- Click the Start Menu, Right Click “Computer” or “My Computer” and click “Properties…” Alternatively you can press the Windows Key and the Break key at the same time. This will open the System Properties.
- Click the “Advanced Tab” if you are using Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Windows Server 2003, or click “Advanced System Settings…” if you are using Windows Vista, Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008.
- Click the Settings button under the performance section.
- Click the Advanced tab and click the Change button under the Virtual Memory section.
- Make sure the boot drive is selected and that the size of the paging file or virtual memory is 2 MB or more. I like to set it at 1.5 times the size of your RAM or 4096 MB, whichever is less. It is also safe to let Windows manage the paging file for you.
- Click Set and then OK to set the paging file size.
- Click the Settings button under Startup and Recovery.
- Select “Small Memory Dump” under debugging information and click OK.
Microsoft offers tools to read and debug this memory dump file (Dumpchk.exe, WinDbg, and KD.exe), but there are other tools available that are a lot easier to use. One of the tools I like to use is called Blue Screen View. This utility is lightweight and easy to use. You run it and it detects and debugs the memory dump files for you. The information provided in these dump files is really useful when troubleshooting these kind of errors. Most of the times you will be able to find out what driver was causing the problem. The next step would be to remove or update the driver that caused the BSOD. Some times the cause of the problem may not be so clear even when looking at the contents of the minidump file. In these cases, more tests will be required, but that is a conversation for another day. These simple steps should help you pinpoint the cause of the issue if the issue is caused by a bad or corrupt driver – most stop errors are. When the errors are caused by a hard-ware malfunction, running a hard-ware diagnostic utility will usually help you pinpoint the problem (Memtest to test the memory modules for instance.).
You can get the Blue Screen View utility from the www.nirsoft.net website.