Originally published on July 22, 2008.
Microsoft Windows XP systems are notorious for crashing for any number of reasons and in a number of ways. Some of these crashes are mild and can easily be overcome simply by closing a nonresponding application or by rebooting the system. However, others are more serious and can bring the entire system to its knees. Microsoft calls these types of crashes “Stop errors” because the operating system stops responding. When a Stop error occurs, the GUI is replaced by a DOS-like blue screen with a cryptic error message followed by a code number. This screen is affectionately referred to as the Blue Screen of Death, or BSOD for short.
I’m going to show you how to analyze BSODs and extract the relevant troubleshooting information. I’ll then take a look at some of the more common Windows XP BSOD errors. I’ll also provide a link to an article in Microsoft’s Knowledge Base that describes the troubleshooting steps and possible solutions in detail. To view screen shots of these BSOD error messages, along with an explanation of each one, check out this photo gallery.
This blog post is also available in PDF format as a TechRepublic download.
Dissecting a BSOD
Although Stop errors can be caused by both hardware and software malfunctions, the most typical cause is a hardware malfunction. Each Stop error is accompanied by a specific error description and an eight-digit hexadecimal number error code. It may not be immediately apparent when you see a BSOD (mostly due to the shock factor that hits you when a BSOD occurs), but you can use the description and code to identify the type of error that is occurring. You just need to be able to identify the key parts of the message so you’ll have a direction and focus for your troubleshooting expedition. The trick is in finding the relevant information on the BSOD.
Let’s suppose that you encounter the BSOD shown in Figure A.
This Stop error indicates that requested data was not in memory.
At the top of the Windows XP BSOD, you’ll find the error description, which will be in all uppercase letters with multiple words tied together with underscore characters. In the following BSOD excerpt, the text KMODE_EXCEPTION_NOT_HANDLED is the error description:
A problem has been detected and Windows has been shut down to prevent damage to your computer.PAGE_FAULT_IN_NONPAGED_AREA
Immediately following the error description, you’ll find some general troubleshooting steps. In some cases, following these steps will lead you to a solution. (Keep in mind that this same information appears in just about every BSOD.)
If this is the first time you've seen this error screen, restart your computer. If this screen appears again, follow these steps:
Check to make sure any new hardware or software is properly installed. If this is a new installation, ask your hardware or software manufacturer for any Windows updates you might need.If problems continue, disable or remove any newly installed hardware or software. Disable BIOS memory options such as caching or shadowing. If you need to use Safe Mode to remove or disable components, restart your computer, press F8 to select Advanced Startup Options, and then select Safe Mode.
After the general troubleshooting information, you’ll find the Technical Information section, which contains the eight-digit hexadecimal number error code. The code is usually accompanied by four error-dependent values enclosed in parentheses. (These values typically aren’t necessary information, but you may want to take note of them.) If a file was directly associated with the problem that caused the BSOD, it will also be listed here. In this case, you can see that the file ati3diag.dll is tied to the problem:
Technical information: *** STOP: 0x00000050 (0x8872A990, 0x00000001, 0x804F35D7, 0x00000000)*** ati3diag.dll - Address ED80AC55 base at ED88F000, Date Stamp 3dcb24d0
Following the Technical Information section, you’ll see another generic section. This one alerts you to the fact that Windows XP has dumped the contents of system memory to a file on the hard disk:
Beginning dump of physical memory. Physical memory dump complete. Contact your system administrator or technical support group for further assistance.
Armed with these details, you can visit Microsoft’s online Help and Support page and search the Knowledge Base for more detailed troubleshooting and solution information.
Common BSODs in Windows XP
Now that you have a good idea of how to dissect a BSOD and pull out the relevant pieces of information from all the gibberish on the screen, let’s look at some of the more common BSODs in Windows XP. I’ll cover just a few of the BSOD conditions, but there are lots of possible Stop errors. For each BSOD I discuss, I’ll provide a link to an article on the Microsoft Knowledge Base that covers that particular Stop error. (Since more than one article might address a Stop error, you may want to search the Knowledge Base if you discover that you need more information.)
This Stop error, which can be caused by either software or hardware, indicates that a kernel-mode process or driver attempted to access a memory location it did not have permission to access or a memory location that exists at a kernel interrupt request level (IRQL) that was too high. A kernel-mode process can only access other processes that have an IRQL that’s equal to or lower than its own.
This Stop error indicates that the Windows XP kernel detected an illegal or unknown processor instruction. The problems that cause this Stop error can be either software or hardware related and result from invalid memory and access violations, which are intercepted by Windows’ default error handler if error-handling routines are not present in the code itself.
This Stop error indicates that requested data was not in memory. The system generates an exception error when using a reference to an invalid system memory address. Defective memory (including main memory, L2 RAM cache, video RAM) or incompatible software (including remote control and antivirus software) might cause this Stop error.
This Stop error indicates that Windows XP has lost access to the system partition or boot volume during the startup process. Installing incorrect device drivers when installing or upgrading storage adapter hardware typically causes this Stop error. This error could also indicate a possible virus infection.
This Stop error indicates a hardware problem resulting from mismatched memory, defective memory, a malfunctioning CPU, or a fan failure that’s causing overheating.
This Stop error indicates that a driver is in an inconsistent or invalid power state. This Stop error typically occurs during events that involve power state transitions, such as shutting down or moving in or out of standby or hibernate mode.
This Stop error indicates that the system attempted to access pageable memory using a kernel process IRQL that was too high. The most typical cause is a bad device driver (one that uses improper addresses). It can also be caused by faulty or mismatched RAM or a damaged pagefile.
This Stop error indicates that a device driver problem is causing the system to pause indefinitely. Typically, this problem is caused by a display driver waiting for the video hardware to enter an idle state. This might indicate a hardware problem with the video adapter or a faulty video driver.
This Stop error indicates that a problem occurred within Ntfs.sys, the driver file that allows the system to read and write to drives formatted with the NTFS file system. (A similar Stop message, 0x00000023, exists for the file allocation table [FAT16 or FAT32)] file systems.)
This Stop error indicates that a necessary registry hive file could not be loaded. The file may be corrupt or missing. The registry file may have been corrupted due to hard disk corruption or some other hardware problem. A driver may have corrupted the registry data while loading into memory or the memory where the registry is loading may have a parity error.
This Stop message indicates driver, system file, or disk corruption problems (such as a damaged paging file). Faulty memory hardware can also cause this Stop message to appear.