Ever had a Windows machine display the Blue Screen of Death? Through amazing coincidence, blue screens showed up on both my desktop machine and a client's production Dynamics GP Terminal Server in the same week! I got fed up with the cryptic errors and finally decided to learn how to diagnose the infamous BSOD.
A few months ago I built a new desktop machine. Although there were a few quirks with 64-bit Windows 7, it seemed to work well. Until the day when I started to get the dreaded Blue Screen error.
Having dealt with blue screens occasionally over the years, my general interpretation is that once you start getting them on a machine, they don't tend to go away on their own. Sure enough, my desktop started to blue screen a few times a week.
While at my desk, I saw the blue screen occur and flash on my monitors, but my computer instantly rebooted, preventing me from seeing the message. By default, Windows 7 and Server 2008 are set to automatically restart when a "System failure" occurs. This option is set under System Properties -> Startup and Recovery Settings. The first change I made was to disable the automatic restart option so that I could know when the blue screen occured and see the error messages.
Sure enough, the blue screens showed up again a few days later, but unfortunately, the message displayed wasn't very helpful.
Sometimes you will get lucky and see a specific driver listed, like "ETRON_USB_3", which can tell you immediately that a third party USB 3 driver is causing the problem.
But in my case, since a specific driver wasn't listed on the blue screen, just a cryptic "STOP" error, I didn't have any clues as to a possible cause. I figured that my only option would be to try and reinstall Windows, which isn't on my favorite-things-to-do list. So I put it off and just ignored the occasional crash, knowing I would eventually have to deal with it.
Then, the other evening, while connected remotely to a client's server, I was suddenly disconnected. When I was able to reconnect, I saw a message indicating that the server had experienced a blue screen and had restarted automatically.
Figuring that two systems with blue screens in the same week was too much of a coincidence, I took it as a challenge to learn how to diagnose the cause of the dreaded BSOD.
To my surprise, it turns out that it is shockingly simple to get diagnostic information about the BSOD error--if you know what tools to use and once you know how to use them.
In the Startup and Recovery options in Windows, there is an option to "Write debugging information". In the latest versions of windows, the default setting is to write a "Small memory dump", also known as a "minidump".
When Windows encounters a "system error", it writes certain diagnostic information to this memory dump file explaining…