Windows XP : Troubleshooting and Recovering from Problems (part 2)

9/1/2012 9:20:48 PM

Did Windows XP “Spontaneously” Reboot?

When certain errors occur, Windows XP will reboot itself. This apparently random behavior is actually built into the system in the event of a system failure (also called a stop error or a blue screen of death—BSOD). By default, Windows XP writes an error event to the system log, dumps the contents of memory into a file, and then reboots the system. So, if your system reboots, check the Event Viewer to see what happened.

You can control how Windows XP handles system failures by following these steps:

Launch Control Panel’s System icon.

Display the Advanced tab.

Click Settings in the Startup and Recovery group. Figure 4 shows the Startup and Recovery dialog box that appears.

Figure 4. Use the Startup and Recovery dialog box to configure how Windows XP handles system failures.

Configure how Windows XP handles system failures using the following controls in the System Failure group:

Write an Event to the System LogLeave this check box activated to have the system failure recorded in the system log. This enables you to view the event in the Event Viewer.
Send an Administrative AlertIf you’re on a network, when this option is activated, Windows XP sends an alert message to the administrator of the network when the system failure occurs.
Automatically RestartThis is the option that, when activated, causes your system to reboot when a stop error occurs. Deactivate this check box to avoid the reboot.
Write Debugging InformationThis list determines what information Windows XP saves to disk (in the folder specified in the text box below the list) when a system failure occurs. This information—it’s called a memory dump—contains data that can help a tech support employee determine the cause of the problem. You have four choices:
  • None—No debugging information is written.

  • Small Memory Dump (64 KB)—This option writes the minimum amount of useful information that could be used to identify what caused the stop error. This 64KB file includes the stop error number and its description, the list of running device drivers, and the processor state.

  • Kernel Memory Dump—This option writes the contents of the kernel memory to the disk. (The kernel is the Windows XP component that manages low-level functions for processor-related activities such as scheduling and dispatching threads, handling interrupts and exceptions, and synchronizing multiple processors.) This dump includes memory allocated to the kernel, the hardware abstraction layer, and the drivers and programs used by the kernel. Unallocated memory and memory allocated to user programs are not included in the dump. This information is the most useful for troubleshooting, so I recommend using this option.

  • Complete Memory Dump—This option writes the entire contents of RAM to the disk.


Windows XP first writes the debugging information to the paging file—Pagefile.sys in the root folder of the %SystemDrive%. When you restart the computer, Windows XP then transfers the information to the dump file. Therefore, you need to have a large enough paging file to handle the memory dump. This is particularly true for the Complete Memory Dump option, which requires the paging file to be as large as the physical RAM, plus one megabyte. The file size of the Kernel Memory Dump is typically about a third of physical RAM, although it may be as large as 800MB. 

Overwrite Any Existing FileWhen this option is activated, Windows XP overwrites any existing dump file with the new dump information. If you deactivate this check box, Windows XP creates a new dump file with each system failure. Note that this option is enabled only for the Kernel Memory Dump and the Complete Memory Dump (which by default write to the same file: %SystemRoot%\Memory.dmp).

Did You Recently Change Any Application Settings?

If so, try reversing the change to see whether doing so solves the problem. If that doesn’t help, check to see whether an upgrade or patch is available. Also, some applications come with a Repair option that can fix corrupted files. Otherwise, try reinstalling the program.


If a program freezes, you won’t be able to shut it down using conventional methods. If you try, you might see a dialog box warning you that the program is not responding. If so, click End Now to force the program to close. Alternatively, right-click the taskbar and then click Task Manager. When you display the Applications tab, you should see your stuck application listed, and the Status column will likely say Not responding. Click the program and then click End Task.

Did You Recently Install a New Program?

If you suspect a new program is causing system instability, restart Windows XP and try operating the system for a while without using the new program. (If the program has any components that load at startup, be sure to deactivate them.

You should also examine the program’s readme file (if it has one) to look for known problems and possible workarounds. It’s also a good idea to check for a Windows XP–compatible version of the program. Again, you can also try the program’s Repair option or you can reinstall the program.

Similarly, if you recently upgraded an existing program, try uninstalling the upgrade.


One common cause of program errors is having one or more program files corrupted because of bad hard disk sectors.


When a program crashes, Windows XP displays a dialog box to let you know and it asks whether you want to send an error report to Microsoft. If you never choose to send the report, this dialog box can be annoying. To turn it off, launch Control Panel’s System icon, display the Advanced tab, and then click Error Reporting. Activate the Disable Error Reporting option. Alternatively, leave the Enable Error Reporting option activated and deactivate the Programs check box.

Did You Recently Install a New Device?

If you recently installed a new device or if you recently updated an existing device driver, the new device or driver might be causing the problem. Check Device Manager to see whether there’s a problem with the device. 

Did You Recently Install an Incompatible Device Driver?

Windows XP allows you to install drivers that aren’t Windows XP–certified, but it also warns you that this is a bad idea. Incompatible drivers are one of the most common sources of system instability, so whenever possible you should uninstall the driver and install one that is designed for Windows XP. If you can’t uninstall the driver, Windows XP automatically set a system restore point before it installed the driver, so you should use that to restore the system to its previous state. 

Did You Recently Apply an Update from Windows Update?

Before you install an update from the Windows Update site, Windows XP creates a system restore point (usually called Software Distribution Service 2.0). If your system becomes unstable after installing the update, use System Restore to revert to the pre-update configuration.


If you have Windows XP set up to perform automatic updating, you can keep tabs on the changes made to your system by examining the WindowsUpdate.log file, which you’ll find in the %SystemRoot% folder. You can also review your Windows Update changes by going to the Windows Update site (select Start, All Programs, Windows Update) and clicking the View Installation History link.

Did You Recently Install a Windows XP Hotfix or Service Pack?

It’s ironic that hotfixes and Service Packs that are designed to increase system stability will occasionally do the opposite and cause more problems than they fix:

  • If you’ve applied a hotfix, you can often remove it using Control Panel’s Add or Remove Programs icon. Look for a Windows XP Hotfix entry in the Change or Remove Programs list. If you have multiple hotfixes listed, make sure that you remove the correct one. To be sure, check with either the Microsoft Security site or the Microsoft Knowledge Base, both of which I discuss in the next section. Note, however, that many hotfixes cannot be uninstalled. You can try using System Restore to revert to a recent restore point, but there’s no guarantee this will work.

  • If you installed a Service Pack and you elected to save the old system files, you can uninstall the Service Pack using Control Panel’s Add or Remove Programs icon. Look for a Windows XP Service Pack entry in the Change or Remove Programs list.

Most View
Lap Test – JBL Pulse_Lights And Sound
Synology DS213+ - Great Features, But Expensive
All You Need To Know About iOS 6 (Part 2)
Oracle Database 11g : Installing Oracle - Research and Plan the Installation
Outlining AD DS Changes in Windows Server 2012 (part 2) : Restarting AD DS on a Domain Controller, Implementing Multiple Password Policies per Domain
SQL Server 2008 : High-availability options
Explore The Limits Of Your Android Device (Part 2)
Klipsch KMC 1 Portable Wireless Music System Volume Variability
HP OMNI 27 - The One for Everything You Need
Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 : Email Integration (part 2) - Configuring Incoming Email
Top 10
Managing Windows 8 native applications (part 4) - Sideloading apps in Windows 8,Inventorying and removing apps
Managing Windows 8 native applications (part 3) - Controlling applications by using AppLocker
Managing Windows 8 native applications (part 2) - Disabling and controlling access to the Windows Store app , Managing access to hardware and installed applications
Managing Windows 8 native applications (part 1) - Installing, updating, and uninstalling Windows 8 native applications, Reinstalling apps that have been removed
Windows 8 : Managing traditional desktop applications (part 2) - Controlling program settings for traditional applications
Windows 8 : Managing traditional desktop applications (part 1) - Using Windows Installer in Windows 8, Running Windows Installer packages and MSIExec
Windows Phone 8 : Microsoft Office Mobile - Accessing Microsoft Office (part 4) - Places Options,Office Mobile Settings
Windows Phone 8 : Microsoft Office Mobile - Accessing Microsoft Office (part 3) - Adding a SharePoint Folder , Searching for a Document
Windows Phone 8 : Microsoft Office Mobile - Accessing Microsoft Office (part 2) - The Places Screen
Windows Phone 8 : Microsoft Office Mobile - Accessing Microsoft Office (part 1) - The Recent Screen