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How to solve Windows 8 crashes in less than a minute

Dirk A. D. Smith | April 16, 2013
Windows 8 has been out for a while, featuring an interface that's as cool as it is annoying . . . until you get the hang of it. But, like any computer operating system, it can fall over. Luckily, there is an easy way to solve the cause of most crashes; just call up WinDbg, the Windows debugger; a free tool to diagnose the most common causes of Windows crashes -- misbehaved third party drivers.

The path to check Windows 8 Memory Dump Settings, beginning at Control Panel, follows:

Control Panel | System and Security | System | Advanced system settings | Startup and Recovery | Settings

Once at the Startup and Recovery dialogue box (below) ensure that "Automatic memory dump" is checked. You will probably also want to ensure that both "Write an event to the system log" and "Automatically restart" (which should also be on by default) are checked.

Install WinDbg

System Requirements

To set your PC up for WinDbg-based crash analysis, you will need the following:

" 32-bit or 64-bit Windows 8/R2/Server 2012/Windows 7/Server 2008

Depending on the processor you are running the debugger on, you can use either the 32-bit or the 64-bit debugging tools. Note that it is not important whether the dump file was made on an x86-based or an x64-based platform.

" The Debugging Tools for Windows portion of the Windows SDK for Windows 8, which you can download for free from Microsoft.

" Approximately 103MB of hard disk space (not including storage space for dump files or for symbol files)

" Live Internet connection

Download WinDbg

First download sdksetup.exe, a small file (969KB) that launches the Web setup, from which you select what components to install.

" Standard download.

" Automated download (the download will start on its own):

Space required

Ignore the disk space required of 1.2GB; you will only be installing a small portion of the kit. On my test machine the installation process predicted 256.2MB but only needed 103MB according to File Explorer following installation.

Run skdsetup.exe

Install the Software Development Kit (SDK) to the machine that you will use to view memory dump files.

A. Launch sdksetup.exe.

B. Specify location:

The suggested installation path follows:

C:\Program Files (x86)\Windows Kits\8.0\

If you are downloading to install on a separate computer, choose the second option and set the appropriate path.

C. Accept the License Agreement

D. Remove the check marks for all but Debugging Tools for Windows

What are symbols and why do I need them?

Now that the debugger is installed and before calling up a dump file you have to make sure it has access to the symbol files. Symbol tables are a byproduct of compilation. When a program is compiled, the source code is translated from a high-level language into machine code. At the same time, the compiler creates a symbol file with a list of identifiers, their locations in the program, and their attributes. Since programs don't need this information to execute, it can be taken out and stored in another file. This reduces the size of the final executable so it takes up less disk space and loads faster into memory. But, when a program causes a problem, the OS only knows the hex address at which the problem occurred, not who was there and what the person was doing. Symbol tables, available through the use of SymServe, provide that information.


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