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Troubleshooting Stop Messages : Memory Dump Files (part 1) - Configuring Small Memory Dump Files, Configuring Kernel Memory Dump Files

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12/30/2014 3:21:06 AM

When a Stop error occurs, Windows Vista displays information that can help you analyze the root cause of the problem. Windows Vista writes the information to the paging file (Pagefile.sys) on the systemdrive root by default. When you restart the computer in normal or Safe Mode after a Stop error occurs, Windows Vista uses the paging file information to create a memory dump file in the %systemroot% folder. Analyzing dump files can provide more information about the root cause of a problem and lets you perform offline analysis by running analysis tools on another computer.

You can configure your system to generate three types of dump file:

  • Small memory dump files Sometimes referred to as “mini” dump files, these dump files contain the least amount of information but are very small in size. Small memory dump files can be written to disk quickly, which minimizes downtime by allowing the operating system to restart sooner. Windows Vista stores small memory dump files (unlike kernel and complete memory dump files) in the %systemroot%\Minidump folder, instead of using the %systemroot%\Memory.dmp file name.

  • Kernel memory dump files Records the contents of kernel memory. Kernel memory dump files require a larger paging file on the boot device than small memory dump files and take longer to create when a failure has occurred. However, they record significantly more information and are more useful when you need to perform in-depth analysis. When you choose to create a kernel memory dump file, Windows Vista also creates a small memory dump file.

  • Complete memory dump files Records the entire contents of physical memory when the Stop error occurred. A complete memory dump file’s size will be slightly larger than the amount of physical memory installed at the time of the error. When you choose to create a complete memory dump file, Windows Vista also creates a small memory dump file.

By default, Windows Vista is configured to create kernel memory dump files. By default, small memory dump files are saved in the %systemroot%\Minidump folder, and kernel and complete memory dump files are saved to a file named %systemroot%\Memory.dmp. To change the type of dump file Windows Vista creates or to change their location, follow these steps:

1.
Click Start, right-click Computer, and then click Properties.

2.
Click Advanced System Settings.

3.
In the System Properties dialog box, click the Advanced tab. Under Startup And Recovery, click Settings.

4.
Click the Write Debugging Information list and then select the debugging type.

5.
If desired, change the path shown in the Dump File box. Figure 1 shows the Startup And Recovery dialog box.



Figure 1. Use the Startup And Recovery dialog box to change dump types and locations.


6.
Click OK twice, and then restart the operating system if prompted.

The sections that follow describe the different types of dump file in more detail.

Configuring Small Memory Dump Files

Small memory dump files contain the least amount of information, but they also consume the least amount of disk space. By default, Windows Vista stores small memory dump files in the %systemroot%\Minidump folder.

Windows Vista always creates a small memory dump file when a Stop error occurs, even when you choose the kernel dump file or complete memory dump file options. Small memory dump files can be used by both Problem Reports And Solutions and debuggers. These tools read the contents of a small memory dump file to help diagnose problems that cause Stop errors.

A small memory dump file records the smallest set of information that might identify the cause of the system stopping unexpectedly. For example, the small memory dump includes the following information:

  • Stop error information Includes the error number and additional parameters that describe the Stop error.

  • A list of drivers running on the system Identifies the modules in memory when the Stop error occurred. This device driver information includes the file name, date, version, size, and manufacturer.

  • Processor context information for the process that stopped Includes the processor and hardware state, performance counters, multiprocessor packet information, deferred procedure call information, and interrupts.

  • Kernel context information for the process that stopped Includes offset of the directory table and the page frame number database, which describes the state of every physical page in memory.

  • Kernel context information for the thread that stopped Identifies registers and interrupt request levels, and includes pointers to operating system data structures.

  • Kernel-mode call stack information for the thread that stopped Consists of a series of memory locations, and includes a pointer to the initial location. Developers might be able to use this information to track the source of the error. If this information is greater than 16 KB, only the topmost 16 KB is included.

A small memory dump file requires a paging file of at least 2 MB on the boot volume. The operating system saves each dump file with a unique file name every time a Stop error occurs. The file name includes the date the Stop error occurred. For example, Mini011007-02.dmp is the second small memory dump generated on January 10, 2007.

Small memory dump files are useful when space is limited or when you are using a slow connection to send information to technical support personnel. Because of the limited amount of information that can be included, these dump files do not include errors that were not directly caused by the thread that was running when the problem occurred.

Configuring Kernel Memory Dump Files

By default, Windows Vista systems create kernel memory dump files. The kernel memory dump file is an intermediate-size dump file that records only kernel memory and can occupy several MB of disk space. A kernel memory dump takes longer to create than a small dump file, and thus increases the downtime associated with a system failure. On most systems, the increase in downtime is minimal.

Kernel memory dumps contain additional information that might assist troubleshooting. When a Stop error occurs, Windows Vista saves a kernel memory dump file to a file named %systemroot%\Memory.dmp and creates a small memory dump file in the %systemroot%\Minidump folder.

A kernel memory dump file records only kernel memory information, which expedites the dump file creation process. The kernel memory dump file does not include unallocated memory or any memory allocated to user-mode programs. It includes only memory allocated to the Executive, kernel, hardware abstraction layer (HAL), and file system cache, in addition to nonpaged pool memory allocated to kernel-mode drivers and other kernel-mode routines.

The size of the kernel memory dump file will vary, but is always less than the size of the system memory. When Windows Vista creates the dump file, it first writes the information to the paging file. Therefore, the paging file might grow to the size of the physical memory. Later, the dump file information is extracted from the paging file to the actual memory dump file. To ensure that you have sufficient free space, verify that the system drive would have free space greater than the size of physical memory if the paging file were extended to the size of physical memory. Although you cannot exactly predict the size of a kernel memory dump file, a good rule of thumb is that roughly 50 MB to 800 MB, or one-third the size of physical memory, must be available on the boot volume for the paging file.

For most purposes, a kernel memory dump file is sufficient for troubleshooting Stop errors. It contains more information than a small memory dump file and is smaller than a complete memory dump file. It omits those portions of memory that are unlikely to have been involved in the problem. However, some problems do require a complete memory dump file for troubleshooting.

Note

By default, a new kernel memory dump file overwrites an existing one. To change the default setting, clear the Overwrite Any Existing File check box. You can also rename or move an existing dump file prior to troubleshooting.

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