Free Windows server utility brings blue screens back to life

Blue screen of death? Bad. Free tools? Good. Learn how one freeware utility can help Windows admins resolve system crashes in a hurry.

I hate blue screens of death. I hate getting them, I hate cleaning up after them, and more than anything else, I hate having to decipher them after something goes terribly wrong. And yet, when things do go terribly wrong, the blue screen of death is often one of the few canaries in the Windows Server coalmine that can be relied on to figure out what just happened.

Troubleshooting your toughest server crashes

Crash, boom, bang! Your Windows server just experienced a blue screen of death and your helpdesk is being flooded with calls.It's time to take matters into your own hands.

This three-part series will cover the tools and steps you'll need to tackle some of the toughest Windows server outages.

Part 1: General server crashes

Part 2: Print spooler issues

Part 3: Windows memory leaks

Naturally, any tool that can help admins deal with blue screen of death issues a little more efficiently will often be welcomed with open arms. Hence my praise for software-tools wizard Nir Sofer and his free BlueScreenView utility.

BlueScreenView iterates through all the minidump files created by a blue screen of death on a given system and produces a detailed but manageable overview of all the crash data contained in those files. Normally, spelunking these files and getting useful results from them is a chore. BlueScreenView saves you a lot of trouble by letting you pull on the most relevant information from each crash message.

When the program is launched -- you must run it as administrator -- it will present you with a two-paned view. The top will contain a list of all the dump files found in the system and the bottom will show one of three things, depending on what you've chosen:

  • A list of all the drivers found in the selected blue screen of death,
  • Only the drivers found in the stack during the crash (which typically lists whatever component caused the crash)
  • A reproduction of the blue screen of death itself

If you select the all-drivers view, you can also use the Options | Mark Drivers Found In Crash Stack function to highlight the offending drivers for quick reference.

Select one or more dumps from the list and you can export the results to an HTML report, which opens automatically in the system-default Web browser. One minor annoyance: when you generate a report from a selected dump file, it only reports on what is in the top pane and not the accompanying driver stack dump. You have to export twice -- once for the blue screen of death itself and again for the driver stack -- if you want both reports. Typically you will want both, since the driver stack is pretty crucial to figuring out what went wrong.

Note that while BlueScreenView is a 32-bit application, it runs without issues on 64-bit systems for both servers and workstations alike.

Finally, allow me to offer a personal testimony. BlueScreenView recently helped save my sanity when a machine of mine threw several errors in a very short span of time. Each of the blue screens of death in question (KERNEL_STACK_INPAGE_ERROR and MEMORY_MANAGEMENT) normally only cropped up when there was a hardware failure. In my case, however, it wasn't failing hardware but dusty hardware. As it turned out, the system in question was in desperate need of being blasted out with canned air and having its memory modules reseated.

All's been well since.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Serdar Yegulalp has been writing about computers and information technology for more than 15 years for a variety of publications, including InformationWeek and Windows Magazine.


 

This was first published in June 2010

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