Windows error messages are bewildering, but not as devastating as they appear. We show you how to diagnose and fix major errors on your PC
Error messages in Windows are worrying at the best of times. They can range from a brief message on startup that tells you that a file is missing, or they may bring your system to a grinding halt with a blue screen and error message. However serious or trivial they may appear, though, they’re all symptomatic of a problem with your Windows installation.
It may sound easy to say, but there’s really no need to panic if you encounter an error message – they’re rarely as devastating as they might first appear. With a little bit of know-how an error message doesn’t look so scary – and we’re going to provide you with that know-how.Take Back Control
The purpose of this feature is to examine common error message families in more detail. Fatal exception errors, invalid page faults and kernel32.dll error messages are examined, while we also reveal useful tips for tracking down solutions to any error message with the help of the Internet. The trick you’ll learn is this: it’s not a case of necessarily knowing the exact solution to a specific error message; instead, you need to know what to do in order to track down a solution to your problem, and then implement it when you’ve found it.
When looking at major error messages, we’ve broken them down into sections. What is the error message? When does it occur? Why does it occur? What parts of the message do you need to take a note of in order to track down a solution? What steps do you typically follow to fix a problem of this kind? Where can you go for a solution to this problem? We’ll then provide a working example of an error message and reveal its solution to give you an idea of what to look for and where to find it
If your error message isn’t in one of the big ‘four’ families of error messages, then there’s still plenty you can do to track down a solution. We’ll reveal the tips and tricks that will help you track down missing files, as well as less common error messages. Armed with this invaluable information, you’ll never reach for the panic button again when you’re confronted with an annoying error message. And to kick things off, here are some handy hints on using the Microsoft Support Knowledge Base…The Knowledge Base
The Microsoft Knowledge Base is a treasure trove of solutions; you just need to know how to find them. You’ll find most error messages explained in the Microsoft Knowledge Base, which is a searchable database of all confirmed problems and their solutions - you can find it at http://support.microsoft.com. It’s useful to know how to trace your problem as efficiently as possible, because there are thousands of articles in the knowledge base and you don’t want to read them all.
First, click the Search the Knowledge Base link for the Advanced Search page. Next, choose the product you are using from the ‘Select a Microsoft product’ drop-down menu. In most cases, you’ll choose Windows 98, although all Microsoft products are listed as the default when you first visit the site (your preferences are remembered for the next time you visit, unless you delete your net settings using a clean-up tool like SafeClean Utilities).
Next, you need to enter some keywords to define your error message. Don’t enter the whole message; you’ll not get any results. Try to limit yourself to between two and four keywords, and try the type of error message and any codes that might narrow it down. Hence, for ‘A fatal exception 0E has occurred at 028:C0282dB0 in VxD IFSMGR(03) + 0000 CF7C’, try entering fatal exception 0E VxD
for the search.Search Tips
If you get no results, try broadening your search by either removing a keyword, or selecting All Microsoft Search Topics instead of a specified product. You may find that you end up with far too many results, in which case you can try to narrow the search by specifying another keyword, or you can use more search options.
You can specify to search for a match to the exact phrase you typed, or for matches to individual keywords typed. You can even specify a Boolean search, which looks for matches to individual words or the complete phrase, or any combination of the words up to and including the complete phrase. Narrow your search to include just titles of the knowledge base articles, or broaden it to include the full text of the articles. If you know the article number that you want to read, select the radio button marked Article ID and enter the article number as a keyword.
Specify how many results you’d like. The default is 25, and unless you know your search is going to be pretty general, you’re probably best sticking with this number. Finally, specify the age of the article you want using the drop-down list – the default ‘Anytime’ is usually the best, but its other options are useful if attempting to narrow down a search.Fatal Exception Errors
What is It?
A fatal exception error occurs when your computer’s processor encounters an operation that it cannot process. In these cases, an exception to the operating system is caused, meaning it cannot proceed. This is rather drastically termed as a fatal exception, hence the term ‘fatal exception error’.
When Does it Occur?
All too often! Poor programming or sloppy code is usually the culprit, involving mathematical formulae that won’t resolve. However, faulty RAM will also cause fatal exceptions whenever data needs to be written to a bad area. Often, physical memory related errors only show up after a major upgrade, like switching to a new version of Windows; the older operating system might not have used areas of memory that the new one does, for instance. Incorrectly installed or poorly configured hardware can also throw up the message – for example, if the driver tells Windows to expect a device where there isn’t one, or allocates resources incorrectly.
Why Does it Occur?
Fatal exceptions are not directly caused by Windows – they’re actually produced by your processor when it finds an operation it can’t handle. However, Windows occasionally indirectly causes the exceptional operation error, especially in Windows 98, which is based on the older DOS operating system.What to Look For
Typically the fatal exception error is reported in this way on a blue screen: ‘A fatal exception XY has occurred at xxxx:xxxxxxxx’. The XY part of the error is the type of processor exception that’s happened, and is the most informative, as this will give you a much better idea of how to fix it than where in the computer’s memory it happened. Write the code down and take it to http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=150314, where you’ll find a full list of fatal exceptions and their definitions.
How to Fix the Problem
More often than not, you’ll need to reboot after a fatal exception. Do so after noting down at least the first two digits of the error code. Now try to reproduce the error by repeating the actions you were doing just before it showed up. If you can reproduce it, note down what caused it and try to remove the offending program or driver. Use this information to search http://support.microsoft.com for your problem and any possible solution.
Where to Go
If you cannot easily find the cause of the fatal exception, go to http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=192926, where you’ll find details of how to perform a clean boot in order to narrow down your search for the cause of the problem.Case Study: Control Panel Fatal Exception fix
A fatal exception OE screen appears either when opening or closing the Control Panel or during startup, and the Control Panel error can also cause Windows to hang. A misplaced scanner file is the culprit.
Click the Start button, select Find, Files or Folders and type vhpscand.vxd into the ‘Named’ box. Click Find Now. If vhpscand.vxd turns up in the C:\Windows\System folder, it’s causing the problem and you need to move it.
Then right-click the vhpscand.vxd file and choose Cut from the drop-down menu. Browse to the folder C:\Windows\System\Iosubsys, right-click again and choose Paste. Restart your computerWindows Protection Errors
When it comes to Windows Protection Errors, hardware, drivers, and corrupt files are the common culprits. Here’s how to send them packing…
What is It?
Windows Protection Errors will almost always start with a message similar to this: ‘While initializing device: Windows Protection Error. You need to restart your computer.’
When Does it Occur?
Windows Protection Errors are most commonly encountered while a system is booting, or once you’ve issued the command to shut your system down, but they can occasionally appear during normal operation, too.
Why Does it Occur?
For the most part, Windows Protection Errors fall into three major areas. The most common reason for experiencing a Windows Protection Error is a result of drivers loading or unloading incorrectly. For example, Windows loads most drivers while the system is booting, and then unloads drivers when the system is shutting down. However, it is also possible that some drivers will still make use of the System.ini file to load separately from Windows. If both the operating system and System.ini attempt to load the same file, a Windows Protection Error will occur.
Another reason for these errors is missing or corrupt files. Windows initialises many virtual device drivers (VxD files) as part of the boot process, and if one is missing or corrupt, you’ll usually be presented with the name of the file in the ‘device’ section of the error message. The same is true of a corrupt Registry, Win.com or Command.com file. The corruption of these files may occur for a variety of reasons – perhaps you have a tendency to avoid proper shutdowns, or a virus has infected one of the files. They may also be the result of hardware-related problems, from incorrect CMOS (BIOS) settings to a damaged component.
What to Look For
The key to these error messages is the name of the driver or device listed after the ‘while initializing device’ section of the message.
How to Fix the Problem
If an error identifies a particular driver (VxD) or system file, you might try booting into Safe mode and replacing the file manually from your CAB files. If you can’t identify the driver, try using the Logged option from the Start-up menu. The Bootlog.txt file created in the root directory will show which drivers did and did not load correctly; it may also be necessary to reinstall Windows into a new directory for testing purposes. In cases of hardware failure, replacement will probably be the only solution.
There are two excellent resources at the Microsoft Knowledge Base: http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=149962 reveals how to troubleshoot Windows Protection Error messages; while the second, the Windows 98 and Me Error Message Resource Centre, is at http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=315854. You’ll also find a list of common Windows Protection Error messages at http://aumha.org/win4/kbewpe.php.Case study: VxD Windows Protection Errors on startup
The error message here is: ‘While Initializing Device name.vxd, Windows Protection Error’. The solution is as simple as following the suggested course of action below.
Windows Protection Errors relating to VxD files can be a common occurrence on Windows 98 systems, depending on the applications and hardware installed on your system. Although the VxD file causing the error is usually listed in the error message, that isn’t always the case. With a little sleuth work, you may be able to both determine the cause of the problem and rid your system of it for good.
If your system does experience the error, take the opportunity to write down the name of the offending VxD file if provided with one. As your next step, try booting your system into Safe mode, and see if the problem persists. If it doesn’t, that’s a good sign that it may not be the most difficult problem to fix, so you may be in luck.
From Safe mode, first check your System.ini file and remove any reference to the file, being sure to write down any changes you’ve made. Try rebooting and see is the problem has been solved.
If it isn’t, reboot into Safe mode and search for the VxD file using the Find command. Next, access the properties of the file, specifically the Version tab. This will provide information on the application that the file is associated with. In cases where it appears that the application is what is causing the error, you’ll probably need to check the program’s Web site for an update, or potentially uninstall and reinstall the application. If it appears to be a corrupt Windows driver, delete the file and then replace it from your original source files.
In cases where you’re not sure which file is causing the error, boot your system using the Logged option. The will create a Bootlog.txt file in the root directory. Check to see which driver was initialised last – this will usually be the source of the problem.Invalid Page Faults
What is It?
Invalid Page Faults are an all-too-common experience in Windows 98. The actual message, referring to ‘illegal operations’ in Windows, isn’t that illuminating. When the error appears, you need to click the Details button for the full low-down.
When Does it Occur?
Unfortunately, Invalid Page Faults can happen almost any time while Windows is running. The chance of encountering this message is higher if you frequently run your computer for long periods of time.
Why Does it Occur?
All of these errors are somehow related to system memory. Memory can be broken down into two major types: physical RAM and virtual memory, and the swap file created on your hard drive that acts as an extension of RAM. Invalid Page Faults get their name from the term ‘paging’, which is used to describe how the contents of memory are moved from RAM to the swap file and vice versa.
If you commonly encounter these messages, it’s important to consider when they happen. For example, if you often seem to experience Invalid Page Fault errors when running a certain program, chances are good that the particular application is trying to access an area of memory currently in use by another program. In almost all cases, this is because of poor application or driver programming. Internet Explorer can be very prone to these.
If the errors seem to occur more randomly, it usually indicates one of a number of problems, almost all relating to virtual memory. For example, the system may not have enough RAM for stability, or the partition housing your swap file might be running very low on disk space. Another common problem is virtual memory becoming corrupt – sometimes because of an application.
What to Look For
When you experience an Invalid Page Fault, write down the name of the program and the name of the module that listed in the message. Use the Details button to gather these details.
How to Fix the Problem
If the Invalid Page Fault is caused by an application, your best bet is to check the program’s Web site for the fix. In cases of systems with low disk space or too little RAM, either add more RAM or free up some space on the partition where Windows is installed.
Again, the Microsoft Support site has everything you need: http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=286180 contains useful information about Invalid Page Faults in general, while http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=276393 covers unrecoverable errors in Internet Explorer, including Invalid Page Faults.Case study: Invalid Page Faults involving kernel32 and Explorer
While most Invalid Page Fault errors directly relate to both RAM and virtual memory, both Outlook Express and Internet Explorer are prone to experiencing these errors when opened, which is the result of a damaged or corrupt password file.
On Windows 98 systems, all of the passwords that you provide and choose to have your system “remember” are stored in what are known as password files. These files have a .PWL extension, and can corrupt. When this happens they may cause the common ‘Explorer caused an Invalid Page Fault in module Kernel32.dll’ error.
While the program that caused the fault will often be listed as Explorer, the solution to this particular error also applies when some other applications are listed in the message, including Commgr32, Mprexe, Guide.exe, and Msgsrv32. As such, if you encounter a message suggesting that Commgr32 caused the Invalid Page Fault in Kernel32.dll, you would take the same course of action suggested below.
The solution involves searching for and deleting the .PWL files on your system. After using the Find command to locate the files, right-click and choose Rename, altering the file extension from .PWL to .OLD. You will lose all of your saved passwords, but it’s a small price to pay for a stable system. Once done, reboot your system. New empty versions of the password files will be created automatically as users log on, and you can then safely delete the old files.Kernel32.dll error messages
What is It?
Kernel32.dll is the file that handles the most essential behind-the-scenes Windows tasks, including memory management, interrupts, and system input/output operations. A variety of different error messages may reference Kernel32.dll, including Invalid Page Fault messages.
When Does it Occur?
Unfortunately, the reach of Kernel32.dll error messages is far and wide. As such, given the number of different elements that can cause these errors, it might be best to say that they can happen any time.
Why Does it Occur?
This is where things get tricky. The ‘Invalid Page Fault in module Kernel32.dll’ error message is covered above, but the number of possible reasons that you might come across messages that reference the file is immense. Some of the most common reasons are listed below:
Bad memory: Kernel32.dll errors often occur as a result of physical problems with RAM, as well as the corruption of virtual memory.
Overclocking: using overclocking techniques to boost the power of your system commonly results in messages referencing Kernel32.dll.
Video Drivers and Display Settings: video drivers are notorious for being bug-ridden, and may result in these errors. They may also occur as a result of graphic acceleration settings that are set too high.
Damaged Files: Kernel32.dll errors will also appear in cases where certain files (such as log files or DLLs), drivers, or the Registry have become corrupt.
BIOS Settings: changing a variety of BIOS settings may also cause errors.
As if the list above weren’t already big enough, Kernel32.dll errors can also appear as a result of a damaged temp folder, viruses, low disk space, or the Kernel32.dll file being corrupt itself.
What to Look For
The key element of solving any Kernel32.dll error is making a note of the program or driver listed in the error message.
How to Fix the Problem
For Kernel32.dll error messages, fixing the problem requires a little sleuth work. The key is documenting the error message, and if possible, checking the Microsoft Knowledge Base for clues or direction. Kernel32.dll errors are often the result of a recent system change; perhaps you’ve just upgraded hardware, installed new software or drivers, or encountered a virus problem. In almost all cases, the best course of action is to ask yourself what you did last (such as installing a new driver, application, or RAM), and to then reverse that particular action.
If you suspect that faulty RAM is the cause of the problem, add the line below to your system’s Config.sys file: Device=c:\windows\himem.sys /testmem:on. Then reboot; if the test does find unstable or unreliable memory at a certain address, you’ll receive an on-screen message presenting the information. If that’s the case, a trip to your local PC shop for some shiny new RAM is almost certainly in your future.
You can get a definition of kernel32.dll errors at the following Web site: http://support.microsoft.com/support/windows/topics/errormsg/kbkern.asp. If you’re troubled by a particular kernel32.dll message, visit www.generation.net/~hleboeuf/errkrn32.htm, where you’ll find a large number listed along with links to possible solutions.Case study: The Doctor is in the house
Dr Watson has come as part of every version of Windows since 98 onwards, and while it may not be the most popular program ever created, it does have some advantages, especially when you’re trying to track down the source of those pesky Kernel32.dll error messages.
While Dr Watson does a good job of capturing error messages, it is also a wonderful utility to use in gathering information about your system. For example, it can be used to determine which kernel, user, and MS-DOS drivers are currently loaded, including the names and locations of the associated files. This information is invaluable if the time ever comes to delete and replace a file associated with a particular error.
Dr Watson is primarily a tool for capturing error messages. When Dr Watson is opened (click Start, Run, type drwatson and press [Enter]) it runs in your System Tray and waits for an error to occur. When one does, the program generates a snapshot of the operating system, saving information about the error to a log file (with a .WLG extension) in the Windows\Drwatson folder. The information captured includes the program that caused the fault, the program in which the fault occurred, and the associated memory address where the error took place. You can view this information on the Diagnosis tab.
If your system is experiencing errors regularly, consider adding a shortcut to Dr Watson to the Windows\Startup folder. While it has the ability to act as a great fact-finding tool, Dr Watson does have one downside – in cases where the error message in question causes your system to hang, the program will not be able to save the required information correctly. How to handle other error messages
Not all error messages fit into neat categories, but these tips will help you track most down.
With so many possible configurations of hardware and software, it’s almost impossible to cover every error message that you might come across. However, there are some that are more common than others. Missing files account for a fair number of errors, as many third-party programs overwrite Windows files with their own replacements. Occasionally, you’ll find Windows wants to use the original file, but can’t find it. Memory leaks are just as troublesome. As they are caused by software allocating resources poorly, the errant behaviour isn’t consistent.
So what can you do if you come across an error message that you’ve not seen before, or that we haven’t covered here? Your first port of call should be the Microsoft Knowledge Base, at http://support.microsoft.com. See the beginning of this section for some handy search tips.
Of course, Microsoft isn’t the only place to run to for help. There are plenty of third-party Web sites that will offer support and sympathy; the trick is to find the one that gives useful help without too much flannel. Try using a search engine such as MSN Search to track down a solution, and search for key terms in the error message. Remember that the software that you were using when the error message cropped up might be at fault, so try visiting the program’s site to see if there are any known problems and fixes that you can employ. Once at the site, look for a link to support. You may be able to download patches or updates to your software for free.
Device drivers can cause their fair share of error messages (a list of error codes are listed below), particularly if you have damaged or missing files. To check the state of your device drivers, go to Device Manager in the System Properties Control Panel – right-click My Computer and choose Properties, then switch to the Device Manager tab.
Look for any devices that have yellow exclamation marks by them, indicating that they aren’t functioning correctly. Double-click one of these devices and select the Driver tab; you can get details of the driver files here or choose to update the driver. If you choose the latter, make sure you have a copy of the latest driver for the device in question. You may need to pay a visit to the equipment manufacturer’s Web site to get it.
Device Manager error codes
The following list will help you diagnose the particular problem you’re afflicted by. Make a note of the error code number and check it against the list below:
1, 2, 3, 5, 11, 18, 19, 23, 27
Remove and reinstall the device driver: click it, then click Remove. Close Device Manager, then run the Add New Hardware wizard.
4, 8, 9, 17
Try removing and reinstalling as described above – if it fails contact your manufacturer for an updated set-up information file.
6, 12, 15
Run the Hardware Troubleshooter to help you manually configure your device.
7, 13, 20, 26, 28
Try removing the device driver and reinstalling it. If this fails, download and install an updated driver from the Net.
If it’s a hardware device that’s connected externally, check its connections and power cable; if it’s an internal device try removing it and reinstalling it.
Try shutting down your PC and restarting.
Open the device’s properties in Device Manager and switch to the Resource tab, then enter the resource settings manually.
Open the device’s properties in Device Manager and uncheck the Disabled in this Hardware Configuration box.
The device has been disabled as it does not work properly with Windows. Talk to your device manufacturer.
This problem is caused by a conflict with a real-mode driver that’s loaded with Windows from the Autoexec.bat or Config.sys file. Remove the reference to the driver in one or both of the files – click Start, Run, type sysedit and press [Return].
Windows can’t access the drive your drivers are on, so restart.
Contact your hardware manufacturer – this is often encountered when the hardware itself has failed.
As we mentioned before, missing files can play havoc with your Windows installation, but recovering them is not always easy. Most of the installation files for Windows are compressed into CAB files. You’ll need a program that can search these CAB files so you can recover your lost files. You’ll find such a program called ZipScan at www.zipscan.co.uk. The evaluation version is fully functional, and registration costs just £10.
Find missing files
Download and install ZipScan. Insert your Windows 98 CD into its drive if your Windows CAB files aren’t stored on your hard drive. When you run ZipScan for the first time you’ll see a dual-paned interface. In the left-hand window click the arrow next to Where to search. Under ‘Search for files in’ make sure CAB files are ticked.
Click Browse and either select your CD drive or browse to the location where your Windows 98 CAB files are stored on your hard drive (look for a CABs folder in the Windows folder if you’re not sure where they are).
Type in the name of the file you’re looking for in the ‘Search For Files Named’ box and then click the green Search button. ZipScan searches for the file in question. Once found, select it and click Extract. Browse to the directory where it should go and click OK.
If you can’t find the file, perform a search online instead. If you’re looking for a DLL file, start your search at www.dll-files.com; otherwise look for the file using your favourite search engine.
Locating a troublesome file’s parent application
The converse problem is just as perplexing: a file on your system that you think is causing an error, but you can’t work out which application uses it or generated it. Try right-clicking the file and choosing Properties. You may see the parent application in the information. Failing this, try searching for the filename online, or put a posting up on a relevant newsgroup. Try the Web-based Microsoft-approved groups at http://communities.microsoft.com, or search your news server for other relevant groups.