System Crash

Dennis Faas's picture

It's been a rough couple of weeks: it seems like every time I try to take a step forward, I end up taking 3 steps backward.

After I got home from visiting Frank in Toronto, my main computer (the one that I use to write the newsletters) kept crashing with repeated Blue Screens of Death (BSOD). The BSOD's gave me some clue as to why my system was crashing, as the .DLL file responsible for the crash appeared to be related to my video card driver.

Strange, I thought. I didn't upgrade my video card driver recently, but opted to do so as I hadn't upgraded my driver in over a year. Video card drivers are usually a good thing to update, especially if you own a newer generation video card like mine (Sapphire ATI Radeon 9800).

Unfortunately, I wasn't out of the woods just yet.

Shortly after updating my video driver, Windows responded with more spontaneous blue screens, stating "DRIVER IRQL NOT LESS OR EQUAL", while referencing the file "NDIS.SYS" as the culprit. After researching Google for more clues, I found a plethora of pages where users were complaining of similar problems. As it turns out, the error screen I was receiving was more than likely related to a bad device driver, bad page file, bad network card, or an incorrect ACPI BIOS setting. Easier said than done.

Side note: A device driver is software designed to make hardware work with an operating system (such as Windows). A page file (also known as a "swap file" or virtual memory), is a temporary file written to your hard disk and is used to store RAM (Random Access Memory) if a system becomes low on resources. A network card is used to connect a computer to a network (in this case, the Internet). ACPI, or "Advanced Configuration and Power Interface" is a part of the computer which typically controls power-saving features (such as Standby, Sleep, or Hibernate mode).

Limiting the Options through Process of Elimination

In addition to upgrading my video card driver, I decided to take the advice from a forum discussion found at, and attempted to reset my pagefile, uninstall / reinstall my network card driver, and reset my CMOS settings -- but to no avail.

After a little more research, I stumbled across Microsoft's Knowledge Base Article #839876, and it was suggested that updating to the latest Service Pack (SP) may resolve the issue.

Up until now I haven't been able to download Windows XP SP2 due to its high popularity (causing Internet congestion), but was surprised to learn that I could download it to my computer today after visiting the Windows Update web site. Realizing that Windows Update would not allow me to archive Service Pack 2 for later reference after installation, I opted to download the massive 272 megabyte "Network Installation Version of XP Service Pack 2" from an alternate link via Microsoft's web site.

Problems installing Windows XP Service Pack 2

Unfortunately, installing XP SP2 didn't help my cause; in fact, it made things worse. Shortly after the "Windows Security Alert" window appeared after reboot, the computer locked up and left me with no other option but to press the reset button on the front panel. Subsequent reboots resulted in "instant" system failures, completely locking me out of the Windows desktop.

I quickly came to the realization that I was now worse off than I was before I attempted to fix my computer! Thankfully, I made a backup of my system before installing Windows XP Service Pack 2 (incase I needed to reclaim some files).

Starting from a Clean Slate

As a last resort, I opted to revert my system to a backup (disk image) of Windows XP when I first installed it onto my machine 2 years ago. This allowed me to revert my computer to a healthy state without the worry of any drivers or software, or a bad System Registry interfering with my system.

After reverting to a 'base' copy of Windows XP, I was able to once again access the desktop. When I was relatively satisfied that things appeared to be stable, I proceeded to install the Network Installation of XP Service Pack 2. To my surprise, the installation went without a hitch, and the system hasn't crashed since.

I can't imagine what brought all of this on in the first place, but the fact is that my system is up and working. And, now that things are somewhat back to normal, I hope to resume sending the newsletter / reprogramming the web site on schedule (fingers crossed)!

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