Windows 10

How to solve Windows 10 crashes in less than a minute.

Windows 10

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What is a memory dump?

A memory dump is a copy or a snapshot of the contents of a system’s memory at the point of a system crash. Dump files are important because they can show who was doing what at the point the system fell over. Dump files are, by the nature of their contents, difficult to decipher unless you know what to look for.

Windows 10 can produce five types of memory dump files, each of which are described below.

1.     Automatic Memory Dump

Size: Size of OS kernel

The Automatic memory dump is the default option selected when you install Windows 10. It was created to support the “System Managed” page file configuration which has been updated to reduce the page file size on disk, primarily for small SSDs, but will also benefit servers with large amounts of RAM. The Automatic memory dump option produces a Kernel memory dump; the difference is when you select Automatic it allows the SMSS process to reduce the page file smaller than the size of RAM.

To check or edit the system paging file size, go to the following:

Windows 10 button | Control Panel | System and Security | System | Advanced system settings | Performance | Settings | Advanced | Change

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2. Active Memory Dump

Location: %SystemRoot%\Memory.dmp
Size: Triple the size of a kernel or automatic dump file

The Active memory dump is a recent feature from Microsoft. While much smaller than a complete memory dump, it is probably three times the size of a kernel dump. This is because it includes both the kernel and the user space. On my test system with 4GB RAM running Windows 10 on an Intel Core i7 64-bit processor the Active dump was about 1.5GB. Since, on occasion, dump files have to be transported I compressed it, which brought it down to about 500MB.

3. Complete Memory Dump

Location: %SystemRoot%\Memory.dmp
Size: Installed RAM plus 1MB

A complete (or full) memory dump is the largest dump file because it includes all of the physical memory that is used by the Windows OS. You can assume that the file will be about equal to the installed RAM. With many systems having multiple GBs, this can quickly become a storage issue, especially if you are having more than the occasional crash. Generally speaking, stick to the automatic dump file.

4. Kernel Memory Dump

Location:   %SystemRoot%\Memory.dmp
Size: ≈size of physical memory “owned” by kernel-mode components

Kernel dumps are roughly equal in size to the RAM occupied by the Windows 10 kernel, about 700MB on my test system. Compression brought it down nearly 80% to 150MB. One advantage of a kernel dump is that it contains the binaries which are needed for analysis. The Automatic dump setting creates a kernel dump file by default, saving only the most recent, as well as a minidump for each event.

5. Small Memory Dump (a.k.a. a mini dump)

Location: %SystemRoot%\Minidump
Size: At least 64K on x86 and 128k on x64 (279K on my W10 test PC)

Minidumps include memory pages pointed to them by registers given their values at the point of the fault, as well as the stack of the faulting thread. What makes them small is that they do not contain any of the binary or executable files that were in memory at the time of the failure. However, those files are critically important for subsequent analysis by the debugger.

As long as you are debugging on the machine that created the dump file, WinDbg can find them in the System Root folders (unless the binaries were changed by a system update after the dump file was created). Alternatively, the debugger should be able to locate them automatically through SymServ, Microsoft’s online store of symbol files. Unless changed by a user, Windows 10 is normally set to create the automatic dump file for the most recent event and a minidump for every crash event, providing an historic record of all system crash events for the life of the system.

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