Top free troubleshooting tools for Windows

These seven handy tools help you diagnose and cure a wide range of Windows ills, and they're all free for the downloading

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In Windows, there's little worse than dealing with a Blue Screen of Death, or BSOD for short. Aside from being cryptic and difficult to decipher -- especially since some BSODs can have multiple causes -- they're just plain annoying. Granted, BSODs happen much less frequently these days, but when they do it's no less of a chore. After dealing with a whole slew of BSODs the other month -- which turned out to be a hardware issue -- I hunted around for tools to help analyze BSODs and found one that did the job and more: BlueScreenView.

When a BSOD occurs the results are, whenever possible, saved into a dump file that can be examined later. BlueScreenView scans your system for these files and produces a report from them, which you can read within BlueScreenView itself or save to HTML for separate analysis. Each line in the report describes the BSOD's crash code, the time and date of its occurrence, any parameters that might have been passed with the crash (useful for debugging), and a slew of other minor details. The results are searchable, so you can hunt for a particular crash code, driver, or DLL that you think might be present.

Another thing BlueScreenView does is list all of the device drivers that were running at the time of the crash. If a particular driver was listed as the cause of the crash, it's flagged and displayed in red. You can filter out all the other drivers that were loaded at the time if you just want to focus on the culprit. You can also load dump files copied in from elsewhere by pointing to a folder, or even from computers accessible across the local network (provided you have permission to do so).

One minor annoyance with BlueScreenView involves the reporting function. If you want to print out both a crash message and its attendant driver stack, you have to treat them as separate reports. That said, the core crash message typically lists the offending driver; if nothing else, you can use the basic BSOD report to derive all the most crucial information.

Tame BSODs with BlueScreenView, which lets you analyze crash messages to learn what went wrong and why.
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