Computers with Windows operating system installed, including Vista, dumps physical memory when the system crashes or experiences a blue screen of death (BSOD). It is configured to "dump" the processes in the memory to a log file to determine what caused the system to crash. The automatic reboot happens because Windows by default is configured to reboot immediately after a crash.
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Windows Vista and other Windows operating systems are configured to generate a log file, called a memory dump, in the event of a system failure. To view the configuration, go to your computer's System Properties (a shortcut is to right-click My Computer and click Properties). In the "Advanced" tab, click "Settings" under "Startup and Recovery". Under "System failure" it is specified there what will happen in case of a crash. Normally, the "Automatic restart" is checked, which is the reason why your computer reboots automatically. Under the "Write debugging information" is the option for the physical memory dump.
Disabling Automatic Reboot
Unchecking the "Automatic restart" in "System Properties" will stop your computer from automatically rebooting in case of a BSOD. This option can be useful especially if the blue screen occurs so fast you're unable to see what the error was. Disabling the automatic restart allows you to see the error why your computer crashed, which can provide you a clue to the cause of the system failure. If the BSOD happens before you have disabled the "Automatic restart" option, you can disable the reboot the next time your computer starts by continuously pressing "F8" until the option for the boot menu comes up. One of which allows you to disable reboot upon system crash.
There are three kinds of memory dump available for Windows. By default, it is configured to create a "minidump". It only contains the application processes in the memory that was running at the time of the crash. The next dump is the kernel dump, which contains not just the application processes but also processes related to Windows operating system. For most cases, this is already a good dump file for analysis. The last dump is the complete memory dump, which dumps everything in your memory, including those that are not being used. This is useful if the other dumps did not provide any relevant information for the crash.
BSODs happen because of newly installed programs or updates that are compatible with Windows Vista. This may happen when you have upgraded from an older version of operating system to Vista and some of the currently installed programs are not compatible with Vista. Another possible cause is if you have installed any new software or updates that are not tested to run with Windows Vista.
The blue screen can initially provide a clue on the cause of the crash. If you're able to log in to your computer after the crash, you can check the Application event logs found in "Event Viewer" properties. Find any application that had an error close to the time of the crash. If there are none, the dump file generated by Windows shows the file at fault during the crash.
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- Microsoft: How to configure system failure and recovery options in Windows
- Microsoft: Overview of memory dump file options for Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2003, Windows XP, and Windows 2000
- Microsoft: How to generate a kernel dump file or a complete memory dump file in Windows Server 2003