Diagnosing error messages

Tips & Hints

My computer keeps telling me I have performed an illegal operation. What have I done?

Posted 10 January 2002

You haven't done anything, the computer has detected a memory conflict and put the blame on you. Unfortunately an illegal operation could be anything, from a minor software flaw to a serious hardware problem.

Insufficient memory or hard drive space are the two most common causes. These are also the easiest to fix.

Do you have enough hard drive space? If you have less than 10% of your hard drive free you are asking for trouble. Cleaning up your computer and uninstalling unnecessary programs will help the problem.

Are you trying to do too much with your computer? If you have 32Mb of RAM or less, you can expect problems. If your computer is short of memory, see about upgrading and try not to run more one application at once in the meantime.

Another common problem is outdated or corrupt drivers. Printer drivers are particularly prone to this sort of problem. If you can’t find new drivers, reinstall the existing ones.

Illegal operations can also be a warning of serious problems on the hard drive. Running scandisk and choosing a thorough test is a good way to make sure it isn’t bad blocks on the hard drive that are causing the problem. If it is the hard drive has to be replaced.

If none of these solutions solve the crashing then some basic troubleshooting can narrow down where the problem lies.

Is it happening in just one program? If so, uninstall and reinstall that program.

Is it happening in one function of that program? For instance when you print? Try changing the settings for that function.

Does it happen on a regular basis? In which case it may be something like the power saving, auto-save, e-mail client or virus program that tries to run at regular intervals.

Take a note of the error message details. For instance, if you get a message that reads "iexplore caused an invalid page fault in explorer.exe" then Internet Explorer is causing the problem.

Many of the error messages are cryptic or refer to obscure files. Typing the error message into a search engine is the best way to find what the error refers to. It isn’t necessary to type the whole message in, just the opening line that says what program caused the error. Usually you’ll find the solution to the problem in the search results.

Tracking down Invalid Page Faults, Illegal Operations and General Protection Faults can be a difficult process. If the basic housekeeping fails it is usually best to let a technician look at it unless you are confident with what you are doing. If you don’t know what it does, don’t play with it.

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