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How to Avoid Crashes
While Browsing the Nets

© 2000 by Walt Howe
(last revised 13 April 2007)
Most Windows users are familiar with the dreaded GPFs (General Protection Fault) that brings computers to a crashing stop. GPFs are caused by two programs or routines trying to use the same memory space. When one wins, the other crashes! There may actually be a shortage of memory in the system. But just as likely, there is enough memory in the system, but bugs in the program or operating system inhibit finding the available memory space with equally disastrous results.

Most users can't do anything to fix the bugs in programs and operating systems, but there are things that can be done by anyone to prevent the crashes.

Things you can do with any version of Windows. Here are a few that may work with either Win 3.1, Win 95 or Win 98, Windows 2000, or Windows Me.

  • Upgrade to Windows XP. These versions of Windows handle potential memory conflicts much better. First, make sure that the programs you use and depend on run in this environment. Some don't!

  • Check to see that the problem is repeatable. Does it happen again under the same circumstances? Does the same web page always cause a crash? Does loading very large graphics cause a crash? Does it only happen when you have a lot of programs loaded? Does it only happen after you have been running for a long time. The simplest answer, if the problem is repeatable is to avoid repeating the circumstances. Some are more preventable than others, of course!

  • Make sure you are not running a beta version of your browser. With both Netscape and MSIE, the beta releases are full of bugs (as would be expected with beta versions).

  • If you are using Netscape or Mozilla, clean out your cache. Sometimes problems go away when you clean the cache.

  • Don't try to run more programs at once than your computer can handle. It may be very convenient to run Firefox with lots of plug-ins, a mail program, a chat program, a separate newsreader, an RSS feed, a word processor or text editor, in Instant Messenger, an anti-virus program, a firewall, an ad blocker, a graphics program, a set of disk utilities, and your favorite solitaire game all at once, but you better have 512MB of RAM or more to do all that. A gigabyte is better. With less, limit your usage to the programs you need immediately.

  • Make sure you have enough hard drive space. One way that Windows copes with memory shortages is to use Windows swap file space on a hard drive as virtual RAM--as if it were fast RAM. When your system is slowing down and you hear lots of disk access, this is probably what is happening. If your disk space is tight, the virtual RAM needed may not be available. Free up more space on your primary (boot) drive or consider moving your swap file to another, less full drive. Defrag your hard drives regularly, too.

  • Reboot periodically. When you run a program in Windows, particular versions before Windows 2000 and close it, it doesn't return all the memory freed up back to the available memory pool. Over time, more and more memory is unavailable. Rebooting frees up all the memory again.

  • If you are running in higher than 640x480 (Standard VGA) mode, does the crash recur in Standard VGA? If not, check your graphics card or computer manufacturer's web site for updated graphics drivers.

  • Does the page you are crashing on use Java or JavaScript? Does it have an alternative mode you can use? Is your Java up to date?

  • Are you using AOL's browser? Instead of using it, get Firefox or MSIE instead. They are free, and they work a lot better than AOL's browser. You can still log onto AOL with it, but then minimize it and open another browser. That fixes many problems!

  • One obvious solution is to add more RAM to your system. Memory is the cheapest it has ever been. Only try this yourself if you are comfortable opening up your case and making changes internally. If you do add more RAM, make sure you use the same type and speed that you already have, unless you know for sure that your system can handle different types of memory.

Things you can do with Windows 98. Get the Windows 98 SE (Second Edition) disk or its download equivalents at Microsoft. Use the built-in Windows Update functions.

What if you still need more help? Try these URLs for still more help: