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Issue #302: May 5, 2013

Q: Each time I log on the following window appears: The instruction at “0x00402c90” referenced memory at “0x00650044”. The memory could not be read.  No matter what I do it never disappears. Can you help?

Don C.
Seagrove, Florida

A: Not very much I’m afraid, Don, and you’re not the first person to send me a message like this that I couldn’t solve.  To paraphrase a fellow technology columnist, such an error taken by itself and out of context is the equivalent of talking to a mechanic about your car and saying “it’s broken” without letting him see the car, and without providing any other supporting information.  Although it might appear on the surface that the message is providing useful and specific data, the memory addresses listed could be applicable to any number of programs, or even portions of Windows itself.  That makes it less of a useful diagnostic tool and more like a car’s “Check Engine” light that tells you there is a problem, but not what the problem is.  When something like this happens, you need to do what a mechanic would do: start investigating and asking questions.  If you don’t possess mechanic-level skills for this type of work, you probably need to do what you’d do with your car and take it to someone who has the skills to diagnose your PC’s “Check Engine” problem.  The type of questions you want to ask are: Is everything on the computer up to date? (Windows has all the latest patch releases, antivirus has all the latest signatures, etc.)  Did something change on your computer at the time this problem started?  Can you undo that change and see if it stops?

The advice that I will give you is twofold: first, since this is happening during the log on process, it would seem like it’s being caused by one of the programs that launch when Windows starts.  Using MSCONFIG, you can see much of what runs at startup, and you could try disabling them one at a time until the problem stops.  If successful, that will narrow the focus considerably.  Second, problems like are often (but not always) caused by malware.  In fact, problems can manifest in this exact manner after your malware scanner has caught and cleaned an infestation if, in the process, the scanner quarantines a file that the malware itself needs to execute.  When that happens, the malware program encounters an error and a message like the one you provided can be the result.

Finally, readers, let me conclude by saying that even though I wasn’t able to provide Don with a precise answer to his problem despite his having sent in a very specific error message, please don’t let that discourage you from sending in similar messages.  Often times when someone has managed to come up with a solution for a problem like this, they post the fix online to benefit others, and very often the affected memory address is the same on every computer that has the problem.  In this case, I performed several searches using the addresses Don provided, and unfortunately came up empty handed, but often times I get lucky, and find the exact problem through a simple Google search.


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