Windows System Error: splwow64.exe

Introduction

If you have a 64-bit version of Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2 or Windows Server 2012 running on your computer, you might have had an issue with the Windows core system file called “splwow64.exe". What is it exactly? Is it harmful to your computer? Does it reduce the memory space? Should you get rid of it? Etc. In this article, I am going to give answers to these questions and more.

What is the use of Splwow64.exe?

Spl stands for spooler and wow64 for “Windows on Windows 64". WOW64 is a layer which enables you to execute 32-bit applications on a 64-bit operating system, because 32-bit applications cannot use 64-bit binaries. The splwow64.exe is a 64-bit application that is able to speak with 64-bit printing drivers and “translate” the communication between 32-bit applications and 64-bit drivers. In other words, it is a communication interface between 32-bit applications and 64-bit drivers. The program runs in the background and is not normally visible. It is a trustworthy resource created by Microsoft.

How does it work?

The splwow64.exe process is executed whenever a 32-bit application is accessing one of your installed printers on a computer where any of the operating system listed above is running.

To verify that, check the processes running on your computer, before launching the printing (ALT + CTRL + DELETE and select Task Manager then click on the processes tab). You will notice that the splwow64.exe process does not feature among the processes running.

After launching a print job, check again in the task manager. This time the splwow64.exe process is effectively running, because it has been called up by the operating system to handle the communication between a 32-bit application like MS-Word and the 64-bit printer driver for the printing of your document. The process normally stops when the printing has been done.

When does a problem occur?

We earlier explained that the splwow64.exe starts running when a printing job is launched and normally stops after some time when you are done printing. But in other to increase system performance, the Splwow64.exe process stays in the memory for an additional time, in case another printing job is launched immediately. Therefore, the Splwow64.exe process does not end as expected when a print job is finished and generates the Windows System Error “Splwow64.exe" in some cases.

Some of the following errors related to Splwow64.exe can occur:

  • “Splwow64.exe bad image"
  • “Splwow64.exe: Application error"
  • “System Error: The program can’t start because splwow64.exe is missing from your computer. Try reinstalling the program to fix this problem".
  • At times you are done with your print job but you keep on receiving a message saying that printing is not finished.

This issue was reported some years back by many users of multifunction printers and other well-known brand printers who had to make a disclaimer to say that the problem was not coming from their printers but from the above-mentioned operating systems. The error was finally acknowledged by Microsoft.

How to solve the problem?

Normally you’re best off leaving splwow64.exe running for performance reasons. It doesn’t hurt your computer, and it is not using any additional memory that your normal print services are not already using. However, if the process generates errors while running, there are many methods that you can use to fix it.

Method 1: Disable the process at start up

Step 1: Make sure that you are working with a user profile that has full administrative rights.

Step 2: Press Windows + R keys to open the Run Box and type services.msc then press on OK.

starting windows services via run dialog

Step 3: Browse and look for Print Spooler, double-click on it or right-click and select properties.

Properties of print spooler service

Step 4: Go to Startup type, select Disabled and click on OK

Disabling the print spooler on startup

Step 5: Restart your computer

Warning: This method should be used only if you do not intend to use a 32-bit printer on you 64-bit computer, otherwise you will have to enable again.

Method 2: End the process manually after printing

When you are using a 32-bit printer on a 64-bit operating system (specifically those listed above), it is likely that the splwow64.exe process keeps running continuously or take a longer time than necessary before stopping. To fix that you can stop the processes manually by doing the following:

Step 1: Start the Task Manager (Press ALT + CTRL + DELETE and click on Task Manager) then click on the processes tab if it is not the active tab.

Step 2: Browse and select Splwow64.exe and click on End process.

Viewing the splwow64.exe process in the task manager

Note:

  • You don’t need to restart your computer after ending the process.
  • The process will start automatically when a new printing job will be launched. You might have to redo the same exercise after every printing.

You will certainly agree with me that this method is not really the best. There is another alternative to the manual method of ending the process. It consists of ending the process automatically few seconds after printing as seen in the next method.

Method 3: End the process automatically after printing

Warning: This method requires that you make some changes in the registry of the system. Strictly follow the steps below. If you are not well-versed in registry manipulation, I will humbly suggest that you talk to an expert, because any mistake can render your system inoperable. Also, consider having a backup of your current registry before making the changes.

Step 1: Make sure that you are working with a user profile that has full administrative rights.

Step 2: Press Windows + R keys to open the Run Box and type regedit then press on OK to load the registry interface.

starting the registry editor in windows

Step 3: Follow the path: Computer\HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Print

Finding the registry settings for printing

Step 4: Once there, right click on the right panel and select New > DWORD.

Creating a new value in regedit

Step 5: Write exactly the following name for the DWORD value: SplWOW64TimeOutSeconds then press ENTER.

Step 6: Double-click on SplWOW64TimeOutSeconds, which will open up an Edit DWORD Value interface. Enter a value greater than 0 in the Value data box and click on OK.

Setting timeout  value

Note:  It is important to set the time value to a number that is greater than 0 (like the 15 seconds in the example) otherwise the system will consider the default value of 120s.

Conclusion

Splwow64.exe is a core and trusted Windows process that shouldn’t be causing any problems on your computer. There are many ways to disable or remove the process. In this article I limited myself to the three that are most-often used.  I hope it was helpful.

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