Having the ability to track system stability over time is something that all Microsoft Windows users have wanted at one time or another. Of course, Windows Performance Monitor has been around for a long time but requires manual configuration and a deep understanding of all the cryptically named counters. Fortunately, Windows 7's Reliability Monitor is a preconfigured tool that will allow you to track hardware and software problems and other changes to your computer.
Windows Vista also has a version of Reliability Monitor that works similarly to the more advanced version in Windows 7.
In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll provide you with an overview of the Windows 7 Reliability Monitor and show you how to use it to track the behavior of your system over its lifetime.
This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download.
As I mentioned in the introduction, the Reliability Monitor measures hardware and software problems and other changes to your computer. As it does so, Reliability Monitor compiles a stability index that ranges from 1 to 10 (the least stable to the most stable).
More specifically, the stability index identifies when unexpected problems or other changes reduced the reliability of your system. A graph identifies dates when problems began to occur, and a report provides details that you can use to troubleshoot the cause of any reduced reliability.
Accessing the Reliability Monitor
The Reliability Monitor is a part of Windows 7's Action Center, which can be found in the Control Panel's System and Security category. However, the easiest way to access the Reliability Monitor is to click the Start button and type Reliability in the Start Search box.When the Reliability Monitor launches, its graph will show you the most recent activity. To prepare for the next section of this article, click the graph and then press and hold the left arrow key to essentially rewind the Reliability Monitor's graph all the way back to the day that you installed Windows 7. When you do, your graph will look similar to my example shown in Figure A.
By continually clicking the arrow, you will essentially rewind the graph all the way back to the day that you installed Windows 7.
Taking a look around
As you can see in Figure A, the main feature in the Reliability Monitor is a graph called the Stability Index. On the day you installed Windows 7, your system was assigned a reliability rating of 10.00, which is the highest possible score. If you press and hold down the right arrow key, you'll see the day-to-day ebb and flow of the Stability Index over time as various events occur. When you get to the far right, you'll see your current rating.
By default, each column in the graph represents a day, but you can change it to view by weeks, by selecting a View By option at the top of the graph.
You may also notice dotted and solid lines in the graph. Dotted lines indicate that there was not enough recorded data to calculate a steady Stability Index. This typically results from periods of time when the system is not in full use -- either turned off or in a sleep state. Solid lines indicate that there was enough recorded data to calculate a steady System Stability Index.
Now, if you shift your attention to the right side of the graph, you'll see that each of the five rows indicates Reliability Events in five categories: Application Failures, Windows Failures, Miscellaneous Failures, Warnings, and Information. As you look over these rows, you'll see icons that represent the type of event that occurred.As you can see in Figure B, any type of failure that occurs is marked by a red error icon, and you can see the resulting drop in the graph above the icon. As such, any day that a problem event occurs, reliability index goes down quickly. If there are no problems on the next day, the reliability index will go up slightly. If there are several days without any problems, the reliability index will continue its upward turn, albeit very slowly.
Any type of failure that occurs is marked by a red error icon, and you can see the resulting drop in the graph above the icon.Now, if you select any column that contains icons, you'll see the report section of the System Stability Index and you'll be able to see what the exact problems were. For example, clicking the column for 8/31/2010 on my example system, as shown in Figure C, reveals that there were a series of events and warnings related to the installation of old HP Scanner driver. As you can see, that problem brought the reliability index down sharply from the previous day's high. The reliability index then very slowly climbed back up and didn't reach the previous high until two weeks later.
In the report section of the System Stability Index, you can see the exact problem that caused a drop in the reliability index.
Getting more information and solutionsBecause the Reliability Monitor is a part of the Actions Center, it provides links to the Problem Reports tool as well as the Check for Solution tool at the bottom of the windows. You'll also notice that the Action column of the report can provide you with more detailed information. For example, clicking the View Technical Details link in the Informational Events section of the report brought up the Problem Details window, shown in Figure D.
Because the Reliability Monitor is a part of the Actions Center, it provides links to the Problem Reports tool.
What's your take?
As you can see, Windows 7's Reliability Monitor makes it easy to track your system's stability over time and, as you can imagine, can be a big help in troubleshooting problems because it will allow you to determine what the problem was and when it occurred. Have you used the Reliability Monitor to track stability or troubleshoot a problem? If so, what has been your experience? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.
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Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.