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Track stability in Windows 7 with the Reliability Monitor

Greg Shultz gives an overview of the Windows 7 Reliability Monitor and shows how to use it to track the behavior of a system over its lifetime.

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.

Overview

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.

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.

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.
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.

Figure C

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 solutions

Because 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.

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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About

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.

31 comments
Johan van Soest
Johan van Soest

It would be nice if the Reliability monitor could be configured that it sends an alert (e-mail) to the internal tech-support department when the reliability index is below a certain level (configurable) for a prolonged time (configurable). This allows for automatic proactive Windows client reliability monitoring upon which tech-support can respond to fix the rebellious program before it irritates the end-user.

Johan van Soest

http://www.vansoest.it

RonCam
RonCam

The Stability Index had been going down for three or four weeks. Reliability Monitor repeatedly said, "Hardware failure, video card" or words to that effect. It was pretty obvious and in plain English, unlike the usual Windows error messages! Every day or two, the monitor turned itself off, screen went black, then Windows crashed to a blue-screen, but always recovered after a hard reset. Video board electrolytics were probed lightly with a finger, and after that the monitor would turn-off immediately after a boot, and it began failing to recover in spite of all attempts to restart the system. Before starting to recap the video board, the original electrolytics' leads were touched-up at circuit-board pads with rosin and a bit of solder. On next boot, the monitor turned on immediately, and remains on. Hope it continues, and hope the crashes stop ... Reliability Monitor's message was correct: defective solder connections = a hardware failure. Not a driver issue, as I thought at first.

marvin.novello
marvin.novello

Had not seen that previously. Certainly a good way to get an overview without sifting through the windows logs. Nice one Greg!

davem
davem

I do like the pretty graph, despite the fact that it's uncorrelated with my own level of user angst regarding system stability. I mean, when I have to intervene in the OS's inability to resolve the typical resource issues (race conditions, memory buffer overruns, etc.) by killing processes or forcing a cold boot, it's not like I don't know there's a problem (and, by the way, it's NEVER because I just installed/updated a driver - why does every example of the problem invariably point to drivers? For me, system instability is invariably caused by basic apps that run amuck and eventually create situations that the OS didn't anticipate). Frankly, I think it's silly to expect a program such as this to really help anyone that's paying the least bit of attention to their system. So, what sort of mysterious problems has anyone actually solved for a user by reviewing such data? I'm curious why such a tool was created in the first place, since it seems its only value is providing data for troubleshooting an unfamiliar system. If there's something useful in this regard, then I can see adding it to my box of tricks. Otherwise, I guess I'll continue to Google for solutions.

hiphop_nas
hiphop_nas

opino que es una herramienta que nos sirve de mucho para poder diagnosticar que sucesos ocurren en la computadora, y a la vez reparar dichos eventos para evitar futuras p?rdidas de informaci?n. Un tema muy interesante Greg Schultz, te queria pedir una ayuda acerca de los antivirus, ?Qu? tipo de antivirus me recomendarias utilizar? o ?Cu?l es el mejor antivirus hoy por hoy en el mercado?. espero respuesta, Gracias. Roy.

sykandtyed
sykandtyed

How do I start the monitor since it only shows 7 days from installing the OS in the graph. 6/1/2010 to 6/7/2010

rgeiken
rgeiken

It is a lot easier to activate in Vista. There is actually a way to select it directly without going through the search option. In Windows 7, it is harder to get to so users will not become too discontented with their computers!!!

marc
marc

Greg you are an Ace!

Thump21
Thump21

Ok, I prefer a Windows environment over Mac, but having something called a Reliability Monitor telling you how stable your system is, or was, is just simply ... a huge symbol of what's wrong with the whole PC arena! It's why people continue to purchase more Mac products, and it's why Microsoft continues to be a villian in the eyes of many, ... no, make that *most* users. I understand stability depends greatly on the hardware and having so many different vendors naturally causes instability in the Windows environment but *this* is what Microsoft (and Dell and HP and everybody else) should be focused on, ... not giving us cute tools showing us how unstable our computer is! If you can't build a completely (or close to 99.9% complete) stable computing environment, you shouldn't be in the OS business!

libskrap
libskrap

I looked at this when I first got win 7. the only time the rating was near 1. Load office? now it is never below 5. load a few other apps and printers and such? never below 6 and a half. start running those apps? goes to 7 or 8 right away. (ergo, using your computer is certainly pushing the envelope of reliability -- if you want to keep it reliable, don't use it.) Something crashes? drops by 2 points or so. No solution ever offered. (This implies that whatever crashed caused the problem, which is only occasionally true.) I think the concept of the "reliability monitor" is a good one. This implementation is pretty weak.

cavehomme1
cavehomme1

Great find, thanks to the author for this article. Ever since I received my Win 7 laptop in March I have suffered various stability issues, surprisingly, and on a laptop pre-installed by Dell. Despite troubleshooting, countless malware checks, registry cleans and then using reimage (which actually did a very good job) I still get quite frequent explorer.exe crashing occasionally and other events which I am now guessing are Win 7 bugs and may fixed in the future SP1 (perhaps I should have waited!?) Reliability Monitor has proven great at sifting through the mass of events and highlighting trends, exactly what I need. However it has highlighted that MS is still not competent in troubleshooting advice since whenever I "check for a solution" it never finds any solutions! C'mon MS, we pay a lot of money for this OS, it is not free open source, we need better support without having to pay a fortune for the support.

techyback
techyback

I never knew about this feature. This is good stuff! I've had random little freezes and programs crashing out and now I can see a fuller picture without having to sift through the event log. I do like how MS have arranged all this for easier viewing. Nice.

santeewelding
santeewelding

I discovered that Windows was improperly shut down last Mother's Day. Probably was the magnitude 7.2 nearby what done it.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Have you used the Reliability Monitor to track stability or troubleshoot a problem? If so, what has been your experience?

vmeyer
vmeyer

Gotta admit I was surprized that it knew I was having issues with IE and had a fix and was able to take me thru the fix in two clicks. That is nice, saved me time by NOT having to go find a uninstaller for Adobe Flash and then go back to install Adobe Flash. Sure it is not going to fix everything but in my humble opinion I'll take any and all help provided.

santeewelding
santeewelding

I do. I don't appreciate [i]anyone[/i] summarizing me. Confine it to you, with all your foibles, or take a hike.

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

Q: I think it is a tool that goes a long way to diagnose that events occur in the computer, while repairing such events to prevent further loss. A very interesting topic Greg Schultz, I wanted to ask for help on antivirus, anti-virus What would you recommend I use? o What is the best antivirus today in the market. " I hope to answer, Thanks. A: I would recommend that you investigate Microsoft Security Essentials. It's FREE and is offers terrific protection against spyware, viruses, worms, Trojans, and other malicious software. Yo recomendar?a que usted investigue Microsoft Security Essentials. Es GRATIS y se ofrece excelente protecci?n contra el spyware, los virus, gusanos, troyanos y otro software. http://www.microsoft.com/security/products/mse.aspx

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...your Reliability Monitor was disabled. The Reliability Monitor uses data provided by the RACAgent scheduled task. By default, the Reliability Monitor is designed to start displaying a Stability Index rating and specific event information 24 hours after operating system is installed. If the RACAgent task is disabled, it must be enabled manually from the Task Scheduler console. Just click the Start button and type Task in the Start Search box, the click Task Scheduler in the results panel. When the Task Scheduler appears, open the Task Scheduler Library > Microsoft > Windows and locate RAC. If noting is showin, right click on RAC and select select View ? Show Hidden Tasks. In the Actions panel, select Enable and it should continue running and monitory reliability for as long as you have your system up and running.

sykandtyed
sykandtyed

I still have both an XP and a Vista laptops and have had only one BSOD between them and a half a dozen system freeze-ups. W7 has had 3 BSOD since March and did a full system restore in June. Hang ups on closing, sleep and hibernate are hit or miss. Win 85 was more stable. The only reason I'm using W7 is because it's pre-installed and when it works it's faster. Unfortunetly the BIOS doesn't take FULL advantage of a multi core chip. Heat seems to be the limiting factor on laptops.

shaunsweb
shaunsweb

At least it gives you a one spot to track where the problems are. 99.9% stable, I have yet to see one OS system that can claim that and be telling the truth. You have too many factors working against stability. Multiple software vendors multiple hardware vendors. OS and drivers made by many different people too. Unless you start locking down who can do what to a computer and what they are able to do you cannot grantee 90% stability. In an office environment it is easier to limit hardware and software used to up the percentage of stability. For home users nobody can guarantee they won't install something that will cause problems. This is a great step in the right direction.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

Show me one with proof of 99.9% complete - (err, would that not be 100%?) stability.

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

Ever tried contacting Dell? They are supporting Windows 7 for your laptop. Complain to them that their image stinks. Not all registry cleaners do a good job. Some make things worse. I've seen one or two actually removing needed registry entries such as serial numbers entered. Check for a solution is only there to see if a problem has been reported AND a fix is available. You can also Google the issues or check Dell's forums to see if others have the same issues.

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...pattern of any sort? If there aren't any specific solutions, then you need to look for a pattern... Same program or driver causing the problem each time? Try removing the program or driver and see if the problems go away.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

Yes but what do you pay for ongoing support? Nothing? Do you have a technet subscription?

gwardell
gwardell

Well, I guess that's what happens when you make support it's own cost center that has to show a profit. ;-)

cmorus
cmorus

Red X almost every day. Have lots of trouble with Outlook. This is proof that my system is unstable but, alas, what to do to fix it? No idea!

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

Glad to hear that you found it to be useful and that it solved your problem!

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...investigated the links to the Problem Reports tool as well as the Check for Solution tool at the bottom of the window? What did you discover? Did you see a pattern or or a regular occurence?