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Use the System Diagnostic Report as a troubleshooting aid

The System Diagnostic Report can display the status of hardware resources, system response times, and processes on your computer along with system information and configuration data. Greg Shultz shows you how to use the System Diagnostic Report in Microsoft Windows Vista to gather troubleshooting information in real-time.

As you may know, Microsoft Windows Vista can and will encounter strange problems here and there. Some of them may be catastrophic, in that they cause the system to crash, but others can be more of an annoyance in that they pop up and prevent an operation from completing successfully, yet leave the system running.

Fortunately, Vista comes with a host of troubleshooting tools that you can use to help diagnose all sorts of problems. For example, if you read my article "Track the behavior of your system with Windows Vista's Reliability Monitor," then you know that you can use the Reliability Monitor with its Stability Index graph and Reliability Events information to assist you in tracking down the cause of the problem you are investigating.

While the Stability Index and Reliability Events are great tools, there are many more tools included in the entire Reliability and Performance Monitor system that you can use to help troubleshoot a problem. The System Diagnostic Report can display the status of hardware resources, system response times, and processes on your computer along with system information and configuration data. The neat trick with the System Diagnostic Report is that you can use it to gather troubleshooting information in real time while the problem is occurring.

In this edition of the Windows Vista Report, I'll show you how to use the System Diagnostic Report to gather troubleshooting information in real time. I'll then examine the resulting report.

This blog entry is also available in the PDF format in a TechRepublic Download.

Running the report

While the Reliability and Performance Monitor system has a GUI, the easiest way to run a System Diagnostic Report is from the Command Prompt. Once you initiate the process, the report will be generated and displayed in the GUI.

To begin the process, launch a Command Prompt window by selecting Start | All Programs | Accessories. Once you have a Command Prompt window open, type:

perfmon /report
and then press [Enter]. As soon as you do so, you'll encounter a UAC and will need to respond accordingly. You'll then see the Reliability and Performance Monitor window, shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Once you initiate the diagnostic from the Command Prompt, you'll see the Reliability and Performance Monitor window.

As you can see, the Report Status section indicates that System Diagnostics will be collecting data for 60 seconds. At this point, you can initiate the procedure or task that is causing the problem. If you are successful in recreating the problem condition while System Diagnostics is collecting data, information pertaining to the problem will be added to the report.

As a test, I connected a USB 8-in-1 card reader that I've been having some trouble with, while System Diagnostics was collecting data. After 60 seconds, the Report Status section indicates that System Diagnostics is generating the report, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Once the collection operation is complete, the report will be generated.
As soon as the report is complete, it will appear in the Reliability and Performance Monitor window, as shown in Figure C. Any error conditions that existed or that occurred while System Diagnostics was collecting data will appear in the report.

Figure C

Once the report is complete, it will appear in the Reliability and Performance Monitor window.

As you can see, while System Diagnostics was collecting data it picked up and recorded information about the USB 8-in-1 card reader. This information is displayed in the Error section. System Diagnostics also picked up the fact that the hard disk on this test system has the dirty bit set. This information is displayed in the Warning section.

Each of these sections contains five pieces of information:

  • Symptom: This is basically an internal error message. System Diagnostics configures it as a link that you can use to get to a more detailed section of the report.
  • Cause: This is a description of the error condition.
  • Details: This provides more detailed information on the error.
  • Resolution: This provides you with a basic set of instruction on how to fix the problem.
  • Related: This provides you with links to articles on the Microsoft Web site that cover the problem.
When I clicked on the Symptom link in the USB 8-in-1 card reader error section, the report jumped down to the Controller Classes section, as shown in Figure D. While this section doesn't really contain details that would make sense to the average user, it does provide several property names that will make good search terms in Google.

Figure D

This is the Controller Classes section.

When I clicked on the links in the Related area, I encountered a Windows Help and how-to article on solving problems with USB devices as well as a Microsoft TechNet article on finding and configuring device drivers.

What's your take?

While it ended up that I just needed to update the device driver for the USB 8-in-1 card reader, you can see how the System Diagnostics report can help you to determine what you need to do to solve the problem.

Have you used the Reliability and Performance Monitor's System Diagnostic Report as a troubleshooting aid? If so, did you find it useful? Will you use it in the future? Please drop by the Discussion area and let us hear from you.

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.

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