Have you ever made a change to your system and then noticed
that your system began acting up? Maybe you installed a new application or
added new hardware. Maybe the odd behavior is the result of installing a software
or operating system update. What if all three events occurred within the same
timeframe? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could pinpoint the exact time the strange
behavior began and be able to track it to a specific event? Well you can, if
you learn to take advantage of Windows 8’s Reliability Monitor as an active
troubleshooting tool.

The Reliability
is a tool that will allow you to track hardware and software
problems, as well as any other changes to your computer, and provide the detailed
information that could prove valuable in troubleshooting and solving problems. While
most people think of Reliability Monitor as a tool to track stability over
time, it can be an invaluable tool to use to investigate problems as they

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I’ll provide
you with an overview of the Windows 8 Reliability Monitor and show you how to
use it to actively track the behavior of your system after events that appear
to cause problems.

Note: Now, keep in
mind that while I am going to discuss an issue that occurred in the past, the
investigation process I am describing here transpired during the time that the
problem occurred.

Launching the Reliability Monitor

The Reliability Monitor is a part of the Action Center, but
you can access it quickly from the Start screen. To do so, use the [Windows] + W
keystroke to access the Settings Search page. Then, begin to type Reliability in
the text box and when you see View
reliability history appear, as shown in Figure A, select it to launch the tool.

Figure A

Accessing the Reliability Monitor from the Start screen is


When the Reliability Monitor launches, its graph will show
you the most recent activity, as shown in Figure
B. As you can see, the main feature in the Reliability Monitor is a graph
called the Stability Index, which indicates a reliability rating of from 1 to
10 for every day. If you press and hold down the left arrow key, you’ll see the
day-to-day ebb and flow of the Stability Index over time as various events

Figure B

Reliability Monitor’s graph makes it easy to keep track of
your system’s stability over time.

On 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. These icons will appear in a column that corresponds to the day
that the event occurred. Red X icons represent failures, yellow caution icons
represent warnings and Blue I icons represent information that describes any activity
on a particular day.

When you select any column that contains icons, you’ll find
detailed information in the Reliability details section that appears just below
the graph.

Tracking problems

While the graph provides a nice indicator, the real details appear
in the Reliability details section. For example, on July 17th of this year I
encountered some quirky behavior with my Windows 8 system that seemed to start
with a Java Update that morning. In Figure
C, I have selected the column for 7/17/2013 and you can see the series of
events that occurred that day.

Figure C

Reliability Monitor shows that July 17th was a problem
filled day.

As you can see, the day began with a Windows Defender update
at 7:36 and was followed later in the day by a Java update at 9:08. Within
moments of initiating the Java update, there was a slight problem with the Java
Updater, but it only warranted a Warning. Later that day, several critical
failures occurred with the video hardware which appears to have caused Internet
Explorer to crash 1 minute later. You’ll also notice that the graph indicates
that problem brought the reliability index down sharply from the previous day’s

The following day, there was another critical failure that
also brought the reliability index down. Now in the case of my example, you can
see that over the next 10 days, no warnings were issued and no additional failures
occurred and you can see that the reliability index very slowly climbed back up
to the point that it was before the failures happened. As such, it appears that
the problems that occurred on the 17th and 18th were isolated and had no long
lasting effects.

With this overview in mind, let’s take a closer look at the evolution
of the problems and how I used Reliability Monitor as a troubleshooting tool.

As soon as I was alerted to the problem with the Java update,
I began my investigation with Reliability Monitor. As you can see in the Action
column, there is a link titled View technical details adjacent to the Java
warning event. When I clicked the link, I found more details on the problem, as
shown in Figure D. Using this
information, I went to Google and began looking for more specific information.

Figure D

Click the View technical details link shows the Problem
Details window.

What I found told me that when the Java Auto Updater
installs a new version, it is supposed to uninstall the old version and can
sometime fail to do so. As such, I then went to Add Remove Programs to see if I
could find and manually uninstall the previous version. However, I didn’t find
the old version. So in this case, it appears that while the Java Auto Updater
initially encountered a problem, it was eventually successful in removing the
old version. I guessed that the third informational event, which occurred in
the same timeframe but indicated a successful event, covered that situation. As
such, I closed Reliability Monitor and went about my day.

Later that afternoon at 2:39, I received an error concerning
an issue with the video and then moments later Internet Explorer crashed. I
launched Reliability Monitor again and followed the link adjacent to the Video
hardware error. I was then able to file a Problem Report with Microsoft and see
the information being sent, as shown in Figure
E. When I clicked the Send Information button, the report was filed and
Reliability Monitor checked for solutions.

Figure E

From within Reliability Monitor, you can send a problem
report to Microsoft.

As you can see in Figure
F, I then received a message that no solutions were found at that time, but
any solutions found in the future would be reported in Action Center.

Figure F

In this case, no solutions were found.

Suspecting a problem with a video driver, I checked Windows
Update and found an updated driver for my video card in the Optional updates
section, which I downloaded and installed. You can see that the driver
installation was recorded in the Informational events section at 2:48.

I didn’t encounter any more problems that day. However, the
next evening we had a power outage during a storm and that was recorded in
Reliability Monitor as an improper shutdown, as shown in Figure G. As you can see, while unrelated to any real performance
factor, the improper shutdown brought the reliability index down and the graph
reflects that drop.

Figure G

A power outage caused an error to be recorded in Reliability

Now, looking back at Figures B and C, you can see that after
the 17th and 18th, my Windows 8 system has been running fine and I haven’t
encountered any failures or warnings. While the Java Updater problem took care
of itself, whatever caused the video error seems to have been solved by
updating the video driver. And, the reliability rating has moved back up to a

So, as you can see in this case, by using Reliability
Monitor, I was able to immediately troubleshoot, solve, and keep track of the
problem as it occurred.

What’s your take?

Windows 8s Reliability Monitor makes it easy to track your
system’s stability over time and can be a big help in troubleshooting. 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.