In a perfect world, your machines never slow down, never run out of disk space, and never run low on memory. But the world isn’t perfect. Sometimes, trying to track down a performance problem can be a real challenge, particularly if you don’t have much experience with a particular machine.

Windows 2000, like Windows NT and Windows XP, includes a Performance tool you can use to track a broad range of performance items. You can monitor performance on the local computer, and you can also monitor performance of other systems on the network at the same time. Here’s how to use this handy tool.

Opening the Performance console
To open the Performance console:

  1. Go to Control Panel, click Administrative Tools, and then click Performance to open the console.
  2. The System Monitor node lets you specify the objects and counters you want to monitor. Click + (plus sign) in the toolbar to open the Add Counters dialog box. You can add counters from the local computer, or select or enter a different computer in the Select Counters From Computer combo box.
  3. Select the object you want to monitor from the Performance Object.
  4. Select the counter from the list (or choose All Counters to monitor all counters for the selected object), and then select instances as needed. For example, if you’re monitoring CPU usage on a dual-CPU system, you can monitor either processor or both, depending on your Instance selection.
  5. As soon as you click Add, the Performance console will begin collecting and graphing the data (see Figure A).

Figure A
Here, the Performance console is being used to monitor % Processor Time.

Knowing what to monitor is more than half of the battle. The Performance console provides a lot of objects and counters, but it isn’t always easy to understand what a counter’s function is by looking at its name. Fortunately, you can click the Explain button in the Add Counters dialog box to display an explanation of the selected counter’s purpose. For example, here is what the Explain button had to say about the % Performance Time measurement: “% Processor Time is the percentage of time that the processor is executing a non-idle thread. This counter was designed as a primary indicator of processor activity….”

Monitoring remote computers
Not only can you monitor a local machine, but you can also monitor other computers across the network. For example, you might set up the console to monitor Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) traffic received by a group of computers on the LAN. By default, the Performance console displays the captured information as a graph, with each counter displayed in a different color.

Figure B
Here, the Performance console displays four counters (% Processor Time, % Disk Time, Bytes Total/sec, and Messages/sec) as a histogram.

You can easily change the way the Performance console displays the information. For example, in some situations, a histogram (shown in Figure B) might be a better choice than a line graph. Or perhaps you want to view the raw numbers. Maybe you want to change the color of a particular counter, add gridlines, change the background color, or modify other properties. To do that, right-click the chart and choose Properties, or click the Properties button on the toolbar. The resulting property sheet lets you change most aspects of the way the data is shown.

You should also take a tour through the Performance Logs and Alerts branches of the Performance console. The Counter Logs branch lets you create logs that record data about hardware and system service usage. Trace logs let you log specific types of events when they occur. Both types of logs support manual or scheduled start and stop.

The Alerts branch lets you direct Windows 2000 to generate an alert when a specific counter moves over or under a value you specify. Using the previous ICMP monitoring example, you might create an alert that would trigger when the computer received more than a certain number of ICMP messages per second. You can have the alert send a network message, log the event, or run a program, giving you lots of flexibility in defining how Windows 2000 handles the event.