Investigate problems when they occur with Windows 8's Reliability Monitor

Time your troubleshooting to a specific event when you learn to take advantage of Windows 8's Reliability Monitor.

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 Monitor 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 occur.

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

Fig A 9-6.png

Accessing the Reliability Monitor from the Start screen is easy.


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 occur.

Figure B

Fig B 9-6.png

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

Fig C 9-6.png

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 high.

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

Fig D 9-6.png

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

Fig E 9-6.png

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

Fig F 9-6.png

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

Fig G 9-6.png

A power outage caused an error to be recorded in Reliability Monitor.

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 10.

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.

By Greg Shultz

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.