Track the behavior of your system with Windows Vista's Reliability Monitor

If you've stumbled around with Windows XP's Performance Monitor utility -- never quite mastering the intricate details of monitoring the performance characteristics of your system using the provided set of counters -- then you're going to love Windows Vista's Reliability Monitor! This new utility provides you with a canned set of preconfigured counters that you can easily use to monitor the reliability of your system over time. In this edition of the Windows Vista Report, I'll provide you with an overview of Windows Vista's Reliability Monitor and show you how to use its System Stability Chart to track the behavior of your system over its lifetime.

Getting to the Reliability Monitor

The Reliability Monitor is a snap-in for Microsoft Management Console (MMC) and you can launch it by right-clicking the Computer icon on the start menu and selecting Manage. To launch it quickly, just click the Start button and type reliability in the Start Search text box and press [Enter]. Either way, you'll see a UAC and will need to respond accordingly.

Once you see the Computer Management console, go to the navigation pane and click the arrow next to Reliability and Performance to expand the branch. Then, expand the Monitoring Tools branch and click Reliability Monitor. As soon as you've accessed the Reliability Monitor, you can click the Show/Hide Console Tree and the Show/Hide Action Pane buttons to close those parts of the interface and make the Reliability Monitor fill the window. To get an even better view, you can maximize the window.

Now, to prepare for the next section in this article, drag the scroll bar in the middle of the window all the way to the left. When you do, you will rewind the Reliability Monitor all the way back to the day that you installed Vista and your window will look similar to my example shown in Figure A.

Figure A

By hiding the Console Tree and the Action Pane and maximizing the window, you get a better perspective of the Reliability Monitor.

Taking a look around

As you can see in Figure A, the main feature in the Reliability Monitor window is the System Stability Chart. On the top half of the chart is a graph called the Stability Index. On the day you installed Vista, your system was assigned a reliability rating of 10.00, which is the highest possible score. On the far right, you'll see your current rating. In my example, the current rating is 9.52. Now, if you slowly drag the slider all the way to the right and then all the way back to the left again, you'll see the day-to-day ebb and flow of the Stability Index as various events occur. (Each column represents a day.)

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 System Stability Index. This typically results from days 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 bottom half of the chart, you'll see that there are rows that indicate Reliability Events in five categories: Software (un)Installs, Application Failures, Hardware Failures, Windows Failures, and Miscellaneous Failures. As you look over these rows, you'll see icons that represent the type of event that occurred. As you can see in my example, any type of failure that occurs is marked by a red error icon and you can see the resulting drop in the graph up above the icon. Any day that a problem event occurs, the 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.

Now, if you click on any of the icons, the System Stability Report portion of the window comes into play and you'll be able to see what the exact problems were. For example, clicking the icons in the 4/23/2007 column, as shown in Figure B, shows me that three separate driver installations were successful, but that an Explorer.exe crash caused a problem that brought the reliability index down to 8.72 from the previous day's high of 9.44. The reliability index then very slowly climbed back up and didn't reach the previous high until it hit 9.45 on 5/5/2007. The reliability index finally got back to 10.00 on 5/26/2007.

Figure B

In the System Stability Report, you can see the exact problem that caused a drop in the reliability index.

What's your take?

As you can see, Vista's Reliability Monitor makes it easy to track your system's stability over time. This can  be a big help in troubleshooting problems because it allows you to determine what the problem was and when it occurred. Have you used the Reliability Monitor track stability or troubleshoot a problem? If so, drop by the discussion area and let us hear about it.