Tip date: July 23, 2010
Windows has had a Performance Monitor since the earliest days of NT, but with Windows Vista, Microsoft added a great new utility, the Reliability Monitor, which tracks the overall reliability of your PC over time, keeping up to a year of PC use history. In Vista, the Performance Monitor and Reliability Monitor were part of a combined tool. But now, in Windows 7, they live as separate tools. You can access the Reliability Monitor, shown here, by typing relia into Start Menu Search.
The Windows 7 Reliability Monitor.
The Reliability Monitor assigns a reliability rating to your PC on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is horrible and 10 is perfect. Out of the box, Windows 7 gets a perfect 10 but from there on its all downhill: Any glitch or failure in any application, hardware, or Windows will cause the reliability rating to immediately plummet. Meanwhile, days with no problems are barely rewarded, with only a slight upward bump. If anything, Microsoft is being too hard on itself, as most of these problems aren't even the fault of Windows. But then, the Reliability Monitor isn't monitoring just Windows. It's monitoring everything on your PC.
Consider the screen below. Here you see a decidedly different reliability picture, a PC on which multiple applications have failed, repeatedly, over a period of time. The reliability rating is a sad 3.76, its lowest score yet over a month and a half of use.
Ouch. Windows 7 is painfully honest about unreliable systems.
What went wrong with this disaster of a PC? It must be miserable using that machine, right? Not exactly. The Reliability Monitor shown above is from a daily-use desktop PC. This machine was used to test a wide range of software, and many of the application failures are related to beta versions of a single application that was known to have issues at the time. You can see individual problems by clicking on dates and viewing what went wrong, as shown here:
Dive in and you can see where Windows?or, more likely, a third-party application?let you down.
On my own daily-use PC, Reliability Monitor has kept a daily record of everything that's happened, reliability-wise, dating back almost a year to early August 2009. Over that time, the reliability index has gone up and down according to the issues of the day; there were a spate of Internet Explorer crashes last August and then again in October, for example. System reliability was incredibly high in December 2009 for some reason. And then a series of Handbrake-related disasters in January.
That's what's beautiful about the Reliability Monitor. It gives you a central place, or console, to see exactly what is causing the problems. Then you can take steps to fix those problems. (In this case, this simply meant waiting for an updated version of the poorly-performing beta application.) Each problematic application--marked as a critical event in Reliability Monitor--comes with a "Check for a solution" link. You can click this link to cause Windows to check against Microsoft's ever-improving online database of problem solutions, and if one is found, you'll have the option to install it or visit the software maker's web site to get an update.
Each time you check for a solution, your PC can send Microsoft a problem report. These problem reports are collected by the software giant and sorted according to occurrence so that the most common problems get fixed first. These reports are linked with Action Center as well, and when Microsoft does issue a fix that applies to your PC, you can find out about it, autoamtically, through Action Center.
Reliability Monitor also provides links for viewing all of the problem reports you've sent, checking for solutions to all current problems (instead of just a single problem), and saving your reliability history in XML format, which could be useful for the help desk troubleshooters in corporations.
Parts of this article were excerpted from Windows 7 Secrets. --Paul