Windows 7 : Detecting and Resolving Computer Problems (part 1) - Solving the Tough Problems Automatically

2/21/2011 10:59:58 AM
Windows 7 includes an extensive diagnostics and problem resolution architecture. Although Windows XP and earlier versions of Windows include some help and diagnostics features, those features are, for the most part, not self-correcting or self-diagnosing. Windows 7, on the other hand, can detect many types of hardware, memory, and performance issues and can either resolve them automatically or help users through the process of resolving them. When the automated features are unable to resolve problems for you, you may have to do more extensive troubleshooting by using the event logs and checking the status of essential services.


Throughout this book, you’ll find troubleshooting tips and techniques for specific components, features, and applications as well. Don’t overlook these additional resources in your troubleshooting. If you have problems that you can’t resolve yourself and you are able to load the operating system, you can also use Remote Assistance to get help from other people, regardless of where they may be located.

1. Solving the Tough Problems Automatically (and Sometimes with a Little Help)

Windows 7’s built-in diagnostics framework is designed to monitor the operating system and your computer’s hardware components. The diagnostics framework has many components, including:

  • Application compatibility alerts to warn you about possibly incompatible programs

  • Disk fault monitoring to alert you about a disk that is failing and may need to be replaced

  • Corrupt file monitoring to detect and recover corrupted system and application files

  • Memory leak detection to detect memory allocation and heap problems caused by programs or components, and to automatically free memory

  • Boot performance monitoring to detect and alert you about conditions that affect startup

  • Standby/resume performance monitoring to detect and alert you about conditions that affect standby/resume

  • Shutdown performance monitoring to detect and alert you about conditions that affect shutdown

  • System performance monitoring to detect and alert you about conditions that affect system responsiveness

  • Virtual memory monitoring to detect and alert you about low memory conditions that affect system performance

All these diagnostics components work together to help ensure that your computer runs as smoothly and efficiently as possible. The alerts and notifications these components generate are displayed on the screen in dialog boxes and are recorded in the event logs. Although the alerts and notifications vary depending on the type of performance problem, most alerts provide you with a diagnosis and a possible resolution. For example, if your computer is running low on available virtual memory, you’ll see the “Close programs to prevent information loss” dialog box. This dialog box will alert you about the low memory condition and provide options for closing the biggest resource hogs to free up memory.

With disk faults, hardware diagnostics alerts you about a disk that is failing and helps guide you through the process of backing up your computer. Performance problems addressed by built-in diagnostics include slow application startup, slow boot, slow standby/resume, and slow shutdown. If a computer is experiencing degraded performance, performance diagnostics can detect the problem and provide possible solutions for resolving it.

Some of the more serious problems you may be alerted to are memory leaks and failing memory modules. Memory leaks are caused by applications or system components that don’t free up memory they’ve previously allocated, and this can cause your computer to run out of available memory. Failing memory can also be exceptionally difficult to troubleshoot. To detect system crashes possibly caused by failing memory, memory diagnostics works with the Microsoft Online Crash Analysis tool. If your computer crashes due to failing memory and memory diagnostics detects this, you are prompted to schedule a memory test the next time the computer is restarted. If you suspect that your computer has a memory problem, you can run Windows Memory Diagnostics manually as well by completing these steps:

  1. Click Start→All Programs→Accessories.

  2. Right-click Command Prompt and then select Run As Administrator.

  3. At the command prompt, type mdsched.exe.

  4. Choose whether to restart the computer and run the tool immediately or schedule the tool to run at the next restart.

  5. Windows Memory Diagnostics runs automatically after the computer restarts and performs a standard memory test automatically. If you want to perform fewer or more tests, press F1, use the Up and Down arrow keys to set the Test Mix as Basic, Standard, or Extended, and then press F10 to apply the desired settings and resume testing.

  6. When testing is completed, the computer restarts automatically. You’ll see the test results when you log on.

Windows 7 uses the Startup Repair Tool to resolve problems that prevent your computer from starting. This tool is installed during the initial setup of the operating system and started automatically when your computer fails to boot. When started, the tool attempts to determine the cause of the startup failure by analyzing startup logs and error reports and then tries to fix any identified problems automatically. If the Startup Repair Tool is unable to resolve the problem, it restores the system to the last known working state and then provides diagnostic information and support options for further troubleshooting.

As compared to Windows XP and earlier releases, Windows 7:

  • Prevents many common causes of hangs and crashes by using more reliable and better performing device drivers. Improved input/output (I/O) cancellation for device drivers ensures that there are fewer blocking disk I/O operations and that Windows 7 can recover gracefully from any blocking calls that do occur.

  • Reduces downtime and restarts required for application installations and updates by marking in-use files for update and then automatically replacing the files the next time the application is started. In some cases, Windows 7 can save the application’s data, close the application, update the in-use files, and then restart the application.

  • Improves the overall system performance and responsiveness by using memory more efficiently. Windows 7 provides ordered execution for groups of threads, and provides new process scheduling mechanisms. By optimizing memory and process usage, Windows 7 ensures that background processes have less impact on system performance.

  • Provides improved guidance on the causes of unresponsive conditions. Windows 7 makes it easier to identify and resolve problems by including additional error reporting details in the event logs.

  • Attempts to resolve the issue of unresponsive applications by using Restart Manager. Restart Manager can shut down and restart unresponsive applications automatically. This means you might not have to intervene to try to resolve issues with frozen applications.

Windows 7 also tracks failed installation and unresponsive conditions of applications and drivers through the Action Center console. Should an installation fail or an application become unresponsive, the built-in diagnostics adds an alert to Action Center. You can see alerts when you click the Action Center icon in the system tray. If you click an alert message, Windows 7 opens the message details in Action Center, which either provides a ready solution or enables you to check for solutions to the problem. You can view a list of current problems at any time by following these steps:

  1. Click the Action Center icon in the system tray and then click the Open Action Center link. If the Action Center icon is not visible, click Start→Control Panel→System and Security→Action Center.

  2. In Action Center, expand the Security and Maintenance panels to see security and maintenance issues, respectively.

  3. Click the button provided for the issue to get more information and in many cases a link to a solution.

If your computer has a problem that is not automatically detected, you can try to use one of the built-in troubleshooters to resolve the problem. When you are working with the main page in Action Center, clicking the “Troubleshooting” link opens the Troubleshooting window. As Figure 1 shows, Windows 7 includes multiple troubleshooters. These troubleshooters are designed to help you quickly resolve common problems. The available troubleshooters include:

  • The Programs Troubleshooter, for resolving compatibility issues with applications designed for earlier versions of Windows.

  • The Hardware and Sound Troubleshooter, for resolving issues with hardware devices, audio recording, and audio playback.

  • The Network and Internet Troubleshooter, for resolving issues with connecting to networks and accessing shared folders on other computers.

  • The Appearance and Personalization Troubleshooter, for resolving issues with the display appearance and personalization settings. To quickly resolve display issues with Aero, click Display Aero Desktop Effects.

  • System and Security Troubleshooter for resolving issues with Windows Update, power usage, and performance. Click Run Maintenance Tasks to clean up unused files and shortcuts and perform other routine maintenance tasks.

Figure 1. Accessing the built-in troubleshooters

In the left pane of the Troubleshooting page you’ll find several important links, including:

View All

Lists all available troubleshooters alphabetically by name, description, location, category, and publisher. When a troubleshooter is listed as being Local, the troubleshooter is available on your computer. When a troubleshooter is listed as being Online, the troubleshooter is available online and will be downloaded and run each time you use it.

View History

Provides a history of which troubleshooters you’ve run and when you’ve run them. To view troubleshooters run with administrator privileges, click the “Include troubleshooters that were run as an administrator” link.

Change Settings

Allows you to manage how troubleshooters are used. By default, Windows checks for routine maintenance issues and remotes you when a troubleshooter can help fix a problem. Windows also allows you and other users to browse for available troubleshooters online and begins troubleshooting immediately when you start a troubleshooter. If you don’t allow Windows to check online for new troubleshooters, your computer won’t install updates for troubleshooters, either.

  •  Windows 7 : Scheduling Maintenance Tasks
  •  Windows Server 2008: DHCP/WINS/Domain Controllers - Exploring Global Catalog Domain Controller Placement
  •  Windows Server 2008: DHCP/WINS/Domain Controllers - Planning, Migrating, and Maintaining WINS
  •  Windows Server 2008 : DHCP/WINS/Domain Controllers - Installing and Configuring WINS
  •  Windows Server 2008 : DHCP/WINS/Domain Controllers - Reviewing the Windows Internet Naming Service (WINS)
  •  Windows Server 2008 : DHCP/WINS/Domain Controllers - Securing DHCP
  •  Windows 7 : General Maintenance Tools (part 3) - Checking Your Disks for Errors & Optimizing Disk Performance
  •  Windows 7 : General Maintenance Tools (part 2) - Cleaning Up Your Disk Drives
  •  Windows 7 : General Maintenance Tools (part 1) - Updating Your Computer
  •  Windows Server 2008 : DHCP/WINS/Domain Controllers - Exploring Advanced DHCP Concepts
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