How to Gauge System Reliability with the Reliability Monitor - dummies

How to Gauge System Reliability with the Reliability Monitor

By Woody Leonhard

The Windows 10 Reliability Monitor slices and dices the Event Log, pulling out much information that relates to your PC’s stability. It doesn’t catch everything, but the stuff that it does find can give you instant insight into what ails your machine.

Every Tom, Dick, ‘n Hairy Windows routine leaves traces of itself in the Windows Event Log. Start a program, and the ignoble event gets logged. Stop it, and the Log gets updated. Install a program or a patch, and the Log knows all, sees all. Every security-related event you can imagine goes in the Log.

Windows Services leave their traces, as do errors of many stripes. Things that should’ve happened but didn’t get logged, as well as things that shouldn’t have happened but did. Soup to nuts.

The Event Log contains items that mere humans can understand. Sometimes. It also logs things that only a propeller head could love. The Event Log actually consists of a mash-up of several files that are maintained by different Windows system programs in different ways. The Event Viewer looks at the trees. The Reliability Monitor tries to put the forest in perspective.

Here’s how to bring up the Reliability Monitor:

  1. In the Ask me anything Cortana box, next to the Start icon, type reli. At the top of the list, click or tap View Reliability History.

    The Reliability Monitor springs to life, as shown.

  2. In the View By line, flip between Days and Weeks.

    Reliability Monitor goes back and forth between a detailed view and an overview.

    When something goes out to lunch, it leaves a trace in the Reliability Monitor.
    When something goes out to lunch, it leaves a trace in the Reliability Monitor.

Again, please don’t freak out. There’s a reason why Microsoft makes it hard to get to this report. It figures if you’re sophisticated enough to find it, you can bear to see the cold, hard facts.

The top line in the monitor is supposed to give you a rating, from one to ten, of your system’s stability. In fact, it doesn’t do anything of the sort, but if you see the line drop like a wood barrel over Victoria Falls, something undoubtedly has gone bump in the night.

Your rating more or less reflects the number and severity of problematic Event Log events in four categories: Application, Windows failures, Miscellaneous failures, and Warnings. The Information icons (circled i’s) generally represent updates to programs and drivers; if you installed a new printer driver, for example, there should be an Information icon on the day it was installed. Microsoft has a detailed list of the types of data being reported in its TechNet documentation. Here’s what they say:

Since you can see all of the activity on a single date in one report, you can make informed decisions about how to troubleshoot. For example, if frequent application failures are reported beginning on the same date that memory failures appear in the Hardware section, you can replace the faulty memory as a first step. If the application failures stop, they may have been a result of problems accessing the memory. If application failures continue, repairing their installations would be the next step.

If you tap or click a day (or a week), the box at the bottom shows you the corresponding entries in your Windows Event Log. Many events at the bottom have a more detailed explanation, which you can see by tapping/clicking the View Technical Details link.

If you click the View all problem reports link at the bottom of the screen, you get a summary like one shown here.

Here, you can find the key deleterious events and what they mean.
Here, you can find the key deleterious events and what they mean.

The Reliability Monitor isn’t meant to provide a comprehensive list of all the bad things that have happened to your PC, and in that respect, it certainly meets its design goals. It isn’t much of a stability tracker, either. The one-to-ten rating uses a trailing average of daily scores where more recent scores have greater weight than old ones, but the line doesn’t track reality.

The real value of the Reliability Monitor lies in showing you a time sequence of key events — connecting the temporal dots so you may be able to discern a cause and effect. For example, if you suddenly start seeing blue screens repeatedly, check the Reliability Monitor to see whether something untoward has happened to your system. Installing a new driver, say, can make your system unstable, and the Reliability Monitor can readily show you when it was installed. If you see your rating tumble on the same day that a driver update got installed, something’s fishy, and you may be able to readily identify the scaly culprit.

The proverbial bottom line: The Reliability Monitor doesn’t keep track of everything, and some of it is a bit deceptive, but it can provide some worthwhile information when Windows starts kicking. The Reliability Monitor is well worth adding to your Win bag of tricks.