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Windows 7 Troubleshooting Tips

Oct. 26, 2010
Mark Wilkins


Your company has finally migrated to Windows 7. Congratulations! And now you have your first support call. This Microsoft white paper will tell you all you need to know about the new troubleshooting tools that are bundled with Windows 7 and provide you with the knowledge to quickly figure out what's happening "under the hood" on a Windows 7 computer. The selected tools described in this Microsoft white paper are a subset of the tools available on Windows 7. The focus of this white paper is on timely troubleshooting of the operating system and software applications.


The tools selected for this white paper are a subset of the tools available on Windows 7, but the focus is on timely troubleshooting of the operating system and software applications. The tools are in two sections: the first part deals with system troubleshooting tools and the latter part with application troubleshooting tools. Boot up a Windows 7 computer and test out each tool to become an expert in Windows troubleshooting. Tips are listed in bold typeface throughout the white paper, with the following explanation in italics.

Check Out System Reliability

Tip: The first place to start looking for answers on a Windows 7 computer is by opening the Action Center. The Action Center is the central portal for all everything good and bad that happens on a Windows 7 computer system.

Looking on the taskbar, to the left of the clock, you'll see a white flag, (possibly marked with a red X indicating that there are some issues to review). Selecting the white flag and clicking the Open Action Center link displays the two major sections, Security, and Maintenance. Expanding the Security section displays the current health policy of Windows 7. By expanding the Maintenance section, we can take a look at the reliability history of the computer by clicking the Reliability Monitor link as shown on the next page in Figure 1.

The Reliability Monitor displays what has happened on your computer for a full calendar year since installation, in a day or week grid display. The displayed information is gathered and updated from event logs and event trace data due to a scheduled task executed by the Task Scheduler every hour. Tip: Take a look at what tasks are executing right now on your Windows 7 computer; open the Task Scheduler and review the Task Status display. The information displayed includes Application failures and Windows failures, in addition to Warnings and pertinent Information showing when drivers were last updated. The chart cannot be deleted by an end user.

After selecting a component from the chart, a summary of the reliability details is displayed; further details can be reviewed by clicking the link View all problem reports. Tip: From this location, we can drill down and view technical details from each report, finding out, for, example, what executable or DLL file is failing as shown in Figure 2.

Using Device Manager

Although device manager has been around since Windows 95, it's worth checking out the state of the installed hardware. Tip: Because the computer hardware is very highly integrated, after opening Device Manager from Control Panel, make sure to select the View menu and turn on Show Hidden Devices. This will show you a wealth of integrated software and hardware components that are normally not shown. Expanding the Non-PNP node also shows you motherboard devices that are not plug and play; potentially a system component could be faulty, and not be visible by default.

Check Signed Drivers with Sigverif

If you find that there is a red or yellow icon indicating a problem with an installed driver, open an elevated command prompt and type sigverif, to produce a report that will indicate what drivers are digitally signed. Tip: After reviewing the report, if there are unsigned drivers, take a moment to search the manufactures web site to see if an updated driver solves your driver problem.

Dive Deeper with the Driver Verifier

Windows 7 also has an additional tool called Driver Verifier. Its job is to monitor kernel-mode drivers detecting incorrect function calls or other actions that might corrupt your Windows 7 system. Run Driver Verifier from an elevated command-prompt by typing Verifier. Reports can be generated providing details on the current state of the installed drivers, and also allow you to test IRQ and I/O settings as shown in Figure 3. Using this tool allows you to provide additional details to manufactures, or yourself, when drivers are the issue. More details can be found here:

Research with the System Configuration Utility

The System Configuration Utility (msconfig.exe) has been a part of Windows for several versions, and can be quite helpful when you want to diagnose or change your Windows 7 computer system's boot process.

The General Tab - This is where the boot process from normal mode into diagnostic, in effect forcing a Windows 7 system into a safe mode boot cycle. We also have the option of selected setup; as shown in Figure 3, this option allows you to specify whether you would like to load system services, load startup items from the registry, or modify the original boot configuration.

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