Troubleshooting Windows 7 With Microsoft's Built-In Tools

The Windows Action Center

Assuming your installation of Windows is actually running, the place to begin your hunt for a solution is the Windows Action Center. You’ll typically first encounter the Action Center as a small flag with an alert icon in your system tray.

The Action Center is a one-stop shop for Windows notifications.The Action Center is a one-stop shop for Windows notifications.

Just click on the flag, then click on “Open Action Center.”

The Action Center is really only a starting place.The Action Center is really only a starting place.

The key area you’ll want to explore is under "maintenance." See those messages? Note in particular the one that reads “Address a problem with ATI Graphics Driver.”

At the time, I was running an early beta of the Radeon HD 5870 driver. Removing that and installing the shipping Catalyst 9.11 driver cured a number of stability issues with several games.

Now let’s revisit my problem with Firefox.

The third one down, "Address a problem with Skype extension for Firefox" is another key message. As I noted earlier, I’d been having substantial stability issues with Firefox 3.5. Firefox would crash mysteriously, but the core Firefox process would “stick” in memory. I’d have to bring up task manager and manually kill the Firefox process. After disabling the Skype extension, most of my Firefox problems miraculously cleared up.

The Action Center is useful, but sometimes it’s too much of a nag. That little flagged exclamation point pops up when Windows wants to check for updates, if you haven’t backed up the system, and other actions useful for average users, but less useful for power users. You can tweak Action Center to only pop up with messages you consider important.

Tweak the Windows Action Center to tell you only the warnings you think are necessary – or not at all, if that’s your preference.Tweak the Windows Action Center to tell you only the warnings you think are necessary – or not at all, if that’s your preference.

The Action Center can get you started, particularly with driver or applications issues. But it’s possible that you’ll need to dig deeper.

Create a new thread in the US Reviews comments forum about this subject
This thread is closed for comments
28 comments
    Your comment
    Top Comments
  • CryogenicThe title of this article should have been "Troubleshooting your **PC** With Microsoft's Built-In Tools". None of the techniques explained actually troubleshoot windows itself, but applications, drivers, hardware etc.


    Title of you post should have been:
    "I nitpick and bitch about anything and everything."
    21
  • This is a great article with a lot of fantastic information. First and foremost.

    However, one thing you started talking about was people who were gripping about their computer blaming Microsoft for their problems. These are the people who know little to nothing about computers except how to turn it on, check for email, play a few games, and surf the net. I think a lot of this information is really geared toward people who have a more advanced understanding of computers. For example, you talked about your components starting to fail and they all leading up to an ICH10 component which was most likely the culprit and figured the appropriate course of action was to replace the motherboard... there aren't a lot of people who could have put those dots together. Especially the people blaming microsoft for all their computer problems...
    12
  • Other Comments
  • Compability ??

    Compatibility is better
    -5
  • Good article thanks for the tips
    4
  • The title of this article should have been "Troubleshooting your **PC** With Microsoft's Built-In Tools".

    None of the techniques explained actually troubleshoot windows itself, but applications, drivers, hardware etc.
    -8
  • CryogenicThe title of this article should have been "Troubleshooting your **PC** With Microsoft's Built-In Tools". None of the techniques explained actually troubleshoot windows itself, but applications, drivers, hardware etc.


    Title of you post should have been:
    "I nitpick and bitch about anything and everything."
    21
  • This is a great article with a lot of fantastic information. First and foremost.

    However, one thing you started talking about was people who were gripping about their computer blaming Microsoft for their problems. These are the people who know little to nothing about computers except how to turn it on, check for email, play a few games, and surf the net. I think a lot of this information is really geared toward people who have a more advanced understanding of computers. For example, you talked about your components starting to fail and they all leading up to an ICH10 component which was most likely the culprit and figured the appropriate course of action was to replace the motherboard... there aren't a lot of people who could have put those dots together. Especially the people blaming microsoft for all their computer problems...
    12
  • Thanks for an informative article. I am going to be installing Windows 7 this evening. Should be interesting.
    3
  • Good Article,

    I haven't used 7 yet but Looking at the Action center and Compatibility settings seem amazing.

    Really looks like it makes it a lot easier then Event Viewer.
    1
  • ^The action certer is good for drivers problems and compatibility problems.
    0
  • This article is good for... um let's say... (better then your) average computer user, but still not really something for people who know their way around the trenches of an OS; all the helpful free third party applications and free support that is out there (in them interwebz').

    @ajcroteau: FORUMS(even those on Tom's) are an excellent resource to find out what is really (going on or going) wrong with your computer; though I don't suggest posting until you at least look for a similar circumstance. Somewhere out there -- is a saint! (or a non-religious altruistic computer guru who makes the table scraps that I pride myself on knowing look utterly insignificant) whose got the answer to your burning question; and all you have to do is be polite, patient, and read up on some forum posting guidelines (usually as a sticky note at the top of the forums).

    Don't worry I (try to at least) only blame Windows when it's Microsoft's fault.
    3
  • Yes, I have noticed that Windows 7 does not like extreme overclocking. I'm stuck with a X3 720 @ 3.737GHz, even that BSODs every so often. In XP, I could OC more and get better stability.
    -8
  • coldmastFORUMS(even those on Tom's) are an excellent resource to find out what is really (going on or going) wrong with your computer

    I agree, and I use forums a lot as well, but there's also a lot of folks on them who think they know more than they really do as well as some that are just plain full of crap. I'm the kind of person that doesn't mind searching for answers myself even when it takes a long time, but it's sometimes hard to wade through all the BS. Either because there's so much BS or because I don't always know which is BS.

    I try to encourage a few of my smarter friends to use forums a little more to solve their own issues (so they stop calling me all the time), but they're not for everybody.
    2
  • i had 6 bsod's on my first day with win 7... fully documented with "whocrashed".

    geez.
    -6
  • Windows 7 tools are a step in the rigt direction. The problem however, they realy do not help you that much. in most cases you can be mis-directed or it just completely drops the plot.
    Tools are supposed to work, not half arse guess and be 5% accurate.
    Good try MS, but not functional. If you work in the computer industry like myself you require fast and accurate answers. Not a pile of crap that you have to sift through to eventually reject because it is wrong.
    There are much better tools available.
    To help -- If you have win 7 Ultimate and have installed the unix addons.. you will find a usefull set of tools there.
    -2
  • volks1470Yes, I have noticed that Windows 7 does not like extreme overclocking. I'm stuck with a X3 720 @ 3.737GHz, even that BSODs every so often. In XP, I could OC more and get better stability.

    Are you using 64 bit windows 7? If so, that explains it. It can often be harder to overclock in 64 bit (including xp x64 and linux) just due to the use of additional processor features that would not be accessed in a 32 bit OS. Windows alone is not intolerant to extreme overclocking though. If it is (legitimately) stable in one OS, it will be legitimately stable in all equivalent (I.E. all of them are x86 with the same extensions) OSes.
    0
  • Nice article.

    In the end, all you need to do is to sit back, check what's wrong with the system and try to solve it yourself (of course, with the help of some forums and Google). It's like hitting 2 birds with 1 stone. You learn something along the process of troubleshooting the system.
    0
  • Great article! I hope a lot of people read this, and stop bleaming the computer manufactures, hehehehe, I had work as a tech and I know people that just drop water on the computers and they want them to still work fine... mjm!
    0
  • cjlAre you using 64 bit windows 7? If so, that explains it. It can often be harder to overclock in 64 bit (including xp x64 and linux) just due to the use of additional processor features that would not be accessed in a 32 bit OS. Windows alone is not intolerant to extreme overclocking though. If it is (legitimately) stable in one OS, it will be legitimately stable in all equivalent (I.E. all of them are x86 with the same extensions) OSes.


    Yep, I am using 64 bit Windows 7 RC and XP was 32 bit. I guess that would make sense, what doesn't make sense is why I got -6 feedback on that comment...
    -2
  • One brand new tool you neglected to mention is the "PSR" (problem step recorder) tool which is new for Windows 7. Also, as others have said, the "normal" PC user has absolutely no idea what to do with the tools you mentioned, let alone try to diagnose hardware problems. Microsoft is fabulous at marketing, but the folks I have built Windows 7 systems for are not happy---especially the ones who paid for Windows Vista. So, for some of them, I set up a dual-boot with XP and Windows 7. Since I did that, I have found that they all simply boot into XP and don't bother with Windows 7. I myself, have reverted back to XP Pro/SP3 do to all the problems (Deja Vu Vista) I encountered. I am a systems builder and no longer want to spend half my time tracking down and fixing problems and the "normal" folks are helpless. Windows 7 may be more stable than Vista, but it is still Vista. Microsoft had plenty of time to change things around in Vista's core, make it more stable, add a few features and call it a different name. I'll remain with XP until at least Service pack one is released for Windows 7. By the way, regarding the "PSR" tool---mine didn't work.
    -3
  • Good article, very helpful. I do still very often get the feeling I'm having a conversation with HAL after he lost it. Particularly wireless problems and performance issues with the indexing service.

    "HAL, can you at least create a connection with the wireless access point?"

    "I'm afraid I can't tell you that, Dave."
    0
  • Little basic article will surely help some people troubleshoot theyre problems.

    However, this doesn't help the power user abit. And most of the things you point out in the article are easy to fix withouth the need to use all the brand new Win7 tools u described.

    For instance : "For example, I had an early version of Acronis True Image that I’d installed and uninstalled. When I checked the services panel, I found the Acronis License manager running, and consuming memory and resources. So I had to track it down and uninstall it." it's not a problem. It is you who want to optimise and clean your system by ensuring you have uninstalled all traces of Acronis True Image. Also, the License manager whos running even after you uninstalled the main program it's not stated as causing any kind of problem. It's just consuming system ressources. One would ask himself why didn't this got uninstalled with the software itself but that is another story.

    Another point : "At the time, I was running an early beta of the Radeon HD 5870 driver. Removing that and installing the shipping Catalyst 9.11 driver cured a number of stability issues with several games."

    Do you really need the Windows Action Center to tell you to uninstall a beta version of the driver and that might cause problems with your installation? Is it common knowledge even for the most green noobish user that a BETA driver should be use only for testing purposes and for the sake of beeing on the bleeding edge and try new features. It is also common knowledge it should be used only by experienced users and/or under other special circumstances like for instance when NO OTHER driver is available. Now, it also widely known that one the stable version comes out (witch in ATI case it never happens but then again thats another story), you should install it.

    From all of this I must conclude you should have stated in your article this is intended for the more uninformed user to use. I also must point out that statments as those made on the 4th page of the article should be thinked of carefully before publishing. A lot of people take the info on this site for hard cold cash and they might just buy a new motherboard influenced or even BASED ON your article...
    -2