Vista's Reliability Monitor
Now that we've prepared for failure and learned how to fix a bad boot store, I wanted to close on an up note. It's a really nifty tool included in Vista called the Reliability Monitor. It catalogs Windows failures, as well as problems with your applications and your PC hardware.
To get at it, click the big Vista "start" button in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. Right-click "computer," then click "manage." A Window entitled "Computer Management" will pop open. Next, expand "Reliability and Performance," expand "Monitoring Tools," and click "Reliability Monitor."
Along with a list of specific problems, the monitor will provide you with an overall System Stability Index. From the looks of it, this number is more indicative of your PC's performance than is the oft-criticized Windows Experience Index. My machine got a stability rating of 7.95.
Vista's reliability monitor will show you a complete list of all applications, operating system, and hardware failures.
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The System Stability Index is a number from 1 (least stable) to 10 (most stable) and is a weighted measurement derived from the number of specified failures seen over a rolling historical period. Reliability Events in the System Stability Report describe the specific failures… Recent failures are weighted more heavily than past failures, allowing an improvement over time to be reflected in an ascending System Stability Index once a reliability issue has been resolved… Days when the system is powered off or in a sleep state are not used… If there is not enough data to calculate a steady System Stability Index, the graphed line will be dotted…. If there are any significant changes to the system time, an Information icon will appear on the graph for each day on which the system time was adjusted.True, the Reliability Monitor may not actually fix anything, but it sure does provide a firm sense of how well your system is doing. On a related note, the Computer Management window, which houses the monitor, is well worth exploring of its own accord. It's got a really nice, expansive performance-monitoring display, which provides a much more accessible visual presentation of PC usage than does the one that most people use in the task manager.
I can't close this article without a word about System Restore, an underutilized but invaluable resource in Vista, as it was in Windows XP. System Restore is the scourge of AIM viruses unintentionally downloaded by your children, as well as malware which has burrowed its way onto your PC from Web sites you shouldn't have been visiting in the first place.
Finally, if all else fails (and if you haven't done the DVD image-backup process I described above), you always can reinstall Vista from scratch.
I'll have more tricks in an upcoming article, which will continue my focus on what to do about Vista installations that are either dead or tilting toward terminal instability. If you have any unique crashes you've encountered, or tips you'd like to share, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.