Get to the bottom of Windows crashes with Reliability Monitor

Windows 10 tip: Largely unchanged since Windows 7, the Reliability Monitor excels at jogging your memory

Get to the bottom of Windows crashes with Reliability Monitor
Dave Dugdale (CC BY-SA 2.0)
reliability monitor Woody Leonhard

I get a lot of questions about useful Windows 10 utilities. One of my favorites is also one that I don't see mentioned nearly often enough: Reliability Monitor.

RelMon (as it's known in some circles) is a useful tool that can help pinpoint problems that you can only vaguely identify. Say your computer suddenly starts getting messages saying "Your PC Ran into a Problem that It Couldn't Handle" and now "It Needs to Restart." You know for sure that your PC didn't have those problems last week. But something happened in the past few days, and now, suddenly, Windows encounters more problems than three-headed mouse in a maze.

Windows watches all, knows all, sees all -- and keeps notes. Windows Events, as they're called, get stored in a giant database, and you can look into that database with the Event Viewer. I'll talk about the Event Viewer -- another Windows utility that hasn't changed much since the Win7 days -- in a future column.

One specific subset of the events gets collected into a Reliability Monitor report that you can understand at a glance. It's important to realize that the Reliability Monitor is a customized reporting tool for your system's underlying events.

To bring it up, in the Win10 Cortana search box, next to the Start button, type or say "reliability." At the top, tap or click View Reliability History. As you can see in the screenshot, the report is laid out by day (or by week, depending on which link you click in the upper left), and it scans your Event log, generating little icons for application failures, Windows failures, miscellaneous failures, system warnings, and official Information notifications.

Across the top is a blue line called a Stability Score that's supposed to reflect your system's general health. It's a bit of smoke 'n mirrors, generated by an algorithm I've never completely understood, but the blue line tracks the number and severity of "bad" entries in the Event log.

Click on a single day, and at the bottom you get a list of Events that took place on that day. Looking at the Reliability Monitor for my main machine on Jan. 16, you can see that Edge crashed. If I double-click on that entry, I see the Problem Detail report shown in the second screenshot.

problem details Woody Leonhard

Armed with a Problem Detail report, you may be able to find the source of the crash -- and even, in rare circumstances, a cure. Personally, I don't get too concerned about crash events unless they seem to occur over and over again. In this case, a Google search reveals the Edge MoBEX crash is a common one. It went away and hasn't come back.

If you take the blue Stability score with a small grain of salt, you may be able to glean some useful information from the graph. For example, if you install a new driver and your system goes from ten to five that day, you can bet that the driver had something to do with the decline. The Reliability Monitor shows you significant events for each day and leaves it to you to draw inferences.

Is the Reliability Monitor infallible? No. If you're looking at the Reliability Monitor because somebody on the phone told you that he's trying to help you fix your computer, be very, very suspicious. The Reliability Monitor will show that your computer has problems. Everybody's Reliability Monitor, sooner or later, shows problems. Scammers often use that fact to talk people into paying for services they don't need or allowing them to connect to your computer for nefarious reasons. Don't be conned! It's not unusual to have a string of problems showing in the Reliability Monitor.

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