More great free troubleshooting tools for Windows

Keep these tools handy for ironing out install issues, diagnosing application crashes, probing process activity, slaying resource hogs, and curing other Windows ills

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Resource Monitor
Another of Microsoft's unsung tools (albeit only available in Windows Vista and Windows 7), Resource Monitor (Resmon) charts the way resources are used in your system, and in a way that makes it abundantly clear what's gobbling up what. Whenever you ask yourself, "Why is my hard drive grinding away like that?" you will find Resmon indispensible. Process Explorer is better at giving you detailed information about other aspects of a process, such as the thread stack or the process's security tokens. Resource Monitor focuses on performance and resource usage, making it an excellent complementary tool to Process Explorer.

Resmon's window is divided into five tabs: Overview, CPU, Memory, Disk, and Network. The Overview tab gives you a summary view of the other four; click one of the other tabs to bring up a detailed breakdown of that particular resource type. If something's stuck or hogging your system, you can terminate or suspend it or see what else it might be holding up.

Most of the troubleshooting I've done on systems revolves around disk usage, so I'll talk about the Disk tab first. Click it and you'll see which processes are accessing the disk, what files are being accessed, and -- in my opinion, most important -- the percentage of the queue used up for a particular storage device. The more queue is used up on a drive, the more any individual application has to wait to use it. The disk monitor also lists the response time for a given application (in milliseconds) and the I/O priority assigned to a given process. One of the biggest disk hogs on my system turned out to be Firefox, so I moved it off my system drive and immediately saw much better performance. The difference between Resmon and ProcessActivityView is that Resmon lets you see the whole system in context, while ProcessActivityView focuses on one app at a time.

The CPU tab should look familiar to anyone who has run Process Explorer or Task Manager, and it provides much of the same information, although by default it lists all the individual services that are running. If you select the check box next to a given process, you can filter all of the other panes in that tab -- the services list, the handles list, and the modules list -- so that they show only the items relevant to the selected process. It's a different way of slicing and dicing the information than used by Process Explorer, so it might provide a faster way for you to drill down and find details. The Network tab lets you see total network throughput and determine which TCP connections, remote hosts, or ports a particular program has open.

The Memory tab also features many of the same things as Process Explorer (and Task Manager), but they're organized a little differently. The physical memory chart gives you an easy-to-read graphical breakdown of how all the memory in the system is allocated; the memory usage columns in the process list is smaller than Process Explorer but also less bewildering. (Don't panic if you see, say, only 2MB of "free memory" in the Physical Memory chart. The way Windows allocates memory means that commonly used items are precached and released as needed to make room for program data.) If a process seems stuck, right-click on it and select "Analyze Wait Chain." You'll see a list of all the processes that particular program is waiting on, and you can terminate them to free up the stuck application.

Resource Monitor in Windows 7 and Windows Vista gives you a comprehensive view of CPU, memory, disk, and network resource consumption in your system, and the tools to manage it all.
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