7 Free Windows Troubleshooting Tools
An operating system is an incredibly complex beast. If things go wrong with Windows, it can be difficult to track down the source of the glitch. But you can put away the chainsaw and sledgehammer, because there are plenty of free troubleshooters you can use to fix most problems. Here's my recommended list of free Windows problem solvers...
Fixing Windows Problems and Annoyances
What's keeping you from opening or deleting a file or folder? Why do certain programs start automatically when you don't want them to? Why can't you install or uninstall a program? Why doesn't my sound work? Why does an app just sit there, apparently doing nothing, while the activity light of your hard drive flashes busily? These are just a few of the annoyances that can drive you crazy.
Windows has some built-in tools, such as Task Manager, to assist in troubleshooting. There are also built-in troubleshooters you can use. On Windows XP, open the Control Panel, then select the category that best matches your problem, and a list of Troubleshooters will appear on the left side of the panel. On a Vista, Windows 7 or later system, just click the Start button then type "troubleshooting" to access all the troubleshooting tools in one place. On Windows 8, just type "troubleshooting" on the Start screen.
But many advanced users turn to other free Windows troubleshooting tools that provide much more information about potential causes of problems and options for solving them.
Sysinternals Process Explorer has been described as "Task Manager on steroids." It displays a tree-view of running processes, organized by which process spawned which other(s). You can sort the display in other ways, too. Process Explorer shows a lot more details about processes than Task Manager and lets you do more than just kill a single process. Processes, or whole trees of them, can be killed, frozen, or resumed. You can also find the process controlling a given window by pointing at it, or search for any running process, handle, or DLL.
Microsoft's Resource Monitor is built into Windows 7 and Windows 8. It charts the way resources are used in your system, helping you pinpoint exactly what is gobbling up CPU cycles, RAM, or disk space. Click Start, then Run, then enter resmon.exe to start Resource Monitor. You may be prompted for an administrator password. A similar utility called Performance Monitor (perfmon.exe) is available for Windows XP and Vista.
Autoruns is another Sysinternals tool. It displays all of the programs that are loaded when Windows starts up, from apps in your Startup folder to scheduled tasks, services, device drivers, Sidebar gadgets, and codecs. Autoruns can show you startup items that you may not need to have running all the time, consuming system resources.
Unlocker is a handy solution to the "file in use by another program" annoyance. Just right-click on the stubborn file, choose Unlocker, and you can see what program has a lock on the file. Then you can end the offending process, make a copy or the file, or just release the lock that the process has on the file.
Speccy and Belarc Advisor are two additional tools you may find useful. These program will give you detailed information on all your computer's hardware components and installed software. You can read more about them in my article What's Going On Inside My PC?
System Information for Windows is not free, but since it packs so many troubleshooting tools into one software package, I have to mention it. It displays your system's software, hardware, and network resources in amazing detail, including things such as software license keys (in case you've lost your hard copy); device temperatures; installed multimedia codecs; and much more. A Tools tab includes handy tools that can reveal hidden passwords, a CPU stress test; and more. There's a PRO Edition ($9.95) and a portable Technician's Version ($29.95) that can be run from a USB drive.
NOTE: There is a free version of SIW, but it's dated October 2011, and according to the author's website, the SIW freeware Home Edition has been discontinued. It seems to work fine on XP/Vista/Win7, but would not run on my 64-bit Windows 8 laptop.
Most of these free Windows troubleshooting tools are created by and for programmers and other tech-savvy users. I recommend that you make a system restore point before making any changes, so you can use System Restore to undo any accidental damage. But if you go slowly and carefully, you can learn a lot about your system and solve some nagging problems.
Do you have a favorite Windows troubleshooter? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 17 Oct 2014
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- 7 Free Windows Troubleshooting Tools (Posted: 17 Oct 2014)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved