I am always looking for applications that allow for some basic, usable diagnostic testing in Windows. I remember way, way back I used Norton Utilities -- I'm talking in the DOS days, and I think even in the very early Windows days. It was pretty much a lifesaver at that time, though later incarnations of it (Read: SystemWorks) declined severely in quality and functionality, unfortunately.
More recently, though, it has become really difficult to find good, all-around system utilities that have serious diagnostic tools. I have tried many over the past four or five years and found most to be lacking any real development; most were just collections of other tools -- usually freely available elsewhere -- in one package. I am not looking for that kind of collection, as I probably have those tools already in some form or another. Sysinternals, snapped up by Microsoft last year, is probably the best single source for analytical tools I can think of offhand, and I have all of those -- though I will readily admit that when it comes time to really dig in and try to find the cause of some nasty PC crashes, or some other issue, I get lost very quickly trying to use many of Mark's tools together to paint a clear picture of what is going wrong.
Basically, the type of diagnostic tools that I feel are desperately needed by most, if not all, PC users are as follows, not necessarily in this order:
- PC Start-up Monitor and Analysis: A tool that monitors exactly what happens during start-up, logs what happens, the order it all happens in, and any conflicts that occur during start-up. For example, have you ever had a system where it just starts taking forever to start-up? And you cannot pinpoint what is causing it? The usual method is to deselect all start-up items in msconfig and then reselect each one at a time, then go through a start-up and shutdown cycle with each. That takes forever and still doesn't let you know exactly why any one particular program is causing the slowdown. Plus, worse yet, the cause is usually more than one program dueling over which one get first access to a shared file or DLL, or the like. You might never determine exactly what the cause is for that. Also, knowing the actual order that programs start in would help to understand what is happening.
The only two such tools I know of are Bootvis, which was available for a few years from Microsoft. You run it and configure it to monitor a start-up cycle. Then you can review its logs to determine what happens during start-up. However it does not really produce very clear results. There are ways to configure Bootvis to be a little more revealing, but no Microsoft instructions will tell you. You have to search the web for articles others have written. Good luck! BTW, Microsoft no longer develops Bootvis at all. They claim.. ahem... that since XP their OS handles start-up so well on its own that there is no longer any need for such an application. Really!?! I beg to differ! You can still search and find copies of it available. One big problem, though: Bootvis does not support dual processors, so I can't get it to work well at all now. Some say they have a way to get around that, but I haven't been successful doing so.
The other program that claims to monitor what happens during start-up is Process Monitor from Sysinternals. It has a tool that you can enable that supposedly will monitor all start-up activity. It does warn, however that if you receive a "Fatal Crash" error on that bootup, you must select the "Last good configuration" option and then not try it again. Of course that is exactly what happened when I tried it. (Possibly the same "dual processor" issue as Bootvis?) Anyway, I am still searching for a good -- or even adequate -- start-up monitor/logger.
- Same exact tool as above, but for Windows Shutdown. Sometimes a recent installation causes Windows to habg at shutdown -- occasionally to the point where you have to manually power off and on again. Same monitoring tool needed for this, but I have not found one that works.
- A reliable tool for checkintg the health of hard disk drives -- other than scandisk or its recent successor. Scandisk has a tendency to get "stuck" and insist on running at each reboot, and it takes a looong time! This is where Norton Utilities used to shine! There are several tools available that claim to do this better than the rest. I am certain that most of them don't, and that only a few have gotten it right. But it would take a lot of time and money to find out which. Not a lot of great reviews on such tools available -- I guess those reviews just aren't as sexy as productivity applications! Anyone have good personal recommendations here? BTW, I am not looking for "I heard that this one is good"; I've heard all that, too. If any here actually USE one they would recommend, let's hear it.
- Similar tool as above disk scanner, but for USB drives? I DID actually have one at one time, but..... I CAN'T FIND IT!!! (Hate it when that happens!!) And searches have only pulled up ones that aren't available on what I would consider "safe" sites. (I try to stay away from SiteAdvisor RED light sites!). Appreciate any help there.
- A final fix -- or complete, permanent removal method/tool -- for old Dr, Watson. I need for the Doc to either work or get off the pot! In all the years I have been using microcomputers that had Dr. Watson on them, the Doc has haunted me and then outright tease me about it! In all my dealings with Microsoft, I have never once been able to convince anyone there to even accept my Dr. Watson logs -- NO one wants to see them! No one at all. Unless someone can convince me that there might actually be a time that someone will be able to use the Doc Watson logs for anything at all, then I have no use for Dr. Watson. I have used the "official" method of deactivating Dr. Watson -- deleting the AeDebug key in my registry -- yet I always eventually see Dr. Watson return and haunt me again: the key returns by itself!?! I suspect that occasionally an MS Hotfix or security patch restores it from time to time. However lately Dr. Watson has been annoying me again at shutdown -- popping up and declaring that it is trying to run but can't because I am shutting down the darn machine!! (How dare I do that??). Of course the entire shutdown process is stopped until I close the popup - four or five times. If I just start the shutdown or reboot and leave my PC, I can return the next day and see that it is still running, with the Doc's popup staring at me from the center of my display, taunting me!
Since no one seems to be interested in using these logs for any purpose at all, I might as well just remove the Doc from my system. But I cannot find a way to effectively do that. Any articles I read say, "Don't do that - just delete that AeDebug key", which as I said is not effective. Any advice on this?
That's it for now. I have more tools that I am looking for, but this post is way too long as it is. (Mod. - If this post is more appropriate in another subforum, please move it).
Thanks for reading it, and for any recommendations you all may have.